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Of Patriots and Men
August 15, 2003
By B. Rehak

There's a lot of talk about patriotism lately: who has it, who doesn't. It's hard to sort out the True Patriots from the truly patriotic because now they almost all drive Humvees.

Patriotism comes up often as we watch the Bush writers reworking their "Iraqi Victory" scenario to keep that upbeat "Feel Good Ending" that capped their great pre-invasion story pitch.

For almost three hundred of our kids, this new rewrite will come too late.

Newspapers used to be called the "first draft of history," but a lot of our worldview seems to be reprocessed fresh every morning, spun to perfection, and then served up, fair and balanced.

The Bush Administration has just announced another sweeping round of reality cuts, and restated their total commitment to the War on Veritas.

Charles Foster Kane, your decade is calling!

Government by Luddites with Blackberries. Maybe a generation from now, historians will finally figure out what the hell was going on here. It'll be tough, because the entire George W. Bush Presidential Library will probably fit in a small closet, as almost every public record from his entire life back to first grade has reportedly been sealed or lost. He's the first US President aiming to leave no truth behind. You have to wonder how that macho carrier landing video will play in 2028. Let's see, did that Bush serve one term or two?

For the first time in our long history, we're ruled by openly pious men who seem hopelessly drawn to great foreign adventure, but are a bit short on actual ground combat experience. They also don't have any, "Can we buy the cereal and still afford the milk?" experience.

Most of the bleeding and dying in Iraq is being done by a lot of brave, low-paid kids just trying to keep their buddies and themselves alive. It always is. Neo-conservative Washington loves our troops - but makes them pay for their own life insurance and denies them benefits nowhere near equal to other First Responders.

Our deployed military people leave nervous families stateside. To be an enlisted person raising kids in today's all-volunteer force is to be eligible for food stamps. The average ground pounder's faith in Duty, Honor, and Country is even more remarkable considering the stark reality of military life on the cheap in this age of connected rich guys.

A lot of flags got waved on Capitol Hill as we sent our kids off to fight, but Congress was quietly working on Veterans Administration cuts even as our future Vets are stretched thin in 120 countries. Back home, their families hold tight, watch their pennies, live for e-mail, and pray they get through all this. So do we.

The valor of our armed forces and operational federal agency people spread around the world is obvious. They alone stand between us and The Big Gulp. They're the best we have and are unfairly caught up in the growing debate about this war and its creators.

They're doing what they were told to do. It's because of their unerring desire to risk it all for us that the temporary political types who send them in harm's way must never waste them in folly or deceit. We are all Americans here, but they are twice so.

When all the politicians, photo-ops, and flag waving are over, it will still be that same tiny cadre - proud Americans of a certain exceptional character - who'll be wide awake while others sleep, keeping the wolf and a world of assorted crazies from the door.

The credit for the Iraq War truly belongs to the valiant "Beltway Centurions" - righteous political folks who like to play war with real soldiers. They go on Fox News and talk of courage, but never seem to get any closer to the shooting than Geraldo does. What if the folks who dreamed this up were simply made to go in the lead chopper in the first raid in their war? Peace would be at hand.

Face it, war really sucks - but it sells. It always does, for a while.

There's enough faux-camo clothing to be found strolling in the average mall to equip an ARVN battalion. Talk radio gushes with love for our troops.

Meanwhile, out in the shit, about 140,000 overworked US kids balance precariously amid 24,000,000 pissed off and well-armed Iraqis, and one gets the feeling that even if Saddam and a hundred more of his top people were all dead, the insurgency would go on.

They seem to want us to leave. Like all the legions across all the centuries who've sought glory in Mesopotamia (the land between the rivers), we'll eventually go, but first, like all the others, we will pay.

If there was ever an actual clear plan for the Bush conquest and relief of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it must be the most closely held secret in this most secretive Government ever. Nobody is cleared to tell us why. They promised Iraqi Victory, but delivered Saigon on the Tigress.

Patriotism is one of those unique words with a variable definition.

If you're on the line in Iraq, patrolling that amusement park in hell, or you're the one waiting back here praying the base Chaplain doesn't come up the walk, then "patriotism" is knowing this war might still rob you of all your dreams, whether it was a lie or not.

If you're in the oil business, "patriotism" is buying access to all the right people and getting even richer. If you're living large off Iraq on cable TV, then "patriotism" is hot graphics, hosts who shout, and cute blonde newsreaders with big hair who can't pronounce Arabic names.

If you're'fighting the Iraqi War from the ideological safety of the far right, then "patriotism" means never having to say you're sorry, or wrong.

Good people who love America but questioned this war were shouted down and swept aside before it started. High profile activists who spoke up were ridiculed by a platoon of talking heads. The Bush Iraq policy was dumbed down to bumper sticker slang. They didn't have to dumb it far.

Based on the results to date, the Bush people may have dealt the hyperbole industry a fatal blow, as manure futures took a big hit on the commodities market.

Odd that the most hard charging neo-cons slept quite late on Saint Crispin's Day and never gave their manhood a second thought. They are the few, that happy few, that Band of Bumblers who landed us in this pile of Jihad.

They must someday answer all the grieving military families. Why Iraq? Where was the damned fire?

This is the first time America ever started a war on its own, and this latest installment in the trans-generational Bushwars is turning out to be many unintended things.

Of course Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction! The Reagan-Bush people reportedly saw to that in the 1980s. When he was happily gassing Iranian kids, Saddam was just another handy asset, like the Shah, Noriega, and Marcos.

Later, when Mr. Hussein went rogue, we had to put him down. Twice! But not yet. The long Bush Family feud with Saddam is ongoing.

Consider that we've fought two wars with this guy and haven't won yet, and now we have to fix his broken country.

As the neo-cons revise reality with each news cycle, do try to remember that we went to war only because everybody in the Bush Administration told us for months that Saddam's WMD threatened the peace of the whole World.

As failed wars go, Iraq is a sad reminder of our earlier sojourn along the River Mekong. In those tortured times, some bright folks sent about 3,000,000 of our bravest kids to save a pretty little tropical country.

A lot of them never came back. Others came back but never came home.

America almost broke in two over that war. In the end, nearly 60,000 people gave their lives to teach us to never ever start a war we're not sure how to finish. Mr. Powell was there and understands that, but he too was ignored by the "true patriots" in their rush to glory.

Ever notice that this war is going just like the other Bushwars on Drugs and Osama bin Laden?

Remember him? Tall guy. Very Rich. Likes caves. Killed a lot of our people.

"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him!" - George W. Bush, September 13, 2001

"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and I really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." - George W. Bush, March 13, 2002

Spin your way out of that!

Nobody would deny the US Government's right to keep secrets, deal harshly with bad guys, or act in the dark of night if there's no alternative, but what if it turns out our bombs were far smarter than our chicken hawks?

Alas, Mr. Bush's poll numbers are falling back to the pre-9/11 range. Perhaps the voters are watching him a lot closer now. You can only cry wolf so many times. If you actually cried oil - the jig would be up.

It's 64 weeks until the big election, and if you liked the Hoover Administration, stay tuned.

The Bush people seem caught between Iraq and a hard reality. They apparently can't win, yet they can't appear to lose and still hold on to power. Our faithful kids are caught in the middle.

We leave you with the long ago words of a patriotic man. He spoke up when others hid. In 1954 he was reviled nationally by the same sort who just marched us to Baghdad. They called him a commie, a traitor to his country. He knew a lot about patriots and men and the merchants of fear:

"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. This is no time . . . to keep silent." - Edward R. Murrow


B. Rehak is a writer in California, and can be reached via www.columnleft.com

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