But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind. [...]
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
-- from Rudyard Kipling's "Tommy"
I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I've walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam. [...]
Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames.
Made a marble phone book and I carved out all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam. [...]
You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.
-- from Adrian Mitchell's "To Whom it May Concern"
written in the 1960s, and recently performed again by the poet, edited from "Vietnam" to "Iraq"
Today -- tomorrow, actually, but celebrated today -- is Veteran's Day. It was originally "Armistice Day," celebrating the end of World War I: the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in 1918 EV.* The end, it was hoped, of War Itself...but since that didn't work out, "Veteran's Day" it became. I usually tend to use Veteran's Day to focus on the bravery and commitment of our armed services, and Memorial Day on the sacrifice of the fallen. This time, however, I have a different focus:
In honor of that long-ago Armistice Day, I am proposing a sort of armistice.
As I've said here before, I don't tend to blame politicians of whatever stripe for lying their populaces into war. Such lying is nearly always required, in small or large measure, to get populaces to take on the burdens of war. I try, even, not to blame politicians overmuch for lying about war during election campaigns: when, that is, their "phony-baloney jobs are at stake" (as St. Mel Brooks put it in Blazing Saddles).
I do not, however, give a similar pass to non-politicians -- career officers who "spin" intelligence,** teevee and print "pundits" who say things they don't believe...and least of all to those simply sharing their opinions, as we do on LJ. See, here's the thing: in every war, even the quick little mismatches that Americans apparently favor, people get maimed and killed, have their stuff blown up and their lives ruined. War is more than just the cheery little masturbatory fantasy that amuses fat noncombatants: it actually hurts and kills folks and stuff. Beyond that, it costs money and entails risks to the balance of global power and has ever so many other effects. All of that being true, then:
I HEREBY BEG EVERYONE WHO SPEAKS OR WRITES ABOUT MATTERS OF WAR AND PEACE TO MAKE SOME EFFORT TO BE SURE THEY'RE TELLING THE TRUTH.
What prompts this is Rush Limbaugh's recent admission that he feels "liberated"*** by the GOP's election losses, because he no longer has to "carry water for" people he truly didn't believe deserved his support. Why (he asked himself) did he carry their water anyway, if he felt like that? "Because the stakes were high!"
There are no higher stakes than those involved in war and peace. That being true, how about we agree to STOP LYING ABOUT THEM.
Some, maybe most, of the lying we see on LJ isn't like Limbaugh's lying: isn't consciously dishonest: is simply a trustful repetition of what paid deceivers like Limbaugh have said. So most people trying to paint a 37-year Marine Corps vet like Congressman Jack Murtha -- a combat volunteer wounded in Vietnam, many years into his service:
-- as some kind of pantywaist, probably really don't know any better. The same sort of thing happened when Army Air Corps volunteer Senator George McGovern, who flew dangerous bombing missions against the Nazis:
-- dared to make the point that we were not "winning," and could not "win," in Vietnam,**** some thirty-five years ago.
Paid liars know better; those duped by them do not. But since these are important issues, let me say it again:
IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO ECHO WHAT YOUR FAVORITE PUNDITS SAY. PUNDITS SOMETIMES LIE TO YOU. IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE FACTS, TRY TO FIND THEM OUT BEFORE POSTING.
I fact-check each and every political post I do here. When I make a mistake, I give prominent play to a correction. These are the bare minimum standards for serious writing about anything...even when lives, limbs, and the futures of nations are not at stake. In particular, I make a habit of acquainting myself with each and every argument against my positions -- not as burlesqued in straw on the websites I happen to favor, but as most compellingly argued by those with whom I most disagree. (The C-SPAN channels are great for this, btw. Rummy's farewell address yesterday, for example.)
You learn a lot this way. And it keeps you from being a liar, and betraying -- among others -- those bleeding and dying on your behalf.
In case I wasn't clear the other day, my biggest current hope is that the President's bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission will allow the two political parties to get together on a solution to the godawful mess in Iraq. I intend to wholeheartedly support nearly anything they come up with,***** because unity on these issues is unbelievably important, even on punkass LJ pages.
One more poem:
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
-- A.E. Housman
Stop betraying your country. Stop betraying our troops. We're entitled to, the country needs, our varying opinions...let's just commit ourselves to keeping them somewhere near the underlying facts.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* A semester in which, AC informs us, his Equinoctial Word had been "eleven." Spooky.
** A number of career foreign service officers, intelligence people, and others have either quit or lost jobs thanks to a collision between their devotion to their duties and current policy -- not always Iraq policy, either. Examples: the CIA officer told by then-director Porter Goss that telling the Vice President "No" was the "Wrong answer" (she replied, rightly, that sometimes telling the Vice President "No" is exactly what they're paid to do); and career diplomat John Brady Kiesling, whose wonderful new book Diplomacy Lessons I'll be reviewing shortly (but strongly recommend right now). It is one thing for politicians to lie; quite another for them to fire career professionals for privately telling them the truth.
*** Online gag about this: "Limbaugh greets Democrats as liberators." Heh.
**** But wait: since we "won" every engagement on the ground, didn't we only "lose" because we gave up too soon? Short answer: Hell no. The French tried for years, and we tried for upwards of a decade: there was no way to "win" in Vietnam at a remotely acceptable cost. The Vietnamese, unlike many peoples on earth (but, it would appear, much like the Iraqis), were fierce nationalists: you could use nuclear weapons to exterminate them all, but short of that "winning" was impossible. Had we shown the slightest sign of a miracle happening, and our being able to drive up to Hanoi and occupy the whole country -- a total fantasy -- the Chinese would certainly have intervened and stopped us, just as they did in Korea. Military experts all know this now; part of the reason the Pentagon so strenuously opposed the invasion of Iraq. (In fairness, however, this is not to say that there was never a point in fighting in Vietnam, irrespective of the outcome. Would that the same could be said of Iraq.)
***** I hope to post my own analysis of possible options -- none of them nice -- in the next day or two.