Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have died since the start of the Iraq War. As we read particulars about the lives of Americans who have died or been maimed in Iraq, the bleak comparison between a life lived fully and a life cut short, lost to a cause that was misrepresented and illegal from the outset, can only overwhelm us. This is especially poignant for Mainers since, as the Bangor Daily News pointed out in a recent article, Maine's recruitment rate for the Iraq War ranks third in the nation.
One of the best World War I war poets, Wilfred Owen, spoke out during a similar debacle in his poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est." In the poem, Owen recounts the horror of a soldier's death by mustard gas, describing the "white eyes writhing in his face" and the blood "gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs." War is senseless and barbaric, Owen argues in the poem, and the romantic idea of dying gloriously for one's country is founded on empty rhetoric. The poem concludes: "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory,/The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro Patria Mori." "The old Lie" is a line from an ode by Horace, the Roman poet: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." Owen himself was killed in battle on Nov. 4, 1918, one week before the armistice.
Reread Owen's poem. It should speak profoundly to American readers as we approach two appalling milestones: 4,000 Americans dead, five years of war. Granted, there are many among us who would willingly fight in a war that threatened our freedom and our way of life, but we are not in such a war. We were never threatened by Iraq, and Iraq had no part in the Sept. 11 attacks. The reasons for going to war were misrepresented and groundless. They were lies.
The deceptions and failures of the Bush-Cheney administration have placed young Americans in a war where lives are cut short and bodies maimed by IEDs, snipers and the myriad other dangers in a war zone. Our continued presence in Iraq perpetuates this havoc. The planning for the invasion was grossly inadequate in part because the administration showed disdain for the history of the Middle East. This, combined with revelations such as the Abu Ghraib humiliations and tortures, and more recently the cowboy tactics of the Blackwater mercenaries who are apparently subject to no rules at all, indicate a broad disregard for human life and human dignity. Those who have been humiliated seek revenge. They join terrorist groups.
The Islamic Middle East was my home for seven years. I taught Turks, Iranians, Kurds, Armenians, Baha'is, Jews and Azerbaijanis. I traveled through Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. I know these peoples a bit. They are like us. They want warm houses, good schools, jobs, hospitals - you can complete the list because it is your list as well - and they want peace.
They hate the condescension and arrogance of the Bush-Cheney administration's foreign policy - the invasion, the bombings, the torturing, the surge, the mercenaries - but most do not hate Americans. They discern the difference between political arrogance and the wishes and needs of average citizens. All of us - Iraqis, Turks, Iranians and Americans - want to be able to live out our lives, to make our marks. Of course we "support our troops" as the ubiquitous ribbon counsels, but that does not mean we must support a broken government and the lies, old or new, that place our soldiers in harm's way.
Thomas Moore of Brooksville is a retired Maine Maritime Academy professor.
© 2008 Bangor Daily News