The Daily 750

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If I Was the Queen of the Pentagon

Monday, November 07, 2005

For years and years I ran a three-mile trail that looped around a public golf course, a sod farm and a part of the LA River that even today hasn’t been concreted. It kept me sane, that daily ritual. Wake up, wash face, apply SPF, double-knot the Nike Air Pegasuses, drink a glass of water, drive a mile to the course, stretch, apply headphones, push PLAY on the Sony Walkman, go. Whatever else I did or didn't accomplish, I had at least run the course.

I did my best thinking then, when the conjoint rhythms of breath and stride and U-2 granted 27 or 28 minutes of weightlessness in otherwise heavy days, unemployed from the fall of the Soviet Union and looking for words, work, the love and respect of a good man.

Every once in a while, about two miles in, I’d wake from my running dreamstate to find my Pegasuses firmly planted in the dust. First thought: Hey, I’m not running any more. Second thought: Why? Third thought: Oh, that. It was either words, work or the love and respect of a good man. Or all three. I'd kick the dust, remember the lesson, correct my course, and continue on, all the way to the end of the path, and then to home.

This weekend I was running along -- so to speak, of course, since I don’t do that any more -- and found my feet planted. Let me be honest: I was lying in bed late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, somewhere in the third of five hours of watching the Discover-Times documentary “Off to War,” and whatever residual beliefs I held about staying in Iraq, a war which I had originally supported with a gung-ho neocon “Go get ‘em!” -- all those beliefs came to a 2,045-person dead stop.

“Off to War” is a gentle series shot with a steady hand (read: no MTV-style editing) and more compelling in its straightforward manner than any bloody polemic conceived by Oliver Stone or Michael Moore. The filmmakers, two brothers from Arkansas, follow a small group of National Guardsmen from Clarksville, Arkansas -- and their families -- from activation to the men’s return home, in April 2005, after a year’s service in Iraq.

They don’t all share one opinion, but in general the men don’t want to be there. It’s their duty, though, and they will serve it well. They don’t understand why they’re in Iraq because everybody, including the complicit Iraqi Police, wants to kill them. The men trust no one. For the most part, the men can’t do what they were sent to do -- they’re a construction brigade and had looked forward to building parks and infrastructure to be of help and service to the Iraqis -- because of the dangers from snipers. During daylight maneuvers they make California road rages seem like Sunday school outings -- shouting at the Iraqi drivers, honking their horns, waving their guns around, weaving through the traffic, forcing Iraqi drivers to the side of the road so the Guardsmen's own vehicles can ride down the middle, where IEDs are less likely to be buried. Night missions are designed to make insurgents shoot at them so they can find insurgents. It's nothing like destroying the village to save the village. It's Richard Daley's: "Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all: the policeman isn't there to 'create' disorder; the policeman is there to 'preserve' disorder."

If I was the Queen of the Pentagon, I would keep US forces in Iraq -- in at night, and in the daytime too, behind barricades and sandbags and and machine guns and air support to help protect the police stations, the electrical transmission plants, the houses of government, the libraries -- all the basic infrastructure of a nation. I would have them build new infrastructure and train the Iraqis behind those barricades so that the Iraqis can hunt down insurgents in the dark, if that's what Iraqi forces want to do. I would give Iraq six more months of my fine American soldiers' skill, expertise and time, and then I would bring them home. If peace were prevailing, I would leave a small force there for additional training and building.

I would never ever think, imply or in any way say or sanction the saying that any soldier's life had been wasted, regardless of the outcome. Hey, Saddam is in a cage. The Ba'ath Party is over. But this is the worst of it all: that our President, that his administration, that Congressional leaders of ALL stripes, have made these Guardsmen believe that if they do not continue along their course, if their government should ever stop and reassess, they themselves, the soldiers, will have failed. Not only will they have failed, they will have made the sacrifices of all those who have gone before them meaningless and worthless.

That is shameful. And that language, if nothing else, can and must stop now.