When Americans Die for Nothing

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This month's burial of 20 U.S. Marines from a single Ohio reserve
battalion is the result of Marines doing what they have done for
200-plus years — fighting their country's battles. Dignified as
always, Marine officers and men handled the news of the deaths and
subsequent dealings with the bereaved families with a sincere, dry-eyed
compassion that sets them far apart — and far above — the cloying
festivals of televised grief on which our society thrives. In war,
peace, and mourning, Marines are the epitome of the now much-denigrated
but still cardinal virtue which the 19th Century called

It is for the rest of us, rather, to ask for what did the 20
Ohio Marines die? We have heard from the president that the Marines
were killed because the enemy in Iraq is trying to break America's
will. Others have said the Marines died because of terrorism committed
by religious fanatics. Still others claim they died to bring freedom
and democracy to a country long scared by a mad despot's tyranny.
As a corollary to the latter, the president claims installing democracy
in Iraq and across the Islamic world is necessary because the freedoms
of Americans increasingly depend on ensuring others have the same

Each of these reasons bulked large in the rhetoric of the politicians
speaking at or about the funeral and memorial services for the 20
Marines. Some spoke somberly, others pounded their chests and asserted
the nobility of lives spent bringing freedom to others. And all
of them lied.

The 20 Marines died because America's bipartisan governing
elite is intoxicated with the belief that they should, can, and
must govern the world. When Americans push the voting machine's
button for their candidate, the victor who emerges immediately forgets
the voters' concerns and rushes to Washington to participate in
the bipartisan crusade to rebuild the world in what the politicians
see as America's image. Drunk on the headiness and self-flattering
nature of this belief, the governing elite mindlessly pursues building
overseas democracies as if it is their self-evident, Jeffersonian
duty. Make no mistake, it was these politicians and their obsessive,
ignorant-of-America crusade that helped kill the Ohio Marines and
1,780 of their brethren.

Until the last half-century, America's Marines, soldiers, sailors,
and airmen were not used to pursue a war aim called "building
democracies." Historically, U.S. leaders have understood the
American way of war: Get there quick with the biggest stick, annihilate
the enemy, his supporters, and infrastructure, and come home. In
recent decades, and particularly under the Bush and Clinton administrations,
however, our military has been used as armed social workers. From
Somalia to Bosnia, from Haiti to East Timor, from Afghanistan to
Iraq, our democracy-crazed politicians have used our servicemen
and women as glorified policeman who are sent abroad to use minimal
force — thus becoming targets and allowing enemies to survive —
and to run schools, administer towns, build roads, provide potable
water and improved health care, and to do a thousand other things
irrelevant to their one valid mission: Remorselessly annihilating
America's enemies.

The 20 Ohio Marines and all the other military dead in Iraq
died not only from enemy action, but also from the gleaming shivs
that were knowingly and gleefully driven into their vitals by the
hands of democracy crusaders named Bush, Clinton, McCain, Cheney,
Gore, Pelosi, Biden, Albright, Kerry, Wolfowitz, Harmon, Tenet,
Feith, Rumsfeld, Rice, hundreds of other politicians, and their
acolytes in the press, electronic media, and think tanks. We might
be in Iraq because we need to ensure oil supplies, protect the neocons’
masters in Israel, or fight Islamic insurgents, but we have no need
to be there to spread democracy. America's democracy does not now
and never has depended on the democracy of any other country. The
freedoms and liberties of Americans do not now and never have depended
on forcing others to have the same freedoms and liberties. Indeed,
if the democracy crusaders knew American history, they would know
that 800 years of America's at-times-violent democratic evolution
— if we date its start from Runnymede — cannot be replicated in
short order, in foreign lands, and in alien cultures by men named
Sistani and Karzai. Such a belief can only come from ignorance or
a profound contempt for the centuries of sacrifice by Americans
to reach the still less-than-perfect state of our democracy.

the 20 Ohio Marines were buried with the quiet dignity and patriotism
that characterizes the Marine Corps. Americans should commend their
souls to God and turn with white-hot fury on their killers, those
in Iraq and those miserable, self-righteous, and blithely murderous
wretches from both parties who inhabit the executive and legislative
branches of the federal government, who worship their idol Woodrow
Wilson, America's most enduringly malignant contribution to world
affairs, and who sent the brave Ohioans and nearly two thousand
other Americans to their deaths – for nothing.

18, 2005

Scheuer [send him mail] is
the author of Imperial
Hubris and Through Our Enemies’ Eyes
. He recently resigned
after 22 years at the CIA.

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