The realist foreign policy events in Washington, local political movements around the country opposing the ongoing American occupation of Iraq, and Jon Stewart’s immense popularity among the under-40 crowd America are all important.
They do their part to help us, as a people, come to grips with the lies repeatedly spoken by our dear leaders. They shed light on the American tax-and-debt—funded exploration of the farthest frontiers of greed. They articulate the national shame that we are beginning to feel about the tyrannous acts we have committed at home and abroad in the name of "freedom" and "democracy."
The power of popular domestic outrage at a behemoth state shouldn’t be underestimated. In this country, it provides fertile ground for what soldiers and Marines back from Iraq and Afghanistan are telling us — the ugly truth that our President and his supportive Congress and corrupted judiciary can never say and will never admit.
Domestic outrage and honesty from the battle lines are creating a binary weapon powerful enough to bring down whole governments. At a minimum, it isolates our political parasites and deprives them of political energy, mobility and security.
The explosion of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal of last year could not be contained by the elite-serving government regime, even as the Pentagon followed its established procedure to condemn publicly an isolated act of a few bad apples, punish the low ranking, and change the subject.
A sense of duty and ethics is still present in our all-volunteer military, despite crass anti-republican inducements of travel, adventure, education and cash. A real sense of human compassion and a practiced ability to distinguish between good and evil persists in the modern American military, at least at the soldier level. We may find solace in knowing that a soldier’s compassion and morality is neither dependent upon nor subordinate to the latest cheerleading chant from the presidential bullhorn.
Take for example, the New York Times’ Saturday report on the travails of the 82nd Airborne’s Captain Ian Fishbeck. Fishbeck and several NCOs in his unit tried for months to get honest and rock-solid guidance on the legal and correct treatment of Iraqis — prisoners, detainees, and in general. The DoD leadership chain, as it so often does when faced with a hard decision, a moral quandary, or the possibility of bucking the wishes and intents of its political masters, demurred. Fishbeck persisted for 17 months, and after 17 months of systemic stonewalling, called Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Congress directly with his questions and concerns.
Consider the writings and speeches of retired Lt Col Robert Bowman and Hart Viges, another former member of the 82nd Airborne. Recall the public trials and tribulations of active duty NCOs who have spoken the truth about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and Afghanistan too.
We still won’t see this level of honesty in all the major national papers, but we no longer have to rely solely on the independent or international news for the truth. Talk to the reservists and guardsmen and active soldiers and marines who have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan, on leave and between tours. Hear their words across your kitchen table and your local bar, listen to their pillow talk and their advice to their children, nieces and nephews.
The soldiers’ words advise us not to believe the senior spokesmen at the Pentagon because these spokesmen have been lying for a good long time. The soldiers’ words do not echo, and in fact contradict, the foot-stomping and fist-raising rhetoric of the neoconservative voices in the White House and Congress and at the American Enterprise Institute. The soldiers’ words warn their younger friends and relatives to stay far away from the deadly and immoral grip of federal service in uniform.
Most of these military men and women have no political agenda — although congressional campaigns by Paul Hackett in Ohio, Patrick Murphy in Pennsylvania, David Ashe in Virginian, and Tim Dunn in North Carolina have been launched on the wings of the truth about Iraq as seen by a soldier who was there. Three of these four campaigners are military lawyers, and only one has featured a truly antiwar message. But all four candidates have emerged as fiscally conservative, morally sound, Republic-cherishing Democrats.
Given the presumed political nature of the military today as traditionally conservative — and yet contradictorily historically very supportive of George W. Bush — perhaps we are seeing an early psychological breakthrough in the treatment of the two faces of the Republican Party.
As with Eve, recognition of the "other" personality must come first, and only then can conservatives choose which personality to accept, and which to destroy. A Chinese proverb says, "The beginning of wisdom lies in calling things by their right name." Perhaps it follows that the beginning of ethics is choosing to live consistently with revealed wisdom.
In any case, it’s happening. In my all-Republican county of Shenandoah, it is doubtful many of my neighbors drove the 90 minutes into DC this weekend to express antiwar sentiment. But at the local gas station, two local men were overheard this weekend discussing the most recent price hike. One said, shaking his head, "That damn George Bush." The other local man nodded with "He has to go."
A few weeks ago, I spoke at an event sponsored by the Libertarians at Virginia Tech. It wasn’t overly amusing to examine our ongoing Iraq policy, but the audience nodded and chuckled when I noted how successful the administration and congressional agenda had been in the Middle East so far. Washington has gained a dozen brand-new U.S. military bases in Southwest Asia, we got Iraq, the oil companies are reporting record-setting profits, and not a single neoconservative has been harmed.
The well-dressed and coiffed elite decision makers see Iraq as just one successful part of a larger international agenda — an agenda naturally paid for in taxes, inflation, home-grown fascism and the blood of less-than-elite Americans and desperate would-be citizens. Still thriving politically in Washington, these neo-Jacobin imperialists may not fully sense the sea change.
But just about everyone else does.
Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D., [send her mail] is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley, and among other things, writes a bi-weekly column on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com.