August 31, 2010

My Thoughts on President Obama's Speech Tonight

by The Punk Patriot

President Obama gave a speech tonight, saying the war in Iraq is over. He also sent out an email:

Tonight marks the end of the American combat mission in Iraq.

As a candidate for this office, I pledged to end this war responsibly. And, as President, that is what I am doing.

Since I became Commander-in-Chief, we've brought home nearly 100,000 U.S. troops. We've closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of our bases.

As Operation Iraqi Freedom ends, our commitment to a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq continues. Under Operation New Dawn, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain to advise and assist Iraqi forces, protect our civilians on the ground, and pursue targeted counterterrorism efforts.

By the end of next year, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, these men and women, too, will come home.

Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest -- it is in our own. Our nation has paid a huge price to put Iraq's future in the hands of its people. We have sent our men and women in uniform to make enormous sacrifices. We have spent vast resources abroad in the face of several years of recession at home.

We have met our responsibility through the courage and resolve of our women and men in uniform.

In seven years, they confronted a mission as challenging and as complex as any our military has ever been asked to face.

Nearly 1.5 million Americans put their lives on the line. Many returned for multiple tours of duty, far from their loved ones who bore a heroic burden of their own. And most painfully, more than 4,400 Americans have given their lives, fighting for people they never knew, for values that have defined our people for more than two centuries.

What their country asked of them was not small. And what they sacrificed was not easy.

For that, each and every American owes them our heartfelt thanks.

Our promise to them -- to each woman or man who has donned our colors -- is that our country will serve them as faithfully as they have served us. We have already made the largest increase in funding for veterans in decades. So long as I am President, I will do whatever it takes to fulfill that sacred trust.

Tonight, we mark a milestone in our nation's history. Even at a time of great uncertainty for so many Americans, this day and our brave troops remind us that our future is in our own hands and that our best days lie ahead.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

It's ironic that we're ending combat operations in Iraq, and leaving behind "advisory and training" troops. We did that twice already under George W Bush. I guess we all just forgot.

I don't feel I'm wrong to be any less skeptical this time. Besides, even if this time is for real, most of those servicemembers, sadly, will not be coming home, but will instead be redeployed (and with stop-loss like it is these days, likely redeployed for the third or fourth time) to Afghanistan.

This talk about "thanking our troops." What for? Many people I know personally, and many with whom I talked with at the Veterans For Peace National Convention do not want to be "thanked" for their time in the service; many would scoff at you if you did. My grandfather, were he still alive today instead of killed by brain cancer stemming from his repeated exposure to Agent Orange during his multiple tours of Vietnam, would scoff at you.

Even before I attended this conference, many people I know who have been in theater, even ones who are not active in the peace movement, don't feel that they did anything particularly good or honorable by being there. Those who are optimistic have a thin hope that this was the case.

They were in a shitty situation, saw their friends die, saw people they didn't know die, killed people they didn't know, all so that Halliburton and Bechtel could make millions of dollars. Would you want to be thanked-- for that? You risked your life in a shitty situation so that corporations can rob the taxpayers blind-- Thank you?

And don't think that people in the theater of war hold dear any of the bullshit notions we're told to believe in by the corporate media. The people with all the delusions about war making boys into men, about freedom and democracy-- those folks all live stateside, and have not served.

One fellow I talked with had served in Vietnam. He told me about how, "the Roman Legionnaires chose to fight for the emperor because they were paid with a share of the spoils of war. Somewhere along the line somebody figured out that people really liked medals. Now instead of giving you land and slaves, they give you a worthless medal, a false sense of patriotism, and the notion that we're all supposed to be thankful for the privilege of getting fucked over."

The one thing I can say with complete confidence, is that everybody who has seen war wants to be told "welcome home" and to be able to go to sleep without having nightmares, without reliving their moments of horror, carnage, or regret, every time they close their eyes.

And that is a sad truth of war: There are no winners. There are only losers. War might be a tsunami for the good it does.

While at the Veterans For Peace conference, the first day there, I heard the story of a girl my age who grew up in Bosnia, during the war. Her name is Maja. She didn't care about the war when it was happening. She just wanted to play soccer. One day in a time when the war had not reached her village yet, she went out to sit on a short wall in front of her house. There was a woman across the street carrying water in buckets. Six of Maja's friends and one of Maja's friend's daughter were in the courtyard in front of Maja's house. In an instant, Maja found herself on the ground unable to breathe.

The woman carrying water was still standing, but she was dead. She was dead, but standing upright, and her eyes were dead, her body filled with shards of metal. The woman, still holding onto the buckets collapsed into a heap on the road. Her friend and her friends daughter had their heads torn open. Their brains were on the outside of their skulls. Her friends, people, were instantly reduced to shredded meat. Maja tried to get up, but her legs would not work. She couldn't breathe properly, her neck was filled with shrapnel. A girl came down from the house to help, but upon seeing the carnage, she became scared and ran back to the house screaming and crying. When the girl would get back to the house, she would regain courage, turn and run back out to help.
Once again, she would become overwhelmed, and run back into the house crying. Back and forth. Back and forth. Eventually Maja was taken to a hospital. Prisoners of war were there from the other side, the enemies side, and their job was to bury the dead.

One prisoner of war shared Maja's blood type, type o negative, which is rare. Maja was enduring lots of blood loss, and many surgeries. This man was an enemy soldier. Who knows how many people he had killed, how many people in her village, how many neighbors were killed at the end of his gun, right?

But he was a person. He was saddened by seeing people in the hospital with limbs blown off, and he gave blood so that the people in the hospital might live.

Now-- if this was Hollywood, this would be the part of the story where a "bad person" redeems themselves through some selfless act.

It's not a story of redemption though, and this isn't Hollywood. He gave too much blood and he died. Many of the people he gave blood to died. Lots of people died. For no sane reason. And since this wasn't Hollywood, and this man wasn't a poorly written character, he also wasn't the "bad guy."

He was just a person- like you. He didn't have to redeem himself. He wasn't an enemy. What he was- was just another person. Another person stuck in a shitty situation, just like everybody else in that hospital. There's no moral to the story. There's no happy ending. It's just senselessness, and survival.

War is tragedy. There's no valor, no honor, nothing to be thankful for in war. There is only stupidity, tragedy, and brutality. There are no winners. Politicians may claim to win wars, but the civilians and soldiers caught in the middle always lose.

Kurt Vonnegut once said that "to talk of winning a war, you may as well talk of winning an earthquake."
I understood the sentiment when I was a child reading this, but having heard the stories I did this past week, I have developed a deeper appreciation and understanding of what he meant. There are no sides, in war. There is just violence, insanity, and people caught in the middle. War is not a sane thing. It is not something that can be won, like a soccer match. It's an event that can only be survived-- or not.

We live in an age of kaleidoscopic schizophrenia, of both miracle cures and biological weapons, cures for cancer and depleted uranium, chemical cleaners and chemical weapons, video games and predator drones, atomic clocks and nuclear warheads.

In this environment, where the leaders of nations could sneeze and accidentally wipe all life off the surface of the planet, a culture that glorifies war, that actively wages war with aggression and without provocation, is psychologically ill and morally rotten to the core. As Americans, we live amidst such a culture.

What can be done?
Iraq deserves reparations for our barbarism.
Our soldiers deserve the benefits they were promised, and more.

That would be a good start.

What haunts me today though, is that George W Bush and his administration were able to, as so many US presidents have before, bullshit us into a war with a country that did not attack us, and had no means to attack us.

George W Bush and his administration bullshit us into a war where perhaps over 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians have died. Every one of them is a son or daughter to somebody.

George W Bush and his administration bullshit us into a war in which 31,929 American soldiers have died. Every one of them is a son or daughter to somebody.

George W Bush and his administration bullshit us into a war in which uncounted thousands have returned with physical injuries, and thousands more with mental and psychological injuries.

And Obama is content, for political reasons, to allow this to go unpunished.
Were Obama a just or moral leader, were Obama the man all the starry-eyed leftists imagine him to be, he would call for the prosecution of George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of Bush's administration for war crimes.

How do we prevent another president from bullshitting us into war so that corporations can rob the taxpayer blind?
Try the war criminals in court, and throw them down a hole for the rest of eternity.

I wish the war in Iraq were really over. Even if it were-- for many, both American and Iraqi, the war in Iraq may never be over.


  1. Very well written Asher.

  2. Asher, I have been away from the computer for much of August, and am only now catching up with your recent exploits.

    Very moving piece.

    Your thesis and conclusion are spot on, as far as I am concerned. As you well know however (or am I the only skeptic here) the chances of "prosecution of George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of Bush's administration for war crimes, (then trying) the war criminals in court, (to) throw them down a hole for the rest of eternity" will NEVER happen.


    That does not make your struggle any less noble. In fact, it may may it more worthy of praise.

    Much respect,

  3. The question is not whether or not it will happen, but whether or not it is right.

    It may be impossible, but there are mechanisms to make it happen, and Americans in the social justice movement have a long history of achieving impossible things. Everything good about America, freeing the slaves, giving women the right to vote, a minimum wage, social security, etc-- were also all impossible.

    So I would not say never, only that it is incredibly unlikely.

  4. This was great, Asher. It reminded me very much of Chris Hedges' book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. Despite Hedges' pessimisms, I rather liked this book - it paints a crystal clear image of the insanity of war, much like your post here.

    My grand father was also a long-term victim of war. He has suffered his entire life with post traumatic stress disorder.


  5. I produced a video of Emma's Revolution singing at the VFP Convention, with footage of the March and Veterans For Peace responding to the question: What has the war economy done for you? Here's the link: