Monday, March 24, 2008

Volunteers

When it comes to the Iraq War, I try to have sympathy for the Bush Administration.

Conspiracy theories aside, the planners of Iraq War – even if they are today dashing away from claiming responsibility for their actions – did not hope for a bungled war. These planners wanted a war where the U.S. would achieve quick victory, a war where our national self-interest would be improved. (I'll turn it back to the conspiracy theorists regarding what that self-interest was: Cheaper oil? Permanent U.S. military bases in the Middle East? The removal of Saddam Hussein and his WMDs?)

I try to have sympathy for these war planners, but then Dick Cheney – who appears to be the central figure of the entire Iraq War effort – starts talking, and my ability to have this sympathy is destroyed.

The recent public display of heartlessness by Dick Cheney concerning the pain that the Iraq War has wrought in the U.S. (...to say nothing of the much greater pain it has heaped upon the Iraqi people) literally takes my breath away. In a pair of interviews over the past week, Cheney provides a shocking window into his psyche.

So?
Last week, Cheney remarked "So?" when confronted by an interviewer with a poll indicating the public's broad current opposition to the Iraq War. Cheney claimed that it was important to not "be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls."

Of course, today's broad opposition to the Iraq War is hardly a "fluctuation." Polls on Iraq have indicated majority opposition against the war from late 2005 onward. A fluctuation? Maybe on a clock that is tracking time on a geologic scale.

Much as I hate this "So?" comment, our Constitution has set the bar for impeachment inadvisably high for people like Cheney. However strongly critics of the President and Vice President might argue for their impeachment, until Bush et al. do something that looks like "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes or Misdemeanors" in the eyes of today's Supreme Court, our best hope is to use the other machinery of the federal government to limit the executive branch's influence for the remainder of Bush's lame duck term.

In the end, I hate Cheney's "So?" attitude, but I understand where he's coming from. We elected them. Barring impeachment, we're stuck with them. Let's demand Congress exercise its power to limit their influence. Someone has to be the least popular Vice President ever, and Cheney appears content to play the role.

Yet, I was not compelled to write about "So?" It's Cheney's comment from today that compels me to write.

They Volunteered
Confronted in an interview with the fact that the U.S. has just passed the grim milestone of 4,000 Americans dead in the Iraq War, Cheney reminded his interviewer several times that these soldiers volunteered.

Reading the article, I'm simply awestruck by how jaw-droppingly heartless Cheney comes across. He rationalizes that whatever burden communities, spouses, relatives, friends, and children bear at the loss or injury of a family member, this burden is somehow greatly eased by the fact of our all-volunteer force.

This August, I will have been writing this blog for 5 years. Over the course of writing 800 or so blog posts during this time, I've tried to develop a tone that is less confrontational than when I started blogging. Writing in a manner that tries (and, of course, fails) to see issues in shades of gray has been a continual challenge, but it's worth it — especially in developing my ability to talk about issues with people with whom I strongly disagree.

Cheney's words erase these shades of gray: Vice President Cheney, you have said and felt a horrible thing. You (and those around you?) have created a rationalization that helps you sleep at night. You've shared this rationalization with us, and it is disgusting.

As with "So?", Cheney's words carry a kernel of truth. We have an all-volunteer army. The military interests of our nation are protected by volunteers in a way that they weren't at Antietam, at Cold Harbor, on Omaha Beach, or in the Ardennes.

And let's ignore that our military draws heavily on disadvantaged populations and minorities to fill its ranks. Let's grant Cheney that, yes, we have a "volunteer" force.

Being a conscript is not the same thing as being a volunteer; however, the military requires that ALL soldiers follow orders. When rank and file soldiers confront death, even certain death, they do so at the order of another. It doesn't matter whether they're a volunteer or a draftee. An ordered military presumes – it demands – that a soldier abandon a significant portion of his or her free will in the name of achieving an objective. They must trust the system and the objective.

Iraq is a failed objective, and our continued project in Iraq is driven as much by the well-understood theory of Irrational Escalation as it by an effort to achieve ever-shifting military and geopolitical objectives.

Our soldiers volunteered to join the military. And then they were asked to do the impossible in Iraq, all the while staying in theater longer than any other soldiers in US history. They have obeyed orders and fought bravely.

That they fight and die as volunteers should do nothing to help us sleep better at night.

Volunteers & Conscripts. Side By Side.

1 comment:

Amos said...

Cheney's comments remind me of Bush's envy of the troops in Afghanistan from a couple weeks ago:

"I must say, I'm a little envious. . . . If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.

"It must be exciting for you . . . in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks."

He was not only horrifically insensitive, he was beyond hypocritical.