How Do We Honor Our Fallen Troops
In A Wrongful War?
Cindy Sheehans Uplifting And Soulful Book
by Paul Rockwell
In 1914, at the outset of World War I, Rudyard Kipling, the bellicose poet of the British empire who coined the infamous phrase white mans burden, urged his own son to join the British military. One week after his son enlisted, he was dead. Overwhelmed with grief, Kipling wrote two Epitaphs for War. In the first, dead soldiers speak:
In the second, The Dead Statesman, a statesman speaks:
There are many kinds of betrayal in human affairs -- forgery, embezzlement, adultery, murder. But in the affairs of state, there is no greater disloyalty, no greater act of betrayal, than to send young men and women to their deaths on the basis of fraud.
To lie is to murder.
That is the theme of Cindy Sheehans defiant, witty, compassionate, and deeply patriotic first book: Not One More Mothers Child. What begins in grief over the loss of her son Casey on April 4, 2004, ends in hope at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005. Action overcomes grief. Direct action empowers.
While she confronts the enormity of suffering caused by lies of state, she does not devote a lot of space to proving that Bush manufactured the case for war. She relies on the long trail of evidence -- the early vows of Bush to take down Saddam; the revelations of Paul ONeill, Joseph Wilson, Richard Clarke and other whistle blowers; the report of Representative Henry Waxman on Administration statements known to be false at the time they were made; and of course, the Downing Street memo. All evidence that is already available.
Who Murdered Casey?
Not One More Mothers Child is primarily about a mothers love of her child and the enormity of the lies that strangled his life.
American readers know very little about Casey Sheehan from the news. Cindys book gives us an opportunity to meet her son as she knew him. Not a day passes when she does not remember Caseys idiosyncrasies, those special little things, like the toddlers remark: I wuv you, Mom.
Casey was a gentle, kind, loving person. He never even got into a fist fight his whole life. He was an Eagle Scout, and altar boy, and he joined the army in the hope of becoming a Chaplains assistant. When he got to Iraq, the definition of the enemy kept expanding. He was confused by the changing mission and was never quite sure why he was ordered to fight.
Army Specialist Casey Sheehan died in an ambush in Sadyr City, April 4, 2004. Bill Mitchell, Cindys comrade in grief, also lost his son Michael in the same calamity. The Iraqi people are patriotic and proud. It was a huge blunder when U.S. commanders closed down the Shiite newspaper. Rebellions erupted throughout the city. Shiite youth, many no older than Michael and Casey, set up roadblocks. They placed washing machines, refrigerators and burning tires into the streets. American soldiers were trapped by an ill-trained militia, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
Who, then, killed Casey? His mothers answer is unflinching. Casey was murdered by President Bush. American soldiers are victims of their own government. Bush, she explains, put our kids in another persons country, and Casey was killed by insurgents. He wasnt killed by terrorists. He was killed by Shiite militia who wanted him out of the country, after Casey had been told he would be welcomed with chocolate and flowers as a liberator. The Iraqi people saw it differently. They saw him as an occupier.
Bill Mitchell agrees with Cindy. My son was killed by Saddams enemies. We have created enemies because of our actions. Iraqis are responding to what the U.S. has done, and we just continue to fight anyone who gets in the way.
What makes Cindys book so refreshing is her ability to learn from pain, to rise above her own personal tragedy. She does not express any animosity toward the Iraqis. Her restraint is no small achievement in a wealthy country consumed by nationalism, where it is easier to hate than to understand.
A set of democratic precepts -- that we are all Gods children; that the insurgents are defending their own homes, streets, and mosques from outside invaders; that Iraqis have as much right to self-determination, the right to be left alone by outside powers, as the American people -- basic common sense underlies her speeches, letters, and her appeals to the conscience of America.
Her book advances the gutsy argument that first appeared in a pamphlet by the U.S. Army veteran Sam Goff: To preserve your own humanity, you must recognize the humanity of the people whose nation you now occupy and know that both you and they are victims of the filthy rich bastards who are calling the shots.
How to Honor the Fallen
More than any other contemporary writer and activist, Cindy Sheehan has found a way to honor American troops while repudiating the war in which they are trapped.
She exposes one of the most overlooked and ugly features of wartime propaganda: the political exploitation of human grief, the perverted use of the dead to make war on the living.
In the early phase of the occupation, Bush hardly acknowledged the death toll in Iraq (and he never mentions the magnitude of Iraqi suffering). Now Bush is becoming desperate to find new excuses to prolong the war. He transforms memorials into platforms for the occupation, and his condolences are laced with political aims of empire and war.
In a series of speeches Bush stated: We owe the troops something. We will finish the task for which they gave their lives. We have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen by completing the mission. For Cindy, this attempt to link the honor of Casey to the leveling of cities, the use of cluster bombs that maim Iraqi children, the raiding of Iraq homes, the infamy of Abu Ghraib, the senseless deaths of more American youth, is outrageous.
How does Bush honor soldiers by killing more of their buddies? Cindy asks. I know my son better than anyone on earth, and I know he is appalled by the continued carnage in his name. As a mother, why would I want any other mother -- American or Iraqi -- to go through the same pain that I am suffering?
With a directness characteristic of all her writing, she says: I demand that you, Mr. Bush, stop using my sons name and my familys sacrifices to continue your illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq.
Nor is Cindy alone in addressing what Chris Hedges calls military necrophilia. All wars feed on martyrs, writes Hedges. The mention of the dead instantly shuts down all arguments for compromise or tolerance. It is the dead who rule. They speak from beyond the grave urging the nation onward to revenge. The cause, sanctified by the dead, cannot be questioned without dishonoring those who gave their lives.
Military invocations of death often resemble those ancient rituals in which tribal leaders required human sacrifice to appease the gods of war. Bush, however, is a sophisticated barbarian. He knows that, without identification with our troops, his morally indefensible war would be repudiated by the American people. It is Americas emotional attachment to their troops, who are prepared to risk their lives when their country is under a real attack, that has -- so far -- saved Bush from self-destruction. And that is why, of course, he delivers so many speeches against the backdrop of the troops.
Would our fallen troops want their own comrades to meet untimely deaths? Would they invite us to take more revenge on Iraqis who possess no weapons of mass destruction? If they could speak to us from beyond, would they not cry out, as did the dead soldiers in Kiplings epitaph: If any question why we died, tell them because our fathers lied.?
Such questions answer themselves. But Cindy addresses another kind of question, a spiritual enigma that is not easy to solve. Did our soldiers die in vain? Was it all for nothing? How do grieving families find peace if they face the truth about war?
It is the message of Cindys book, I believe, so simple and so profound, that only the truth can heal. Only the truth can liberate the memory of the fallen. Our soldiers deserve a reckoning. And we must honor them in a way that affirms the sacredness of life.
We cannot bring back the dead. But we can end the war and hold our leaders accountable for their crimes. We can turn Caseys sacrifice into a message for peace. Then even the dead, through Cindys inspiration, can save future generations from the scourge of war. Then -- perhaps only then -- our fallen comrades can rest in peace
Published in In Motion Magazine November 24, 2005.
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