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Friday, March 24, 2006

Smokey Briggs

Sage Views

By Smokey Briggs

Who is qualified to
send your son to war?

This week the Associated Press carried an article explaining that it looks like the U. S. will be camping in Iraq for a while - given the permanent installations we are building complete with Burger Kings and Pizza Huts.

I wonder how many of our boys eating at the Iraqi Burger King would vote to participate in this war that has cost more than 2,000 of their comrades’ lives and taken years from their productive lives?

In a speech on Tuesday President Bush admitted we were not going home anytime soon, saying that it would be up to some other president to bring our boys home.

Actually it ought to be up to Congress, since they have the only constitutional authority to send our boys to war, but the elected, gutless wonders of Congress abdicated that responsibility decades ago.

It is funny how your perspective changes as you grow older - and more importantly, as you learn more about the world you live in.

In 1991, I was ticked off that the elder Bush did not call up the 49th Armored Division to finish off Baghdad. I was a 25-year-old squad leader in Alpha Co, 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, and I was ready to go and defend my country against all comers.

Today, if Bush Jr. tried to call me up, I think I could resist the bugle call of nationalism. It would be hard, but I think I could. Instead, I think I would grab my best blaster and head for Washington hunting polecats and various scoundrels.

What changed?

Well, for starters, I’ve lived 16 more years and know a lot more than I did then.

More importantly, I have three little girls and a wife depending on me to feed them.

Knowledge, though, is what has really changed my thinking.

In 1933, Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, said the following:

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.

“I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”

Butler was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor twice for his bravery in action. He served as a Marine for 33 years. He was no coward, and no limp-wristed mook incapable of looking the reality of a hostile world in the face.

I did not fully understand Butler’s words, though I had read them, when I was 25. Honestly I thought his words the product of old age and accompanying infirmness of mind.

I was wrong. His words are the product of 33 years of hard-won wisdom. I admire him doubly now - for his valor as a fellow Marine in defense of what he thought right, and for his introspective courage in finding that what he had fought so valorously for, was wrong.

If you peruse the media outlets on a given night you will find any number of critics of the present war. A regular criticism is that the majority of the Bush administration and their fellow war hawks have never bothered to serve in the military, and hence do not have the experience to judge when we should go to war.

It’s easy to bite on this bait, but the reasoning is sophomoric.

The truth is, none of our elected officials are qualified to determine when we should put our boys lives on the line.

I do not care how many years of service a man has, once he is out of uniform, his perspective is liable to change.

War is good business - if your business makes a product incidental to the war effort - and most do. Businesses elect congressmen and presidents.

War is also good business if you are a career officer. Military careers are well advanced with combat commands.

Politicians, businessmen and officers have a multitude of self-serving reasons to think a given war is a good thing.

Butler recognized this and had another suggestion for our country.

He suggested that only those who would have to actually fight - those who would have to leave their homes and watch their families and careers suffer in their absence - be the ones who decide whether we go fight.

Not those of us who will sit comfortably at home and read about it in the papers, and stick a magnetic flag on our car, but those who will actually have to put their life on the line.

Put it to a vote.

And please do not tell me that in essence, by volunteering for military service, our boys already “voted.”

They volunteered to protect their country. That is hardly volunteering to advance the economic and political interest of corporate America, its bought-and-paid-for politicians and a few generals hoping for a third star on their collars.

Volunteering for military service is not the same as volunteering for every dipstick’s war game with real bullets that happens to get elected president.

After 40 years as an American I have no doubt that if Russian armored columns were pushing toward the Montana border, or Iraqi landing boats were plowing through the warm waters of the Gulf, the able-bodied men, and many of the not-so-able-bodied, would rush to defend their homes and those of their countrymen.

I would. I would be beating on the door at Headquarters Marine Corps demanding somebody teach me how to field strip the new machinegun now in service.

The consequences of not going outweigh the possibility of my girls losing their dad, and their livelihood. Most of the men I know would do the same under those circumstances.

But, no one has convinced me that the consequences of not fighting the Iraqi’s are worse than the possibility of my girls loosing their father.

And so I am not beating on the doors at Headquarters Marine Corps demanding to be reinstated and given a new machinegun.

If I am not willing to put my life on hold and go to war, how can I ask some 19-year-old kid to go and do what I am not willing to do myself?

By my definition, doing so is pure hypocrisy.

And I would bet my last dollar that if you put it to a vote, the boys “having it your way” in Iraq would vote to come home - and stay here until a real threat to our safety materializes.

And they would be right.

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