Brothers in Arms

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These mist covered mountains Are a home now for me But my home is the lowlands And always will be Some day you'll return to Your valleys and your farms And you'll no longer burn To be brothers in arms --"Brothers In Arms," by Dire Straits

The second term of George W. Bush begins with the lofty, spoken words of "democracy" and "freedom" reiterated continuously, but the reality in Iraq bears little resemblance to the words. Our American youngsters sent to control Iraqi youngsters bears little resemblance to anything remotely resembling Athenian ideals of democracy. "It seems almost beyond doubt that since World War II the United States has acquired a reputation for failure and inefficiency in its military operations," wrote former US Army Major Richard Gabriel in Military Incompetence. "The truth is that the application of military force has not been decisive in furthering American foreign-policy goals since World War II." Almost as former president Richard Nixon, Bush begins his second term as divorced from reality as his predecessor, surrounded by like-minded men just as distanced.

Ritter was right. Bush and his cabal of cronies were wrong. Dead wrong. Scott Ritter, former U.S. Marine and United Nations weapons inspector, was almost certain Saddam Hussein had no WMDs and posed no threat to the USA. "We can't go to war based on rhetoric and speculation," Ritter said in the weeks before the war. "We'd better make sure there is a threat out there worth fighting."

For this Ritter was defamed and slandered, but damn if he hasn't been proven right. Bush lied; Tenet lied; Powell lied; Cheney lied; Wolfowitz lied--and you, my brothers in arms, died. No garlands of flowers awaited you in the dusty streets of Iraq but a bouquet of explosions that dismembered you, my trusting, patriotic friends. For their lies, those in power awarded each other with medals and promotions and banquets and book deals and glitzy balls. You who did not deserve your fate, asked few questions. Now with a lifetime of quiet moments and restricted movements and all-too-frequent VA hospital visits, you may see the bigger picture with a bit more clarity.

Through these fields of destruction Baptisms of fire I've witnessed your suffering As the battles raged higher And though they did hurt me so bad In the fear and alarm You did not desert me My brothers in arms

There's so many different worlds So many different suns And we have just one world But we live in different ones

Yes, we live in different ones. As divorced from the front lines as a nation can be. "Support the troops" has been the mantra of folks here at home, almost a drumbeat of gas pump patriotism that passes for love of one's country. America is a generous nation, but who will help Corporal Tyson Johnson (right) change his bandages for the rest of his life? Johnson, 22, a mechanic with 205 Military Intelligence from Prichard, Alabama, was injured in a mortar attack on the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad on September 20, 2003. He suffered massive internal injuries and is 100 percent disabled.

When I wrote Footsoldier: The Achilles Heel in America's Quest for Empire, there were many more of you, my brothers in arms, uninjured and still alive. Many more Iraqis. In that essay, I quoted a soldier who had seen battle against an impassioned enemy much like the one you are now fighting. Vietnam veteran Tim O'Brien wrote: "There should be a law . . . If you support a war, if you think it's worth the price, that's fine, but you have to put your own precious fluids on the line. You have to head for the front and hook up with an infantry unit and help spill the blood." As every old veteran knows, the day that happens is the day warfare ends forever, when bullets are fattening rather than fatal to your health.

A tsunami of lies disguised as patriotism and duty sends many a soldier to die in distant lands. True believers until they see and think for themselves. A bullet in the leg hastens the thought process. Or maybe seeing the body of a woman or child, or seeing the battle-scarred civilians standing beside the road, as recently happened to Sgt. Kevin Benderman. "I have learned from firsthand experience that war is the destroyer of everything that is good in the world," Benderman said. "I have made the decision to not participate in war any longer, and some people in this country cannot comprehend that concept, but to me it is simple."

When a soldier sees too much with his own eyes--too many fallen comrades and too many dead civilians--he's no good for war any more; he finally begins to question the false rationale. He begins to question the media slogans and military propaganda. He begins to believe his own eyes instead, his own conscience, his own heart.

And you, my Iraqi brothers in arms, you who never did me any harm, you who expected the much-lauded liberation but were handed an occupation based on lies that continues almost two years after the fraudulent attack? You deserved better, but I fear things may yet grow worse. For decades you suffered under the harsh rule of Saddam Hussein, a dictator propped up by the manipulative liars holding power in our own country. Even today they hope to manipulate another puppet into power. For all their political manipulation, they abuse those of us--citizens or soldiers--who trusted them to do the right thing. Like Private First Class Alan Jermaine Lewis, 23, a machine gunner from the 3rd Infantry Division, who was wounded July 16, 2003 on Highway 8 in Baghdad when the Humvee he was driving hit a land mine, blowing off both legs, burning his face, and breaking his left arm in six places. Alan was delivering ice--ice!--something cool and refreshing--to other soldiers at the time. Will America bring Private Lewis something cool and refreshing--or even remember him, five years from now?

Now the sun's gone to hell And the moon's riding high Let me bid you farewell Every man has to die But it's written in the starlight And every line on your palm We're fools to make war On our brothers in arms

"The wealthy and well-educated have been able to escape the burden of defending the nation," concluded Major Gabriel, formerly assigned to the Pentagon. "And the responsibility has fallen disproportionately upon the poor, the uneducated, and the nation's minorities. Such a condition constitutes a stain on one of the world's great democracies. It also disproportionately distributes the burden of death when it is time to do battle."

You've heard the saying: Cowards die a thousand times but heroes die but once. This is false. Heroes die every day but pick themselves up again and again to resist. Whether as a common soldier pressed into a war he cannot understand, or those of us back home shining the light on the cowards who sent the soldiers there, the front lines shift but the enemy remains the same. The Terminator was difficult to kill, but he was a cardboard character compared to the Hydra of lies we all face today. Godspeed the soldier home to the arms of his loved ones; God preserve the citizens of all countries. We are indeed brothers in arms, footsoldiers against the tyranny of war.

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Douglas Herman's picture
Columns on STR: 138

Award winning artist, photographer and freelance journalist, Douglas Herman enjoys exploring the occasional ghost town or spooky conspiracy and can be found wandering the back roads of America. Recently Doug finished writing, directing and producing an independent feature film, naturally a "road movie," and credits STR for giving him the impetus to write well, both provocatively and entertainingly. A longtime gypsy, Doug completed a 10,000 mile circumnavigation of North America, by bicycle, at the age of 35, and still wanders between Bullhead City, Arizona and Kodiak, Alaska with forays frequently into the so-called civilized world of Greater LA.