Monday, May 21, 2007


I've never been to Iraq. I've never fought in a war. I was born a female, delegated to the kitchen and to the task of having children, baking cookies, rocking grandchildren, decorating homes. When I did take on a career, as a reporter for various newspapers, I had to tuck that career inbetween my housewifely duties and, if the school called, it wasn't my husband who deserted his path to trudge to the principal's office.

Now I am old and retired, with a lot of time to think things over. If I have any regrets, its for building a nest and not allowing the world to interfere. No huge problems penetrated that nest, because I protected it with all of my strength. If people were dying in Africa, it wasn't my concern. My concern was griddling pancakes for a tribe of hungry kids.

It was the Vietnam War that awakened me from my domestic trance. In my work, I met people who explained the political world to me. I met Jane Fonda, who was hated by veterans, but persisted in her effort to further her causes. I met military leaders, foot soldiers, leaders from both the Black community and the White. And I emerged as a rebel, a person ready to champion the poor and battle against the greed and pomposity that the corporate world seems to have.

Without experience on the field of battle, I can only imagine what it is like. Imagine being a young soldier, just a step away from mindless nonresponsibility, a life of playing video games and teasing his younger sister, suddenly swept into a gory life that includes fearing for life itself and watching the blood drain from a buddy's body after a bomb has exploded!

Imagine getting up in the morning, if one is fortunate enough to survive the night, to face a day patroling a country where the enemy could be man, woman or child, where there is no way to tell the difference, where that wonderful world of mindless childhood is a million light years behind!

We are not raising our boys to be soldiers. We are protecting them with our time and our money and our love. Our biggest battle is with a Math teacher or an unsympathetic principal, and we fight those battles, they don't. They are busy playing games and being kids. We are teaching our children the rudiments of education, but the closest they have come to carnage and want is in the excitement and gore of a video game, or in a scary movie where a man with a hatchet practices his insane rage on the unwary.

When these boys...these children...are thrust into battle, they grow up fast, and they do their best to come home alive. But many of them don't, or if they do, they have left behind an arm, a leg, eyesight, or the ability to think straight. If they are dead, they are bundled into coffins and seemingly smuggled into the country, possibly in the dead of the night, silent cargo, arriving home to be distributed to the grieving parents. No bugles send a doleful message, no rockets reach up into the air, no drums pound out a grievous sound. Here and there, flags are lowered in their honor, to be glanced at as we are driving by.

Our country has accepted this silence as a part of the George W. Bush terms of warfare and because of the compliance of his Base. Support the Troops while they live! Forget them if they die! When college students were shot and killed by a mentally twisted Oriental man, the nation mourned. The President attended a ceremony held on their behalf. Surviving students were given the benefit of counseling. The nation collectively sat before their television sets and listened to testimonials from survivors, from parents, from experts unraveling the threads.

But the dead soldiers come home in silence, barely mentioned on television broadcasts, tucked into page nine in many newspapers. We pour over the lives of Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, chuckling, shaking our heads, giving them more coverage than the military dead ever receive. Even that coverage may be faulty, manipulated and patted over like a lump of clay being sculpted into an art form. Reporters are embedded, or they huddle into a safer place called the Green Zone. But our young soldiers have no Green Zone. Their zone, patroling those streets, is red with blood.

Then, too, there are the wounded. Only recently was it found that many of them are treated in facilities rank with mold and decay, rusting pipes and rotting walls. We haven't even ascertained that our wounded soldiers are given the finest of facilities, the finest of treatment. There they are, these former video game players, these former Soccer field participants, minus their limbs, their eyesight, and in many cases, their mental capacity, and there are damned few media stories covering their plight. Only occasionally does a picture of one of them emerge from the murky shadows of national media. Only now and then do we stop to consider what is happening to these young men and women.

The American public is the fodder that feeds this war. They have fueled it with their money, their acquiescence, their sons and daughters. Even those who disagree with it fail to act, so enmeshed with fear have we become. We do not join Cindy Sheehan and march the streets of Washington, D.C. It's the Illegal Aliens doing that, demanding attention! We do not demand attention for the dead soldiers, or the living ones. We do not storm the citadel with our rage!

We do not do these things because that war in Iraq is a distant thing. Our lives go on, as though nothing is happening. Yes, we know about it, but it does not directly affect us. So, our young are dying or being maimed, our money is tossed into a cavernous task evidently rife with waste and corruption, and our freedoms are being nibbled away. So what's for dinner?

While in Scotland, I was approached in a cafe by an angry man. He was a huge fellow with a head of unruly hair, a mustache and a beard. He had obviously had a drink or two, and his eyes burned with emotion. "Ye're an American!" he said, the accusation in his voice obvious to all.

"Well," he said, "ye are a bloody damned fool!"

I did not answer him and he stormed out of the cafe, still angry, still muttering to himself. My gut reaction was to answer him in anger, to defend our country, wave our flag, sing God Bless America, point out all of our good qualities. However, as I think over this episode and consider the mess the world has become, I have to admit I agree with him. I AM an American and I have been a bloody damned fool. I have allowed my country to behave in a way that has made us hated throughout the world. We all have to carry this guilt. Bloody damned fools might be an apt description, or it might not be emphatic enough!

We are like mice caught by their tails in a wire trap, pulling and struggling and dragging our traps across the kitchen floors, only to meet a hard, resistant wall. We know this is wrong. We know it should end. We know we should shout it out in louder voices. But we cower in our nests and try to keep the world from interfering with our safe little havens. As the war, job losses, lack of health care, and other problems nibble away at these nests, we cling to the dream of what used to be and refuse to face what is and what will be, if we do not make sure we change things.