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Witness to War
February 26, 2003
By Christian Dewar

It has been reported that between 77,000 and 100,000 body bags have been delivered to the US military. 6000 coffins are available. The Pentagon planned to cremate the bodies of our servicemen killed by chemical or biological weapons and bury them in anonymous graves in the Iraqi desert to avoid further contamination until veterans groups protested.

The US Navy recently offered $6000 signing bonuses for morticians who enlist. Chicken hawks who lust for war say that if we don't attack Iraq, Bush will loss credibility.

George W. Bush has never been to war. With twelve days remaining before his student deferment was to expire, Bush was accepting into the Texas National Guard, leaping to the head of a year-and-a-half waiting list. Powerful friends had intervened on his behalf. On his application to the guard, Bush checked the box indicating that he would not volunteer for service abroad. He was assigned an obsolete jet which ensured he would never see service in Vietnam.

Bush was made a second lieutenant without the mandatory active duty requirement and officer candidate school. He had numerous unexplained absences. He appears to have gone AWOL during the last seventeen months of his commitment. Vietnam veterans have offered substantial rewards for anyone who can prove that Bush actually was present at the National Guard base he claims to have been stationed at during those months.(see awolbush.com) He was banned from flying after refusing to submit to a physical exam which included drug testing.

Unlike Bill Clinton who protested against a war which has since been declared a 'terrible mistake' by one architect of that debacle, Robert McNamara, Bush claims his fellow frat boys never discussed Vietnam. He simply didn't want to die in the rice paddies of South East Asia.

George Bush's daughters will not be going to war, either. Jenna and Barbara will be sucking down beers and drinking $250 dollar bottles of wine on the coast of France. Jeb's children won't be serving.

Cheney received five deferments and claimed he did not enlist because he had "other priorities". His daughters will not be fighting this war.

Scalia's son will not be there. He has a comfortable job in government. Rehnquist's daughter won't be fighting or dying. There are only three children of members of congress who are now in the military.

These little souls who thirst for war with Iraq but avoided service when their country beckoned include Michael Reagan, Spencer Abraham, Elliot Abrahams, John Bolton, Andrew Card, Asa Hutchinson, Tim Hutchinson, Bob Barr, Richard (The Prince of Darkness) Perle, Tommy Thompson, Paul Wolfowitz, Ted Olsen, Jeb Bush, Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, Charles Krauthammer, Bill O'Reilly, George Will, Bill Bennett, Jerry Falwell, Frank Gaffney, Karl Rove and others. Rush Limbaugh escaped the draft because the had 'anal cysts.' For these 'Leaders of Men' who proved their valor on the frontlines of Washington's think tanks, war is merely an intellectual exercise much like the board games Risk or Chess.

Has Ann Coulter volunteered to lead the charge on Iraqi positions? Mike Kelly? Tim Russert? Mike Savage? John Fund? These champions of war will not be dying in Iraq. They will be dining in fine restaurants, playing squash, meeting friends at the country club and discussing policy over martinis while our children die.

There are brave veterans from both sides of the aisle who did serve with distinction. It is ironic that the government officials who did risk the ultimate sacrifice are the ones who advocate caution and moderation. Generals including Wesley Clark, Schwarzkoph and Zinni urge caution. We honor those soldiers who served. Having seen the carnage of war, they are not the voices who condemn the dissenters from this futile campaign.

Bush cannot open his mouth for an unscripted moment without revealing his profound lack of understanding of the English language. His gaffes and mistakes are the fodder of late-night comedians. However, these ridiculous flights of linguistic fancy also have grave consequences; his pronouncement that the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion from mainland China set off a furor.

George W. Bush's extraordinary ignorance of history and foreign policy are a matter of record. It has been alleged that he completed his major in history while at Yale. Presumably, he did not study about "Grecians" and "Kosovarians".

His father, George H.W. Bush, and his generals were praised when reports of American combat casualties from the first Gulf War proved to be low, never mind the Iraqi civilian deaths and those of the surrendering, demoralized soldiers that were killed against orders in a massacre. That murder traumatized American troops ordered to perpetrate this carnage. (Bush Senior's contrived, wholly unnecessary invasion of Panama massacred hundreds of civilians who labored under the illusion they were our allies.)

Now, it is estimated that between one and two hundred thousand of our vets suffer from the debilitating Gulf War Syndrome. As many as ten thousand of them may have already died from the illness. It may have been caused by the 300 tons of depleted uranium bombs that were expended there and which continue to cause cancer in the nation's children.

Other scientists speculate that the illnesses and deaths may have been as the result of bombed Iraqi chemical or biological plants. Still other researchers blame experimental Anthrax vaccines administered to our soldiers. (The only allied soldiers who have not exhibited symptoms of this illness are from the French contingent who did not receive the vaccine.) In a new war, our children will be once again exposed to the toxic cesspool we created a decade ago, not to mention the mines and weapons the Bush/Reagan administration sold Hussein during his war with Iran.

Now the screeching heads of the American right are heaping scorn upon our French and German allies for resisting a new slaughter. But the French and Germans know the horrors of war all too well.

At the battle of the Somme during 'The Great War', sixty thousand British troops died on the first day. There were seven hundred thousand casualties at the Battle of Verdun in an area smaller than ten square kilometers. The Germans threatened a campaign of 'weissbluten', to bleed the French white. The battle commenced with a nine hour bombardment. In one attack, two hundred and thirty German guns fired 110,000 artillery shells of poisonous phosgene gas at French lines.

It is likely that Bush is not familiar with the historical accounts of the 'Great War' and the horrendous slaughter at Verdun, the Somme and numerous other fields of carnage. It is unlikely that George W. Bush ever read Barbara Tuckman's The Guns of August. Hopefully, Condi Rice or Donald Rumsfeld have.

To these brave, heroic, arm chair warriors who will create so many new corpses, I would like to bring to their attention, the eye-witness accounts of German and French soldiers who fought in one of the bloodiest battles of World War 1, 'The War to End All Wars'. These are the voices of war.

(From the comprehensive web site discussing The Battle of Verdun)

Witnesses of the Battle of Verdun

A French captain reports: ...I have returned from the most terrible ordeal I have ever witnessed. [.] Four days and four nights - ninety-six hours - the last two days in ice-cold mud - kept under relentless fire, without any protection whatsoever except for the narrow trench, which even seemed to be too wide. [.] I arrived with 175 men, I returned with 34 of whom several had half turned insane....

A French Lieutenant reports: ...Firstly, companies of skeletons passed, sometimes commanded by a wounded officer, leaning on a stick. All marched, or rather: moved forwards with tiny steps, zigzagging as if drugged. [.] It seemed as if these speechless faces cried over something appalling: the unbelievable horrors of their martyrdom....

The last note from the diary of Alfred Joubaire, a French soldier: ...They must be crazy to do what they are doing now: what a bloodbath, what horrid images, what a slaughter. I just cannot find the words to express my feelings. Hell cannot be this dreadful. People are insane!...

A German soldier writes to his parents: ...An awful word, Verdun. Numerous people, still young and filled with hope, had to lay down their lives here - their mortal remains decomposing somewhere, in between trenches, in mass graves, at cemeteries....

Louis Barthas recounts the bitter man-to-man fights: ...Woe betide anyone who fell into the hands of the enemy alive; all sense of humanity had disappeared. Soldiers, wounded, stretcher-bearers - a distinction was no longer made....

An eye-witness: ...One soldier was going insane with thirst and drank from a pond covered with a greenish layer near Le Mort-Homme. A corpse was afloat in it; his black countenance face down in the water and his abdomen swollen as if he had been filling himself up with water for days now....

A soldier tells: ...The soldiers put their feet in front of them and pulled up out of the swampy and smelly soil. A disgusting impenetrable stench surrounded every move. Some did not manage to pull their boots from the mud and had to continue in their socks, puttee or even barefooted....

A French soldier describes the horrors of a bombardment: ...When you hear the whistling in the distance your entire body preventively crunches together to prepare for the enormous explosions. Every new explosion is a new attack, a new fatigue, a new affliction. Even nerves of the hardest of steel, are not capable of dealing with this kind of pressure. The moment comes when the blood rushes to your head, the fever burns inside your body and the nerves, numbed with tiredness, are not capable of reacting to anything anymore. It is as if you are tied to a pole and threatened by a man with a hammer. First the hammer is swung backwards in order to hit hard, then it is swung forwards, only missing your scull by an inch, into the splintering pole. In the end you just surrender. Even the strength to guard yourself from splinters now fails you. There is even hardly enough strength left to pray to God....

A witness tells: ...We all carried the smell of dead bodies with us. The bread we ate, the stagnant water we drank. Everything we touched smelled of decomposition due to the fact that the earth surrounding us was packed with dead bodies....

Henri Barbusse describes the trenches as: ...a network of elongated pits in which the nightly excreta are piling up. The bottom is covered with a swampy layer from which the feet have to extricate themselves with every step. It smells dreadfully of urine all over....

A French stretcher-bearer describes the consequences of a flame-thrower attack: ...Some grenadiers returned with ghastly wounds: hair and eyebrows singed, almost not human anymore, black creatures with bewildered eyes....

Louis Barthas also describes such an attack: ...At my feet two unlucky creatures rolled the floor in misery. Their clothes and hands, their entire bodies were on fire. They were living torches. [The next day] In front of us on the floor the two I had witnessed ablaze, lay rattling. They were so unrecognisably mutilated that we could not decide on their identities. Their skin was black entirely. One of them died that same night. In a fit of insanity the other hummed a tune from his childhood, talked to his wife and his mother and spoke of his village. Tears were in our eyes....

A soldier tells: ...Seven days without sleep, seven days of fatigue, thirst and fear made these healthy men, these beautifully disciplined companies into a gang of loiterers. Critically ill, but calm and satisfied, because they were now out of danger and appeared to be still alive....

A German officer recalls: ...We saw a handful of soldiers, commanded by a Captain, slowly approaching, one at the time. The Captain asked which company we were and then started to cry all of a sudden. Did he suffer of shellshock? Then he said: ...when I saw you approach it reminded me of six days ago, when I walked this same road with approximately hundred men. And now look how few there are left.... We watched as we passed them; they where about twenty. They walked by us as living, plastered statues. Their faces stared at us like shrunken mummies, and their eyes were so immense that you could not see anything but their eyes....

A German soldier describes: ...The men who have lived in these trenches just as long as our infantry men, without going insane under these infernal attacks, must have lost their sense for a large number of things. Our poor men have seen too many atrocities, have witnessed too many incredible matters. I cannot believe that we will be able to cope with this. Our poor little mind simply cannot comprehend all of this....

An eye-witness: ...There is nothing as tiring as the continuous, enormous bombardment as we have lived through, last night, at the front. The night is disturbed by light as clear as if it were day. The earth moves and shakes like jelly. And the men who are still at the frontline, cannot hear anything but the drumfire, the moaning of wounded friends, the screams of hurt horses, the wild pounding of their own hearts, hour after hour, day after day, night after night....

A German soldier: ...the soldiers fell over like tin soldiers. Almost all our officers get hurt or killed and many of our men get killed because of their own artillery fire, which is too close and therefore causes many victims...

A French soldier: ...my battalion comes straight from the land behind the front-lines, the men are exhausted and did not sleep. The battalion consists of 800 men - the battalion that we are here to replace lost 800 men...

A German eye-witness: ...The losses are registered as follows: they are dead, wounded, missing, nervous wrecks, ill and exhausted. Nearly all suffer from dysentery. Because of the failing provisioning the men are forced to use up their emergency rations of salty meats. They quenched their thirst with water from the shellholes. They are stationed in the village of Ville where every form of care seems to be missing. They have to build their own accommodation and are given a little cacao to stop the diarrhoea. The latrines, wooden beams hanging over open holes, are occupied day and night - the holes are filled with slime and blood...

A neutral contemporary feels: .that they, within the framework of this World War, are involved in some affair, that will still be considered horrible and appalling in a hundred years time. It is this Hell of Verdun. Since a hundred days - day and night - the sons of two European people fight stubbornly and bitterly over every inch of land. It is the most appalling mass murder of our history.

A soldier: .One of the trenches is so filled with wounded and dead bodies the attackers have to use the parapet in order to be able to move forward.

A German witness: .the latrines cause major problems. They are completely blocked up and smell terribly. This stench is fought with chlorinated lime and this smell mixes with the battlefield smell of decomposition. Men even wear their gas masks when using the latrines.

A French eye-witness: .mud, heat, thirst, filth, rats, the sweat smell of corpses, the disgusting smell of excreta and the terrible fear: 'it seems we will have to attack', and that when nobody has any strength left...

A German soldier: .and during the summer months the swarms of flies around the corpses and the stench, that horrible stench. If we had to construct trenches we put garlic cloves in our nostrils.

An eye-witness: . you could never get rid of the horrible stench. If we were on leave and we were having a drink somewhere, it would only last a few minutes before the people at the table beside us would stand up and leave. It was impossible to endure the horrible stench of Verdun...

A German officer: .the number of defectors increases, the front soldiers become numb by seeing the bodies without heads, without legs, shot through the belly, with blown away foreheads, with holes in their chests, hardly recognisable flab's, pale and dirty in the thick yellow brown mud, which covers the battle field.

A French soldier: .everyone who searches for cover in a shell hole, stumbles across slippery, decomposing bodies and has to proceed with smelly hands and smelly clothes.

A German soldier: .in the drumfire bravery no longer exists: only nerves, nerves, nerves. When anyone is exposed unto such trials and tribulations he is no longer of any use as an attacker or defender.

***

It is this horror, this tragedy, this crime against humanity that George Bush lusts for. Having avoided serving in Vietnam and apparently not well versed in the writing of those who did serve in this nation's wars, Bush Junior is about to repeat the mistakes from history that he never bothered to learn. What will our own children say about their experiences of war?

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