Give Us the Answers

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On
April 4, 2004, Casey Sheehan was killed in Iraq. His mother Cindy
Sheehan wants President Bush to explain why. He might answer thus:

“The
hard truth is your son’s life was wasted. I accept a share of blame,
but only a share. Others must accept theirs, my advisors and supporters,
my political opponents and ordinary Americans – particularly ordinary
Americans.”

Can
good people do bad things? I consider myself a good person. Yet,
upon receipt of a coded message, I would have killed innocent men,
women and children. They had to die to enforce my leader’s threats
against their government. So I was told and so I believed.

I
am not a terrorist. I am a veteran. The coded message would have
come from the President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson during
my term of active service. It would have instructed my U.S. Army
unit to launch nuclear weapons then deployed in Europe as part of
America’s policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). According
to the theory behind MAD, peace required U.S. and Soviet leaders
to believe nuclear war would kill much of each nation’s civilian
population.

MAD
sounded perfectly sane to young men like myself and my military
colleagues. We grew up in the 1950s culture of fear. School air
raid drills and back yard bomb shelters were normal parts of our
young lives. One of my favorite childhood TV shows was “I led three
lives,” about an ordinary family man who was also a communist spy
and an FBI agent.

When
a new culture of fear arose after September 11, 2001, I watched
with more skeptical eyes. The only reality to the “war on terror”
is its victims, some killed by terrorists, many more by America’s
response to terrorism. The latter include 1,800+ Americans killed
in Iraq, so far – including Cindy Sheehan’s son.

How
might Cindy expand her inquiry into his death?

She
could ask Republican Party leaders why they chose New York for their
2004 convention, if not to squeeze political advantage from the
emotional fallout of 9/11.

She
could ask Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry, former leader
of Vietnam Veterans against the War, why he didn’t campaign for
a prompt end to the even more absurd Iraq war.

She
could ask almost any media figure (like National Public Radio’s
Garrison Keillor) why they spoke so fondly of the period after 9/11,
when Americans put aside private concerns to grieve for the victims
and rage against their killers.

In
1943, Germans shared similar emotional unity, when they learned
nearly one hundred thousand of their fathers, sons, brothers and
husbands faced suffering and death in Russian prisons after the
fall of Stalingrad. In their shared grief and anger they found strength
to continue Germany’s war effort. Or, so said Nazi propagandists
who controlled Germany’s media.

Sharing
strong emotions through politically and commercially manipulated
mass media is the modern form of the primeval spirit of the mob,
which, in turn, is the universal seed of war. Pictures and stories
of excited crowds, often deliberately incited, embellish histories
of the early days of most conflicts. William Shakespeare expressed
the malignant potential of politically manipulated, collective emotion
in Mark Anthony’s funeral oration to the Roman mob. “And Caesar’s
spirit, raging for revenge, With hate by his side, come hot from
hell, Shall in these confines, and with a monarch’s voice Cry ‘Havoc!’
and let slip the dogs of war.”

Recent
investigations have debunked administration claims that Iraq had
weapons of mass destruction or relationships with Al Qaeda. Those
same investigations show how post-9/11 hysteria may have played
a role in triggering the war. Mideast war hawks (so called neocons)
began advancing anti-Iraq proposals in the mid 1990s, but with little
success. After 9/11 their cause took the bureaucratic fast track.

What
loaded the war hawk’s guns? The attack itself, public reaction,
or both. We will probably never know. Nor will we know where a calmer
public reaction might have led us. All we can now do is cope with
the present, count the cost, tend the wounded and mourn the dead.

George
Bush owes Cindy Sheehan answers.

So
do we.

August
25, 2005

Robert
L. Stokes [send him mail]
is a retired Natural Resource Economist who lives in Spokane, Washington.

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