DEAR AMERICAN SOLDIERS:
I wish you a safe holiday. Congratulations on being named Time magazine's Person of the Year.
You might find this strange coming from the journalistic equivalent of Scrooge. I was against the war. I wrote last week that despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, the war is still a lie. I believe history will be less kind than today's triumphant headlines. I believe that thousands of Iraqi babies, mothers, and fathers are dead because our political leaders created a panic over weapons of mass destruction that have not yet been found. I fear America will one day pay for our panic.
I also recognize and salute your personal courage. You are mothers and fathers, too. Many of you are also babies. Of the 460 American soldiers who have died in Iraq, 36 were 18 or 19 years old. My oldest son is 18. My best friend's son recently turned 21. My friend was also against the war. His son is in the military and may very well go to Iraq. My friend cried: "They're babies. Just babies."
On this eve of the Christian celebration of a baby, I celebrate you. In June, I wrote a column that said our soldiers must be dying for oil, since we found no weapons of mass destruction. I wrote, "Nearly another 50 soldiers have died in nebulous situations that range from justifiable self-defense to dubious overreactions more reminiscent of the shootings of American students and rioters by National Guardsmen in the 1960s."
That column sparked a letter from the father of a 20-year-old soldier who died a month after President Bush declared major combat operations to be over. The father wrote: "The use of the word `nebulous' is insulting to all who do their duty every day and especially to those who lose their lives. My son died doing what he volunteered for, doing something he loved and was exceptional at.
"You insult his intelligence by intimating that he was some sort of dupe in this grand power play for the world's oil. If you have a point, then make it, but do not invoke the memory of my son to justify your political point of view. . . . My son willingly followed the orders of his commander in chief to accomplish a mission.
"During his time in Iraq, he grew to like and respect the people there. On missions (prior to his death) he earned the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal. All this from a 20-year-old Airborne infantryman. Do not dare to insult his memory by equating him with a barrel of oil."
I wrote the father back: "I am very sorry that your son was killed serving this country. . . . I certainly and sincerely understand how reading my column during this time could inflame your feelings.
"What I want you to know is that while you and I have strong, differing feelings about the political purpose of the war itself and the decisions and actions of world leaders that led to it, I have no doubt that at the individual level, young men and women went off genuinely believing they were furthering the cause of peace and democracy and helping to create a better world.
"If it is of any solace to you, despite the anger my column caused you, I salute your son as he died in the service of freedom, with one of those freedoms being freedom of speech and the freedom to dissent without fear of retribution."
The father wrote back: "I have always believed the true fundamental strength of our country is the vast diversity of people and their thoughts. We will never have just one mind-set. . . . Thanks for responding and hope to keep in contact. On a lighter note, my slightly premature but inevitable condolences for another also-ran season for the beloved Red Sox -- born and raised in the Bronx."
Dear American soldiers, perhaps there will come a day where the true fundamental strength of our country will be measured more by our diversity than by our ability to wage war. I trust we share that common dream even as we disagree about how to get there. I believe that in your hearts, you are trying to make the world a safer place, where diversity of political thought becomes a global value.
f it is of any solace to you, despite my opposition to the war, I salute the fact that you are ready to give your lives for an ideal. Be careful as you patrol the streets. Defend yourselves if you must.
When you can, take a hard look at the Iraqi man, woman, or child your gun is pointed at. You are in Iraq under the orders of the commander in chief. I cannot do anything about that. What I can wish for is that even as many Christians prepare to sing "Peace on earth, goodwill to men," that you find a way, one soldier at a time, to bring it to Iraq. I pray that babies stop killing babies.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.