Published on Friday, March 16, 2007 by CommonDreams.org
The Sport of King George
You have to wonder what happened in somebody’s childhood to make them so heartless that they could launch a war like this
by David Michael Green
From 1980 through 1988, hundreds of thousands of Iranian adolescents were massacred as literal cannon fodder during last century’s longest conflict, and one of its bloodiest – the Iraq-Iran War.
It would be easy to feel bad about the slaughter of these children, but you don’t when you realize that they’d been told they’d be going to Paradise as martyrs to Islam following their gruesome deaths. No, you don’t feel bad. You feel worse.
And you don’t feel bad when you learn that their government actually gave these kids little plastic keys which they were assured would allow them to open the gates of heaven once they got there. No, you don’t feel bad. You feel like being sick.
All of that is shameful and ugly in the extreme. But it takes the additional knowledge that these keys were manufactured on an Israeli kibbutz to truly drive home the criminal insanity of modern war.
No clearer case is imaginable to demonstrate the way in which powerful people and powerful interests prey upon the innocent and turn them into political tools to realize the former’s ambitions for wealth and power. Because these innocents are naive, or frightened – or, most harrowing of all, genuinely patriotic – such predators are cynically able to turn their very bodies into industrial war machine resources, no different than steel or silicon. Attach Part A (weapon) to Part B (weapon operating tool, a.k.a. human being). Deploy on battlefield.
Sadly, ‘twas ever thus. Not for nothing did Europeans come to call war, “the sport of kings”.
Of course, that could never happen here. Not now. Surely our young (and, in this war, not so young) soldiers are never called upon to fight in the interests of elites, interests so nefarious that they would have to be hidden under stacks of lies concerning national security threats, and behind a barrage of patriotic platitudes. Surely America’s bravest are never treated as expendable cannon fodder by leaders who could care less about their welfare. Surely they’re not trotted off the war like so many Iranian children, clutching a plastic key to heaven in one hand, and a fairytale of how much they’re truly valued in the other.
More surely, that was a lot more believable even a week ago than it is today.
For even if you had miraculously somehow managed to hang on to the myth of the Iraq war as a just and necessary invasion for purposes of American national security, that fantasy must surely have been burst with the revelations of the Walter Reed scandal.
Has there ever been an American administration which wrapped itself so tightly in the flag? Have we ever had a government which hid its policies so carefully behind their supposed interest in the welfare of the troops? If you didn’t know any better (which was precisely the idea) you’d have thought these people were tough American war veterans themselves, tempered in the crucible of battle, and now just empathetically looking out for the welfare of today’s kids in situations similar to those in which they had once found themselves.
Never mind that none of them bothered to make their way over to Nam and pitch-in during their day. Except, of course, the only one who opposed the war (privately, that is, while he was selling it publicly at the United Nations). The same one they dumped right after the next election. But Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rice – somehow none of these hyperpatriots ever managed to translate their jingoistic enthusiasm into actually putting themselves into harm’s way.
And yet any American – even (or is it especially?) a real combat veteran – who dares doubt the wisdom of the president’s breathtakingly transparent folly in Iraq has his or her patriotism publicly called into suspicion, always in the name of supporting the troops. To speak the truth is to risk accusations of treason.
Somehow, to call for our soldiers to be removed from a chaotic civil war which was sold on lies from the beginning, and cannot be won but only prolonged until this gang is safely out of office, is failing to support the troops. But sacrificing these soldiers – over three thousand now, with tens of thousands if not as many as a hundred thousand of them gravely injured – for these lies, and to protect this president’s pride, is supporting the troops.
Somehow, calling for these troops to come home safely is undermining them. But sending them on a mission invading an ancient civilization, when the fool who sent them there had only learned of the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims months after he had decided to go to war, is supporting the troops.
Somehow, criticizing the war is an unpatriotic act that disrespects the troops, but sending them to Iraq in insufficient numbers to possibly succeed in order to test the pet theory of a now-fired Secretary of Defense is supporting them.
Somehow, criticizing a commander-in-chief who can’t be bothered to attend a single military funeral is undermining our war effort. But his failing to equip our soldiers with proper armor – to this day, four years into the war – such that their home communities have literally held bake sales to properly outfit them with life-saving protection, that is supporting the troops.
Somehow, it is unpatriotic blasphemy to complain that Americans are being kept, for the first time ever, from seeing the caskets of their fallen soldiers returning to American soil at Dover Air Force Base. But leaving the injured ones to rot in squalid conditions at Walter Reed and elsewhere (haven’t they given enough yet, Mr. Bush?) is supporting the troops.
Somehow, it’s okay for the president to run around the world talking about the importance of freedom, as if he had the faintest clue. While at home his administration has been intimidating and silencing these very same injured soldiers, threatening them if they talk to the press. All in the name of supporting them, of course.
Somehow, the administration can question the patriotism of Congress when it contemplates conditioning war appropriations with requirements that the troops be adequately trained, equipped and rested. But the same administration ‘supports’ those troops by denying and delaying disability benefits to injured veterans in order to help maintain the public lie about the fiscal costs of the war.
Somehow, believing that the burdens of national security – not to mention the momentous policy of invading and occupying another country – ought to be shared by all Americans through a military draft is some kind of socialist plot. But sending Guard and Reserve troops who were never intended for this sort of deployment into three, four and five rotations, not relieving them with regular military draftees, and sticking them alongside highly paid no-bid contractor mercenaries who comprise nearly half the forces on site, that is supporting the troops.
Somehow, criticizing the administration for torturing, humiliating and murdering POWS in hell-holes like Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo, while trashing the Geneva Conventions as “obsolete” and “quaint”, is being soft on terrorism. But the president was supporting the troops when he said of five Americans captured early in the war, “We expect them to be treated humanely, just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely”. God help American soldiers if they are treated the way we’ve treated theirs.
Somehow, caring for the wounded returning from Iraq represents some sort of vaguely liberal anti-American project that ‘compassionate conservatives’ (the oxymoron of the century) find all too suspect. But returning them to the battlefield, as this administration is now doing, even before they’ve recovered from their wounds is a fine case of supporting the troops.
And somehow, arguing that the Iraq war was a ridiculous and tragic diversion from the campaign against al Qaeda only betrays the naiveté of the fools – including former high officials in the Reagan, Bush and even Bush Junior administrations – dumb enough to make such comments. (We either fight them over there or we fight them here, you know.) But creating international chaos, global antipathy toward the United States and legions of angry new terrorists today, whom our soldiers can expect to have to face in battle tomorrow, is supporting the troops.
In what insane world, in what Kafka novel, in what twisted Dali painting, does this litany of Bush administration shame represent supporting the troops? How much Coulter Kool-Aid do you have to drink to believe that sending American forces off to die for a lie is defined as supporting them, while trying to save them from dying for that lie is undermining them? How many Limbaugh Lies do you have to hear before you think that trashing Geneva, overtaxing vulnerable Guard and Reserve forces to avoid a draft, sending injured soldiers back into battle, delaying and denying the meager benefits due to the wounded, and housing them with cockroaches represents support for the troops?
With all due respect to American troops (whose commander-in-chief has shown them none of the respect they’re due, whatsoever), you’d have to be either insane or desperate to join the military today. Which precisely explains why people aren’t doing so anymore. And which also precisely explains why standards have been lowered in recent years in order to meet recruitment targets for the Army and Marines. Low IQ? Never been to high school? Serious criminal record? No problem. There’s a home for you in George W. Bush’s military. They’ll start you off at the rank of Cannon Fodder, First Class, and you’ll see exciting action right away on a romantic desert battlefield. And even though you’ve never spent a day in high school, the military will send you to college when you return. If you return. And if you can survive the compassionate care Mr. Bush has lined up for you at Walter Reed.
From the lies surrounding the Spanish-American War to those behind the Vietnam War to those of the absurd manly Republican adventures in Grenada and Panama, America has too often squandered the lives of its youth for the sport of presidents. And from the Bonus Army to Agent Orange to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the Gulf War Syndrome, America has far too frequently abused them a second time, despite their willingness to answer the call.
Major General Smedley Butler (who knew firsthand whereof he spoke, having served, by his own assessment, as a high-ranked military lackey doing the dirty work for corporate robber-barons in Latin America) nailed it when he said, “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
I like to think that not every war which Americans fought was a scam, though for sure far too many were, and that makes the personal tragedies involved so much more tragic. But other than the fact that (so far) a lot less people have died in Iraq than did in Vietnam, it is unimaginable how this war could be any more tragically wasteful of American (and, far more, Iraqi) lives than it is. And it is unimaginable how an administration could be more contemptuous of those individuals, many of whom choose to serve out of a sheer dedication and patriotism that is completely foreign to cowardly avoiders like Bush and Cheney.
Pat Tillman is the paradigmatic case. By all accounts he was motivated by pure patriotism to sacrifice a career of fame and wealth in order to defend his country after 9/11, and by going to war he knowingly risked sacrificing infinitely more. It was bad enough that he did so only to be killed by friendly fire, though that happens in all wars, and is no doubt usually the result of the best of intentions, if not always the greatest competence.
What cannot be condoned, however, was that he died in Afghanistan fighting a war which his commander-in-chief seems, at best, to have been only vaguely interested in prosecuting, and a lot less than even that once it became possible to instead pursue his pet project in the desert sands of Mesopotamia.
What cannot be condoned is that his president and those around him called upon people like Pat Tillman to fight wars that they wouldn’t fight when it was their turn.
What cannot be condoned is that people like Pat Tillman were turned into props for Karl Rove’s marketing machine, the most cynically bloody political project this side of the 1930s. What cannot be condoned is that his family was lied to about his fate, even while Rove was turning him into a commercial to help move more product.
And what cannot be condoned is that those who were “luckier” than Pat Tillman were cast aside when no longer useful to this gaggle of dark hearts, left to rot with enforced silence in cockroach-infested holding pens, there to begin the looming decades of unalterable suffering, deprivation and frustration which will forever haunt their broken lives.
The sad truth is that this president, this vice-president, and this administration have never given a damn for the soldiers they’ve condemned to lives filled with agony, when they aren’t lives simply cut short in the flower of their youth. (And let’s not even get started on their lack of concern for the infinitely greater number of Iraqi lives shattered by their sporting adventure.) These soldiers are tools to be used for a purpose. They might as well be wrenches or rifles. Their purpose is to win glory and the spoils of war for Bush and Cheney and ExxonMobil.
They have another purpose, as well. These soldiers – these presidential tools – serve as props for Bush administration photo-op propaganda efforts. But only if they’re new and shiny and whole, of course. Rove and his minions regularly make sure that the wounded ones – the amputees, the burned, scarred and mangled, the ones with caved-in crania and permanently melted faces – that these are kept to the side, out of the photo with the smiling, caring, commander-in-chief. And you can bet there won’t be any cockroach-infested rooms or three-day old soiled hospital sheets in the pictures either.
You have to wonder what happened in somebody’s childhood to make them so heartless that they could launch a war like this, based on utter and complete lies, leave the wrecked bodies who come back from it in dumping stations like Walter Reed, stall on providing them even the minimal benefits to which they’re entitled, and then have the audacity to pull the wounded out of presidential photo sessions.
I’m sorry George, Dick, Karl, if your mother was cold or your father distant. I truly am. But this has to stop. As you are so fond of reminding us, it’s all about personal responsibility. Isn’t it still? Regardless of personal circumstances, right? Doesn’t that apply equally to sanctimonious keepers of the public morality as well as to the poor SOBs whom you love to strap onto death chamber gurneys? (And they are, in fact, always poor, and always the product of far more damaging childhoods than you could imagine.) Doesn’t it apply to you Deciders whose decisions have terminated nearly a million lives in Iraq, and brought untold misery to millions more?
So when will you guys take responsibility for what you’ve done? When will you attend a military funeral? When will you simply knock some freakin’ heads together inside the administration which you fully control to fix the medical system for wounded vets, rather than appointing yet another jive Washington commission, with all the same crowd of jive Washington commissioners, to “look into it” and report back a year later with some anemic recommendations that you’ll ignore anyhow? When will you add money to the budget to provide adequate care for these folks you call heros, rather than stealing it from them in order to stuff the pockets of another crony contractor? When will you risk instituting a draft in order to put enough soldiers on the ground such that you don’t drive into the ground the few soldiers that you keep sending back and back and back?
When will you, in short, live up to your own revoltingly cynical rhetoric and start truly supporting the troops, rather than hiding behind them?
On the eve of his illegal and completely unprovoked invasion of another sovereign state, the honor midget known as George Bush had this to say: “I urge every member of the Iraqi military and intelligence services: If war comes, do not fight for a dying regime that is not worth your own life.”
Sadly, those words are far more relevant today for the soldiers of a different dying regime, led by a different thug, attacking a different country.
But one thing remains the same.
Master Bush may not hand you a plastic key to heaven manufactured in Islamabad before he feeds your body to his insatiable war machine, but so deep and so wide are the lies that he might as well be doing so.
Regardless, it is definitely not worth your own life.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net