When Americans Die for Nothing

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 manliness.

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 freedoms.

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.

So 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.

August 18, 2005