They Won't Be Home for Christmas

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There are 2,969 Americans who won’t be home for Christmas today. They won’t be home for Christmas next year either. In fact, they won’t ever be home for Christmas again. No, it’s not because they’re homeless or broke. It’s not because they’re an atheist or a humbug. And it’s not because they’re celebrating Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. I’m sure most of them would want to celebrate Christmas with their families, but they can’t. Not this year, next year, or any year in the future. The plain truth is they have an irreversible and unalterable condition that prevents them from ever coming home — for Christmas or otherwise.

They’re dead.

It would be bad enough if they died of a heart attack or cancer. It would be even worse if they died in a hunting or automobile accident. But these 2,963 Americans didn’t die from a disease or an accident. Their deaths were unnecessary even as they were preventable. They didn’t die because they were fighting terrorism or defending our freedoms or preserving the American way of life. They died for a lie.

They died for the lie that the United States had the right to institute a regime change in Iraq. They died for the lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They died for the lie that democracy had to be imposed on Iraq at the point of a gun. They died for the lie that the United States had to force Iraq to comply with UN resolutions. They died for the lie that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators. They died for the lie that Iraq was behind the September 11th attacks. They died for the lie that there was an Iraq—al Qaeda connection. They died for the lie that Saddam Hussein was the next Hitler. They died for the lie that the United States should launch a preemptive strike. They died for the lie that it is possible to have a global war on terrorism. They died for the lie that the president should be given congressional authorization to use military force against Iraq. They died for the lie that the United States should be the world’s policeman. They died for the lie that the United States should have a global empire of troops and bases. They died for the lie that the war in Iraq would be a cakewalk. They died for the lie that we had to fight them over there so we did not have to fight them over here. They died for the lie that Iraq was a threat to the United States.

In spite of all the senseless deaths of American soldiers because of these lies, the war in Iraq is still being defended by Republican Party loyalists, Religious Right zealots, conservative talk show hosts and their duped listeners, and other apologists for the Bush administration like the warmongers who write for the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, National Review, and RedState.com.

The difference now is that the arguments of warmongers have shifted. The focus is no longer on whether the United States should have gone to war in Iraq, but on whether we should quit waging war (i.e., destroying Iraq and killing Iraqis). The new choruses are: “We can’t just cut and run,” “Talk of retreat gives comfort to the enemy,” “We need to develop an exit strategy,” “We owe it to the Iraqi people,” “We must stay the course.” And of course, there is still the old refrain of “Support our troops.”

The war in Iraq is lost. Although the president won’t admit that we are losing, he did recently acknowledge: “We’re not winning.” But the war has been lost for some time now. Even many who supported the initial invasion would agree with those of us who opposed the war from the very beginning that the point has long since passed the place where the United States could claim “victory” in Iraq. That point can now be measured in years. Wasn’t it in 2003 that Bush made the claim, in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner, that “the United States and our allies have prevailed”? Although the death of every American soldier in Iraq has been a tragic waste of human life, every day that this senseless war continues makes the deaths of U.S. servicemen even more of a heartrending tragedy.

The continual stream of dead American soldiers from Iraq, all of whom died an unnecessary death, is similar to the senseless slaughter that occurred in the closing hours of World War I after the armistice had been signed.

Rumors of an imminent armistice had been rife for days. Shortly after 5:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, in a rail car in a dark forest in France, the final draft of the armistice was signed. It was to take effect in the eleventh month, on the eleventh day, at the eleventh hour. Word of the armistice was sent out to commanders on all fronts. The message was transmitted from the Eiffel Tower. The headline of the early edition of The New York Times declared: “Armistice Signed, End of the War!” Of course, not everyone in command of troops received word right away, but those that did often sent men to their deaths anyway, as Joseph Persico shows us in Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918, World War I and Its Violent Climax:

Of sixteen American divisions engaged on the western front on armistice morning, the commanders of seven judged the war essentially over upon receiving word of the signing and stopped; but the commanders of nine divisions decided that the war must go on until the last minute, with predictable results to the lives entrusted to them.

Captain Harry Truman, following his orders, had said nothing to the crew of Battery D about an armistice until his watch read precisely 11 A.M.

As a historian of the division would later put it, “Our regimental wireless had picked up sufficient intercepted messages during the early hours of the morning to make it certain that Armistice had been signed at 5 o’clock that morning; and the fact that the prearranged attack was launched after the Armistice was signed . . . caused sharp criticism of the high command on the part of the troops engaged, who considered the loss of American lives that morning as useless and little short of murder.”

Pershing had known in advance the conditions that Foch would demand of the Germans. Thus, he knew that the enemy would be compelled within fourteen days to withdraw from territory they now occupied and pull back inside Germany. Consequently, any ground gained between the signing of the armistice and 11 A.M., at whatever cost in lives, would be handed over at no cost within two weeks. Still, Foch had said to keep up the pressure until the last, and Pershing was all too willing to oblige. Before the signing, he too had ordered all attacks planned and in progress to go forward, even those set for November 11. According to Pershing’s chief of staff, the objective was “to take every advantage of the situation.” After the signing, Pershing merely passed along Foch’s order to stop the fighting at 11 A.M. What was to happen in the hours between the signing and the end was not addressed. Pershing, who had no love for the armistice, was not about to tell his subordinates to stop.

After receiving word only to stop at eleven, American commanders found themselves left in a decisional vacuum as to what to do until then. They had two choices: to stop fighting, save lives, and risk censure for not pressing on to the very last; or to keep fighting, spend lives, avoid potential disobedience, and perhaps gain victories, even promotion. To many of the professional caste, the choice was obvious. The approach of a momentous hour in history aroused their competitive instincts. What laurels were yet to be won in the time remaining? Whose final burst to the finish line would be most brilliant? . . . How a general viewed his duty would determine over the final five hours whether a doughboy would live out the normal ages of man or die at the first stage of manhood.

Although strict orders against fraternization were given, “a trade began to flourish as at no time since the Christmas truce of 1914: cigarettes for sausages, chewing gum for rye bread, coffee for chocolate.” World War I, which lasted for 1,560 days, averaged every day about 2,250 dead and 5,000 wounded. On the last day of the war, mainly in the six hours after the armistice was signed, Persico conservatively estimates that there were “10,944 casualties, of which 2,738 were deaths.” That is more casualties than those on D-Day.

Persico remarks that had Ferdinand Foch, the French chief Allied negotiator, heeded the plea of Matthias Erzberger, the German negotiator who later signed the armistice, “to stop fighting on November 8 while negotiations were under way, likely, 6,750 lives would have been spared and nearly 15,000 maimed, crippled, burned, blinded, and otherwise injured men would instead have gone home whole.” Worse yet: “All this sacrifice was made over scraps of land that the Germans, under the armistice, were compelled to surrender within two weeks.”

If the fighting had stopped then there might be around today some descendants of George Price, the last Canadian killed in the war, G. E. Ellison, the last Briton killed in the war, Joseph Trebuchon, the last Frenchman killed in the war, and Henry Gunther, the last American killed in the war. Henry died one minute before the armistice took effect. A VFW post in Baltimore honors his memory.

President Bush recently called for more troops to be sent into the Iraq quagmire. The war will require “additional sacrifices” next year, he warned. What he means is that more young men must die because of, as Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) has described Bush’s war: “A flawed policy wrapped in illusion.”

There is no more a vain, wasteful, unnecessary, senseless, preventable death than that of U.S. soldiers dying for a lie in Iraq. Pastors, teachers, and parents should do everything in their power to discourage young people from joining the military. The government pimps known as military recruiters are certainly doing everything in their power to encourage it.

How many families will be told tomorrow by the U.S. government that their father, husband, son, grandson, brother, cousin, uncle, or nephew died in Iraq on Christmas Day? How many fathers, husbands, sons, grandsons, brothers, cousins, uncles, and nephews in the military right now won’t be home for Christmas next year? Sadly, I’m afraid, it won’t be until one of their relatives or friends doesn’t make it home for Christmas before many Americans become outraged over this evil war.

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