What Would You Tell Them?

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if the job fell to you, what you would tell the family of a young
soldier who has been killed in Iraq? You would say, of course,
that he was a fine soldier and that he was very brave, and you
would leave out the part about ghastly wounds, suffering, and
fear. But what would you tell them he died for? That is the real
question, and it is as hard to answer now as it was during Vietnam.
I clearly remember the first time I pondered it. It was in 1967.
I was an honor guard looking into the coffin of a fellow soldier
and watching his mother retch with grief.

did he die for? Even though you would like to, you cannot honestly
tell the soldier's family that he died serving his country, that
is, defending America's freedom and keeping us safe. This would
be the proper answer according to our constitutional purpose for
having a military. However, neither Saddam Hussein nor Ho Chi
Minh ever threatened America or was capable of attacking our country
in force. Even Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, such as they
may be, would require the aid of terrorist groups to be loosed
upon us; but our own CIA has not found any good evidence that
such terrorist connections exist. Furthermore, 9/11 proved that
religious fanatics are emboldened, not cowered, by armies of infidels
tromping through their lands. So then, did this soldier's death
make us safer from terrorism? You had better not suggest this
to his family because things may get a lot worse.

may also be tempted to consider that Saddam was a beast to his
own people and a threat to his neighbours. He had to go. But there
are other beasts in the world. Is it our responsibility to remove
them, too, or is that the business of the oppressed and their
neighbours? As gratifying as it is to see the regime of Hussein
toppled, our constitution does not obligate us to rid the world
of beasts. The public treasury and the lives of our children who
would fight these battles are too limited to be used for reasons
other than protecting America's liberty. Compassionate and able-bodied
men may choose to fight as mercenaries in various causes around
the world, and individual Americans may choose to finance them
and cheer them, but our government should not be permitted to
engage in such crusades. There is no end to noble causes, but
there is an end to our priceless children and hard-earned money.

big difference between Iraq and Vietnam is that soldiers in Iraq
volunteered for the military whereas most were conscripted during
Vietnam. This only changes their motives, however, not their employer.
The government sent our young man to Iraq for whatever reasons,
and he did his duty. Therefore, we can finally answer the question
of what to tell his family: "Your son (or husband) died
serving his government while bravely liberating the people of
a distant land and protecting them from harm. Please accept this
flag as a symbol of a grateful government." Well, it
is not very comforting, but it is honest. This is why it will
not be told his family. They will be lied to, just like the weeping
mother of that dead soldier in 1967.

14, 2003

Smith, DC, EdD, [send him
] teaches anatomy & physiology at Southwest Tennessee
Community College in Memphis. He and his wife homeschool their three


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