The Children’s Crusade
by Ryan McMaken
It is one of the most unfortunate realities of war, that no matter how just a cause may be, once the hostilities begin, the people on the front lines pay the highest price. This includes both Iraqi and American soldiers, of course, and many thousands of Iraqi civilians as well, but alas, in the chaos of war — and it truly is chaos — there is little time to debate how one ended up in such a regrettable place.
For the Americans, this is an aggressive war. The battle lines have been drawn many thousands of miles from American soil, and the Iraqis are paying for the crimes of a band of Saudi Arabian ideologues educated in Western universities. For the Catholic American soldier who no doubt is aware that the Church has condemned this conflict, how much responsibility does he share? His Holiness John Paul II has deemed this war well outside the just war tradition, but has saved his ire only for those who have had direct responsibility in beginning hostilities. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien took a similar position, but in the typical language of the watered-down American version of Catholicism stated that it is "appropriate" to "presume the integrity of our leadership and its judgments." Now, as noted by other observers of this little discussion, the archbishop’s use of the word "appropriate" is a long way from using a word like "proper" or "correct." The fact that both the Pope and Archbishop O’Brien are willing to give the common soldiers a pass in this conflict probably comes out of the knowledge that both men have of the horrors and the confusion of war.
Any combat veteran will tell you that in the heat of battle, one is thinking little of abstract ideals or philosophical conundrums. One fights primarily for the defense of his brothers in arms and out of a good old-fashioned desire for self-preservation. The law of the jungle that — contrary to the fantasies of the War Party — prevails on the battlefield does not allow much more than minimalist thinking. A friend of mine in graduate school, who had served as an infantryman in the Gulf and in Somalia, once remarked that "nothing focuses your mind like battle," for at such times, no other thoughts may be indulged. To hold the young men and (unfortunately) women, who find themselves in such situations without ever wishing it upon themselves, to the same standards as the ideologues and desk jockeys who put them there is unwise.
Should 19 year-olds like Jessica Lynch be condemned for fighting a war that Richard Perle & Co. started? Can we in good conscience expect someone who is essentially little more than a high school senior to tell his or her commanding officers to buzz off? There will be situations, of course, where one will be required to use his moral judgment in the face of seemingly irresistible peer pressure and reckless orders handed down from the civilians playing GI Joe at the Pentagon. All we can do is hope that these men and women, for their sakes, will have the fortitude to do what is right.
Like my friend who joined the Army to escape the poverty of the Indian reservation, many of these soldiers have joined the military because they saw no other opportunities available to them. In a country with declining real wages, exorbitant tax rates, a rising cost of living due to a reckless monetary policy, and a crippled economy, who can blame such people for taking advantage of the lure of college scholarships and job security? As billions of dollars are taxed out of the private sector and put into government jobs, what can one do but simply follow the money?
This is not to say that people who enlist do not have free will. The arguments that some leftists make about the military being inherently racist have little basis in fact, but we do know that the ranks of enlisted men and women is not exactly representative of the most well-educated and most economically endowed people in the country. We also know however, that this war is primarily the brain-child of a small group of very highly educated men and women, mostly of the New York-D.C. axis and virtually none of whom have had any military experience.
While the American soldiers marching through Iraq will no doubt get real blood on their hands —some of it from fallen comrades and some from Iraqis — those who have the truly blood-soaked hands will be those who insisted that the reluctant military leadership send these people into combat and destroy a starving, diseased population in the name of "preemptive" war and a nonexistent connection to the forever at-large Osama bin Laden.
Just as it was wrong to label every German boy who fought in World War II a Nazi, it would be wrong now to label 20 year-old boys complicit in the utopian dreams of the establishment elites. Kurt Vonnegut subtitled his World War II novel, Slaughterhouse Five, "The Children’s Crusade," and there is no doubt the author witnessed how, during the Battle of the Bulge, Roosevelt and his lieutenants sent rosy-cheeked 18 year-old draftees to take a bullet on the front lines. It was the children who fought the war then, and unfortunately, little has changed.