Flyboys, we used to call them. Jet jockeys. Thirty years ago we would drive them around the air base where I was stationed in Texas. Confident, cocky, full of good cheer, these Air Force pilots had the world by the tail. Only a couple years older than myself, they seemed like playful Labrador retrievers with a killer streak and, at the time, I liked and admired them. I recall dropping off Colonel Buzz Aldren, famed for his moon landing, at the base hospital once, but being far more impressed with the pair of young Medal of Honor winners I would chauffer much later.
I imagined most people on the ground had harsher words for them, especially those in Vietnam . True, they performed dangerous missions, but they also wrecked villages, killed civilians and dropped Agent Orange defoliant on friend and foe alike, guys like my brother Jim who served two tours in 'Nam with the Marines and now struggles to get help from the VA. The same VA where $25 billion in services will be cut in the next ten years'with the consent of a couple of flyboys and the complicity of our patriots in the House of Representatives. Thirty years ago, flyboys were happy just to be carving up the sky, now they're busy carving up the world.
'Terrorists,' said Abdul al Kaliq, a Middle Eastern man, watching the American bomber pilots on CNN deliver a payload of bombs to the streets of Baghdad , 'They are no different than the World Trade Center bombers. They kill and have no regret but are proud of their killing.' 'It was exhilarating,' said Navy Commander Jeff Penfield, returning from a bombing mission over Baghdad. 'It was nice and calm in the city. Once those bombs hit all hell broke loose; what I felt more than anything was exhilaration.' The Washington Post reported the results of some of those bombs later in the week. In the pre-dawn hours while an entire family slept, 10 members were killed by two missiles fired from a warplane that destroyed most of the house. The victims were crushed when the back room of the house became a pile of cement rubble. Seven of the dead were children.'Why did this happen?' asked patriarch, Abid Hassan Hamoodi, 72. 'Ten lives gone. The house was completely destroyed. You came to save us, to protect us. That's what you said.' The Red Cross reported 61 civilians killed and 450 people injured in a single area south of Baghdad, many of them victims of cluster bombs.
Curious how we go seeking weapons of mass destruction, and the weapons we seek are already in our own arsenal--and we have no compunction about using them. In another example of aerial shock and awe, Patrick Baz, a photographer for Agence France Presse, stumbled on a farmhouse wrecked by US missiles. Inside were the dismembered remains of 20 people, 11 of them children. The architects of the Iraq war, 'Rumsfeld and Bush--were once flyboys. Indeed, the designer of the blitzkrieg battle plan known as "Shock and Awe" once flew a military jet too. Not surprisingly, none of our three flyboys ever saw the results of a 2,000 lb. bomb from the perspective of the ground. 'We seem to think Iraq will welcome us almost with open arms,' predicted former Navy flier Harlan Ullman of his battle plan, during an interview with reporter Tracey Grimshaw in mid-March. Ullman explained how Saddam Hussein might, however, resort to terrorist tactics to oppose the overwhelming attack. 'I think Saddam is playing the role of the victim, if he uses weapons of mass destruction it immediately destroys any credibility in his argument; it makes President Bush absolutely right.' High and mighty whether right or wrong, Flyboy Foreign Policy admits no loss of credibility or cause for public apology.
The war is over; the polls indicate a rise in public approval; Coalition losses were light, so screw the critics. So what if the war was illegal and most of the world opposed it? Seen from ten miles up, or a continent away, the world looks different from the cockpit of a stealth bomber or the armchairs of the West Wing. The hubris, the self-righteousness, of our flyboys at the controls of airship America'smirking and cocky as hell--is akin to that of Icarus launching himself at the sun. Never mind the caution of cooler military heads; most of them have either been forced into silence or early retirement. Never mind the criticism of irate British forces, accusing our fliers of the same sort of haphazard 'friendly fire' that took the lives of Hamoodi's family, a lethal burst that typifies our hair-trigger leaders. 'I'll never forget that A-10. He was about 50 meters off the ground. He circled . . . He came back around . . . He was about 500 meters away when he started firing.' Packed with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, the two British tanks exploded, killing one and wounding two others.'How come somebody who is a top-notch Thunderbolt pilot can't tell what a British tank looks like?' British Lance Corporal Gerrard added, 'He had absolutely no regard for human life. I believe he was a cowboy. There were four or five that I noticed earlier and this one (flier) had broken off and was on his own when he attacked us.' Not surprisingly, in the final tally of the Iraq war, more British troops have been killed by American 'friendly fire' than by enemy soldiers. "To be honest,' said Trooper Chris Finney, 'I think they are just ignorant. I don't know if they haven't been trained or are just trigger happy.'
By contrast to the Shock and Awe aviator of today, the fliers of The Greatest Generation faced a much different, far more dangerous foe above Nazi Germany during World War II. In his book, The Fall of Fortresses , decorated flier and author Elmer Bendiner writes, 'On Monday morning we went to Frankfurt. The Eighth Air Force lost 160 men on that trip . . . some 300 men were lost over Bremen and another 280 at Anklam.' The Army Air Corp, in which my father served, suffered unbelievable casualties fighting a genuine threat to America , not a phony war against a fourth-rate power, manufactured by cynical profiteers masquerading as American leaders.
Following the Korean War, America picked her wars with an eye to the sky. Wars with such mighty air powers as Panama, Grenada and Afghanistan left no doubt about the outcome. Even in the Vietnam War, far fewer US pilots succumbed, some jet pilots safely compiling over 250 missions where 25 missions often proved fatal in WW II. Thus, 98% of those on the Black Wall, the Vietnam War Memorial, never flew in a jet, except on the way over to the war and then, sadly, on the way back home for the last time. The 58,000 grunts and ground pounders and Army Air Cavalry door gunners of the war'over 10,000 helicopters were destroyed in Nam--went to early graves while the jet jockeys like Bush and Rumsfeld went on to seats of power. Soldiers get the body bags; fliers get the book deals and the cushy Senate seats. 'Instead of bombs, we should have dropped toasters and Edsels and Kelvinators on the people of Vietnam,' said Jim, my Marine Corps brother. 'Then we could have sold them parts for all that stuff and made them loyal customers.' Yes, in retrospect, for all the lives lost and billions wasted in the war with Vietnam, I can't think of a wiser policy.
Taking a page from the Vietnam quagmire, our Flyboy Foreign Policymakers will probably parachute America into another war or two, with increasingly smart bombs launched by increasingly dumb leaders. The country boys caught in the crossfire on the ground probably won't even have the luxury of decent VA medical care if they survive, nor will they even have a suitable war memorial. The teetering economy might not permit it. 'Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.' Can you imagine any elected leader in America saying that today? Blowhards Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh or Roy Blunt--armchair warriors all--would have General Eisenhower raked over the coals. Yet President Eisenhower saw war from ground level. Unlike our flyboys making foreign policy, Eisenhower understood the abuses of the military industrial complex, and warned of the very conflicts of interests that presently have policy makers sitting on the advisory boards of armament makers. 'I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity,' said Eisenhower. How much more brutality, futility and stupidity will we see before we learn the folly of Flyboy Foreign Policy?