Burning Patriotism

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When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882), Journals, 1824

Acting Secretary of the Army Brownlee has praised the wife of Major General Buford Blount, Commander of the Third Infantry Division, for an email she sent to spouses of Third ID members. Mrs. Blount’s email stated "When the Iraqis see media coverage of disgruntled Americans, publicly campaigning for the return of our soldiers from Iraq, they are encouraged and believe their strategy is working. They believe that their continued attacks on American soldiers are having the desired affect and are diminishing the resolve of the American people to complete the task in Iraq.”

But wait! They have a "strategy"? I thought Mr. Rumsfeld just said that the guerilla war we have engendered against American soldiers in Iraq was just some disgruntled Ba-athists, the odd and disorganized efforts of a few lowlifes and criminals, soon to diminish in their resolve and none too serious as it is. Well, perhaps Acting Secretary Brownlee will receive his own email from his boss on this subject at a later date.

There is a bigger problem illustrated by Mrs. Blount’s missive to wives at home. It isn’t that the appeals to "patriotism" increasingly ring hollow across the country. That is to be expected, given a war entered preemptively, for no other provable reason than King George and his neo-conservative foreign policy gurus in the Pentagon and the big house at the Naval Observatory felt like it. It isn’t that appeals by senior ranking spouses to their betters, who struggle to keep things from falling completely apart on less money, less information and less bargaining power, are ultimately ineffective. It isn’t even that there is something subtly un-American about being told that your fair questions of friends, neighbors, and the federal government are subtly un-American.

The problem is not the itty bitty issues of impeachable White House occupants, extra-constitutional preemptive war, or a pastel fascism leaching across the country through the pores of various federal powerpoints and reinforced by dedicated neo-conservative sloganeers. These can be dealt with through an irrepressible media, through the courts and Congressional investigations, and through what remains viable in our decentralized Republic.

The problems you can deal with are not really problems. Real problems are those that threaten to get out of control — like those forest fires to be set by al Qaeda terrorists this year. Quickly devised emails to spouses and public reprimands for the soldiers involved in criticisms of George Bush’s incompetent administration are lit cigarettes carelessly crushed underfoot. While good enough for government work, they smolder dangerously.

After a hurried drag or two, the attention-deficient juvenile in the White House and his gang in the Pentagon and the American Enterprise Institute have tossed their butts. When Third ID and other units rotate home and when reservists and guardsman return to their jobs (or not, as the case may be), the joy of reunion will be gradually frittered away by frustration at continued lack of success and basic morality in Iraq and Afghanistan, worries about the next deployment, and in many cases, anger at personal relationships and lives gone dry, broken and altered irrevocably by Dubya’s War. The ash is hot and hungry, and it will catch fire under certain conditions. It will be fanned, not contained, by future emails warning spouses to be quiet and future threats to kick servicemen out of the military for making observations unfavorable to the administration. The slow to start but impossible to drown roaring of "Throw the bums out!" should set off alarms all over Washington. When Tony Blair apologized last week for the last time the White House was burned, it may well have been an omen.

Talking across the fence to my 73-year-old neighbor this week, I mentioned the issues of morale of our troops. He responded by telling me about his service in World War II. He said today’s soldiers are soft. When he and his generation went to war, sometimes they didn’t come home for several years, and many never came home at all. They didn’t whine about it. I agreed, but pointed out the difference between that war and Dubya’s big adventure today. Fewer people deployed and dead to be sure, but why should any die when the war rationale is increasingly shown to be non-existent or invalid? My neighbor saw the point. If today’s soldiers are soft, today’s politicians are even shallower, and today’s current war may not be worth the cost, financially, or more importantly, in terms of our American soul.

Brownlee’s commendation to Mrs. Buford Blount included this statement, "Your call to endure continued separation and fight cynicism will encourage others to persevere."

Even famously Fabian "third-way" socialist George Bernard Shaw understood the radical difference between what one may say and what things actually are, so surely it is not beyond the Republican Party, and the jelly-kneed Democrats who supported this latest U.S. invasion of a foreign country, to grasp the crisis at hand. Shaw said, "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." The federal leadership, Republican and Democrat alike, entreats us to fight "accurate observation" in the hopes that it will encourage others "to persevere" down a path paved with lies, to continue marching boldly forward to ill-conceived, ultimately impossible, imperialism.

Well, well, well. To persevere in the dark like so many hopeful head-burying ostriches is many things. But it is not patriotism. It does not serve us or our children. It degrades the shared idea and ideals of America. And it will not get George W. Bush re-elected in 2004.

Karl Rove, if you are listening, I suggest building a fire line post haste. The neo-conservative and Straussian imperialists in this administration, for the first time perhaps, will serve magnificently.

Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.

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