by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
May 31, 2004
PROUD, BLOODY AND UNBOWED
As I prayed for them at Mass Sunday evening, my cousin Paul Michael Roberts and my friends Phil Ruminski and Richard Marsh came out of the ether happy to see me, their arms linked as mine reached into their world, joining us in a happy moment of remembrance that inspires me tonight. Paul was my gentle and happy cousin, Phil a genuinely talented young artist, and Richard a young person of great integrity. Each taught me a lesson in life, and each has become a special part of me in death. I wish I visited more often.
These young men, each a soldier killed in Vietnam, are the reason I write today; in the many years since I started writing about them in 1979, we have renewed the fleeting friendships we had in childhood and high school and made them permanent; they will be waiting when I cross the bridge between our worlds for good.
Tonight they move me to write not of men but of the fate of nations.
America has once again crossed an ocean and attacked a nation that has not attacked us (parenthetically, please recall that the Gulf of Tonkin incident that precipitated the War Powers Resolution of 1964 and the widening of the Vietnam War never happened, a respected presidential historian has revealed; and few of our readers will believe that our casus belli, weapons of mass destruction, remain to be found in Iraq). For that, my ancient father, 93 and blind, a veteran and a lifelong Republican, a graduate of the War College, has condemned President George W. Bush. I cannot condemn an American president; if it need be done, they must do it to themselves, and invariably they do. This essay is not about President Bush, then, but about America and the nations we have engaged in his term on the field of battle, which are Iraq and Afghanistan, and about several nations whose behavior we have condemned, Syria, Libya, and Iran.
There has been a great lifting of the veil. Behind it we see the greed of Halliburton, which stole millions but let soldiers go hungry, thirsty and unprotected; the horrific torture, and many murders, of helpless prisoners in Iraq; the jailing of innocent people, held incommunicado for months, subjected to abuse and interrorgation that was pointless, and now, after the adulation has subsided, the revelation that one of the most inspiring of this war's heroes, the NFL star Paul Tillman, was killed by our own troops; now we learn of the twisted connections of another, Nicholas Berg, to a Sept. 11 hijacker. The giant Disney Corp. has supressed a film by Michael Moore, who interviewed Berg for his film about the war before he went to Iraq. In this past Sunday's New York Times. the Public Editor tells of how the paper's greatest journalists were taken in by cunning sources who told them false stories that were printed on the front page and helped justify our going to Iraq.
It is an extremely difficult time to be a hero, except for the fatherless cause of the terrorists, whose legions fight on neither led nor followed. How much less for President Bush, who hailed the end of combat operations months before they actually began in earnest, or for Tony Blair, a Labor Prime Minister whose liberal views did not spare him from the images of his own soldiers torturing Iraqis splashed on the pages of Conservative Party newspapers and those of his party's tabloid allies alike. Our first choice for the leadership of the Iraqi government, Ahmed Chalabi, has now been revealed as a conduit for Iranian disinformation that ended up backing the President's untruths in his 2003 State of the Union speech. The feckless generals, the tight-lipped spokesmen, the media blackout on soldiers' coffins, the ratag army of a ragged mullah forcing high-tech forces out of dusty, dirt-brick cities; we should be grateful not only for their sacrifice today, but that the number of the dead, standing at 2:22 a.m. this morning at 811, can still be contained in a few panels of one Doonesbury cartoon strip on the comics page.
Two years from now, if left to deteriorate, it might fill the entire newspaper.
But it may be of some solace to the parents of Paul, Phil and Richard that what they believed - that they were fighting for our right to be free - has triumphed. We have quickly learned enough from the lesson their lost lives still offer us to have quickly short-circuited the rhetoric of this new unjust war and to reveal at least the skeleton of the death machine it truly is. That is the triumph of a free press, free speech, free assembly, and of all our Constitutional rigfhts in one form or another. That the number of the dead is not in the tens of thousands yet and that the war machine is already crippled is a testament that what they believed about us still lives free.
The men and women who actually go out and bear arms and fight are also not without their triumphs. They have helped coerce Iran into revealing its plans to build nuclear weapons; they have convinced the leader of Libya to give up his nuclear program; they have stopped the Pakistani whose network distributed nuclear weapons secrets; they have persuaded the Saudi kings that our terrorist problem is theirs, as well as ours; they have chased the malicious former rulers of Afghanistan into a Stone Age lifestyle that fits their philosophies; they have contributed immeasurably to the security of Israel, our lone permanent ally in the Middle East; and in accomplishing these things, even as they still search for Osama Bin Laden, they have given us reason to let them go home proud, bloody and unbowed. No one can ask their soldiers for more.
When Americans elect a new President in November, the dead - and yes, a name from my town is on that list - the brave dead who believed they fought for freedom will have their ultimate triumph in the renewal of our American democracy. We will seek a wiser, braver man, a better leader, a more finely tuned personality, a stronger voice than that of the belligerent Texan who now holds the job. In fact, that man will be a soldier, too, one who fought beside Paul and Philip and Richard, so in the end, they won. As I hang the flag to wait for dawn, I hold them close.