George W was hardly the first draft-age man of means who used family connections to duck going to war (even while he professed undying support for the notion of sending others to fight). During the Civil War, for example, some of the young men who would later become famously wealthy Robber Barons avoided having to put their own butts on the line simply by paying $300 apiece for substitutes to serve in their stead. J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, and James Mellon were among those buying their way out. For many of the banker and business elites of the time, war was strictly for others. As Mellon’s father explained to him in a letter, “a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of lives less valuable.Now that George W is president, this elitist attitude of “let others serve” has been lifted to the level of national policy. Rhetorically, BushCheneyRumsfeld& Company wrap their Iraq misadventure in bunting and images of 9/11, bellowing that “America is at war!” But that’s a carefully crafted lie.
Who is at war?
Yes, there are about 138,000 American men and women at war. These are the volunteers, the National Guard members, and reservists who are being shot at, blown up, maimed, and killed. Another 350,000 or so military personnel are at risk of being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Then there are the families of these half-million military people—spouses, parents, siblings, and other loved ones. Let’s say the total number of people who are in either the actual war theaters or here at home, clutching their hearts with every day’s report that another car bomb, ambush, or rocket attack has killed and injured more U. S. soldiers, adds up to five million. These Americans are definitely at war, paying a horrible price—physically, emotionally, and financially. But what about the other 295 million of us—nearly a 99% majority? Look around. Are we at war? Aside from long lines and shoe removal at airports, we’re not even inconvenienced, much less involved. There was a 1960s movie titled What Did You Do In The War, Daddy? That’s not a question the Bushites want to pose today, for the answer would reveal a shocking shallowness of national involvement in and genuine support for the government’s war agenda—even (or, maybe, especially) among those Bush partisans who keep a W ’04 decal on the rear window of their SUV and cheer the loudest for the fight. Indeed, Iraq is going so badly and public opinion has been turning so sour on the whole mess that Karl Rove had to put George himself on national TV for a speech just before July 4th, pleading with Americans to stay the course. Bush was reduced to asking beseechingly, “Is it worth it?” Then, apparently sensing that families all across the country were shaking their heads no, he quickly had to jump in and answer his own question, desperately asserting, “It is worth it.” By nature, Americans want to rally ’round any president who pleads for support. But there’s one obvious question that deserves an honest answer before the public throws in wholeheartedly: Support for what? The Bushites have a real problem coming clean on this one, frequently changing their answer and losing more credibility with each revision. First, it was to stop nasty Saddam from hitting us with WMDs…which turn out to be nonexistent. Next, George resorted to wrapping himself in the bloody flag of 9/11, wailing that his Iraq war is all about hitting those terrorists… even though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, and even though Bush’s bungled occupation has now turned Iraq into the world’s number one training ground for terrorists. Now his rationale is that it’s America’s duty to bring democracy to the Iraqi people…even though Bush’s interim government there is sliding toward a theocracy aligned with Iran, and even though the country is fast spiraling into civil war. Meanwhile, more than 1,800 of our men and women have died in the war, the Bushites admit that some 14,000 of our troops have come home horribly wounded and disabled (independent groups say many more), Bush has already thrown more than $200 billion of our public funds into the fire…and Pentagon chief Donnie Rumsfeld says American troops will have to stay in Iraq until somewhere around 2017. Is it worth it? Well, Bush flatly declares that his stand in Iraq is absolutely crucial to America’s national security and that it represents an essential, historic fight for freedom and democracy. Sign up today for this glorious cause, he urged young people during his televised address on June 24, saying “there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.” It is worth the sacrifices that we are making, he asserted yet again. We? Note that Jenna and Barbara, the Bush twins who are of prime enlistment age, are making no sacrifice. They could send a powerful message to all of America about the worthiness of the cause by simply joining their daddy’s war. But instead of going to Baghdad or Basra, they’re going barhopping to all of the hip spots on the DC social circuit. Also, while Dick Cheney continues to draw money from his association with the war profiteer Halliburton, he has not deemed Iraq to be worth even the symbolic importance of having a single one of his family members in harm’s way. Nor have any of John Kerry’s family signed up— even though he voted for Bush’s war and, in his presidential campaign, called for sending thousands more of America’s men and women into that hell. It is also striking that of the 535 members of Congress, of whom a big majority are war-whooping boosters of Bush’s Iraq occupation, only 5 have had any of their kids, grandkids, or other close family members in the fight. Such other boisterous war backers as the media barons, the Rush Limbaughs, the Fox News blowhards, the executives and lobbyists for the Pentagon contractors reaping windfall profits from Iraq—where are their loved ones? Nowhere near the front. Comedian Bob Newhart used to do a funny bit about a submarine commander addressing his crew just before they embarked on an especially dangerous mission. He told them in stark detail about the firepower and ferociousness of the enemy, conceding that many crew members would not survive and that their deaths would be gruesome. Still, he urged them on for God and country. The commander concluded his inspirational talk on a personal note: “Men, my only regret is that I personally will not be able to come along with you.” That’s funny in a comedy routine—but it’s damning when the punch line comes from the country’s entire leadership. It’s time to state a vitally important truth about Iraq: This is not “America’s” war. Never was. It’s Bush’s war, manufactured by wrongheaded neocon ideologues, old chickenhawks like Cheney, the White House PR machine, selfserving war profiteers, a cowed Congress, and a hallelujah chorus of puff-headed pundits jabbering right-wing jibberish. How can we tell it’s not America’s war? If it were, all Americans would be in it. Some of you are old enough to remember a true national war effort. Bush says he’s fighting a full-scale “global war” to defeat terrorists, but contrast his mobilization with that of Roosevelt’s in World War II. Some 16 million men and women were in uniform— some in the trenches, many more in active support roles. All of America’s economic sectors were enlisted and ratcheted up—housewives went to work in factories, workers built a Liberty ship every two weeks, thousands of new airplanes were designed and rolled out on short order, and farmers were turned loose to produce biofuels and hemp. Children collected dimes to buy liberty bonds, gasoline was rationed, people planted Victory Gardens—all of society was engaged. Today, our “leader” tells us that our role in his global war is nothing more than to continue our lives as usual: make money, play golf, enjoy the beach, send your kid to college, have parties, watch “Desperate Housewives,” follow the pennant races, vote Republican, and go shopping. Oh, and put one of those cheap “Support Our Troops” magnetic ribbons on the back of your 12-mile-per-gallon Hummer. We are NOT a nation at war— we’re only a military at war. And guess what? The troops are noticing. “Nobody in America is asked to sacrifice, except us,” a frustrated officer just back from a yearlong tour in Iraq told the New York Times.
Maybe Bush doesn’t read anything deeper than “My Pet Goat,” but Karl Rove does read in-depth polls to George. The White House clearly knows this fact: The key to keeping the public tolerant of Bush’s ideological crusade in Iraq and elsewhere is to ask nothing of the public. That’s because the American people, while wanting to be supportive of the troops, want no personal involvement in a war that simply makes to sense to them. We Americans are nothing if not commonsensical, and while it has taken a couple of years (and 1,800 + American deaths) for most folks to see through the Bushites’ hyperbolic flim-flam, a majority does now see that Iraq makes no sense—it’s not a war of national interest, but one of political choice, a war of whim launched by ideologues and oil executives who don’t have to sacrifice anything to wage it. In the latest polls, • Only 38% of Americans approve of Bush’s handling of Iraq (the lowest numbers so far); • Two thirds say Bush has no clear plan in Iraq; • Less than half now think that invading Iraq was the right thing to do; • 45% think that Bush’s war has increased the chances of terrorists attacking the U.S. again; • An amazing 43% say we should bring our troops home now; • George’s overall job-approval rating has dipped to a weak 45%; • Only 41% rank him as “honest” (his lowest ranking ever); • 56% see him as arrogant; • 6 out of 10 Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction. But the Bushites don’t need a poll to feel the heat of their Iraq debacle—they can look at the military’s recruiting numbers. If the war were the noble, patriotic cause that the White House claims, you’d think that the flower of our youth would be rushing to recruiting stations to do their part. But even the most ardent of young Republican hawks are saving their bravado for cocktail parties and call-in shows, rather than asking to serve their country. Despite a TV/radio advertising blitz, despite offering signing bonuses as high as $20,000, despite a new outreach program by the army targeting high-school dropouts, despite signing an oily deal with a temp-worker agency to let National Guard recruiters hustle the agency’s low-wage workers, despite offering immigrants a fast track to citizenship if they enlist, despite coaching some recruits to cheat on aptitude and drug tests, despite using threats and making false promises, despite plans to raise the enlistment age to 42, despite even signing up one 21- year-old Ohio man who had just gotten out of a psychiatric ward— the Pentagon has not reached its recruiting goals for months. “The problem is that no one wants to join,” says an army recruiter. Why would they? What mother would look at the deceit and the deaths that are the hallmark of Bush’s Iraq War and say to her child, “That’s the place for you?” Who wants to sacrifice their own flesh and blood for…what? It’s not our war.
Bush knows that he can’t possibly call for a universal draft to supply the troops for his global war, because if he did, there’d be a political explosion from coast to coast (particularly in the affluent, comfortable suburbs that form his base). Asking all Americans to step forward for frontline duty would quickly end any illusion that the public really supports his macho saber-rattling quest to impose American empire on the world. But his position is far weaker (and more embarrassing) than that: Bush is even afraid to ask Americans to pay for his warmongering, fearing that large numbers of his Republican constituency would balk at being taxed for the war. That tab is rapidly rising. Bush’s latest request of $61 billion for Iraq puts the total tally at $210 billion— and climbing by $5 billion a month. Is Iraq worth that? Not to worry, for you and I aren’t paying for it. The Bushites are financing their war by borrowing, mostly from central banks in China, Japan, and Europe. This shoves the financial day of reckoning to our children and grandchildren, who’ll have to pony up their tax money when the debt comes due in 20 years or so. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have the honesty to call for a war tax on, say, oil corporations, which are wallowing in windfall profits bloated by $60-abarrel oil. Far from asking these elites to pay a dime, members of both parties have acted disgracefully, shoveling more tax cuts at oil companies, including new giveaways in the just-passed $14.5 billion energy bill. Worse, Bush won’t even ask Americans to cut back on oil use! At White House insistence, the energy bill he signed in August was deliberately stripped of provisions that would’ve forced automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of their gas-guzzling cars and trucks. The technology to do this is readily available—and it’s the quickest, cheapest way to cut our nation’s disastrous, war-inducing addiction to foreign oil. When Saudi crown prince Abdullah recently replaced his late father on the throne, the White House dispatched Dick Cheney, Daddy Bush, and Colin Powell to Riyadh to kiss Abudullah’s ring. Since the Iraq invasion has failed todeliver Iraqi oil to our oil companies, the Saudis retain control over world oil prices. Meanwhile, you’d hardly realize that there’s a bloody war going on if you rely on TV news for…well, news. War coverage has dropped, and some news editors and other media big shots are said to be tiring of stories about the war’s deaths and carnage.
Stop the farce
War is life and death—way too important to be left to charlatans such as those running this farce. It should not be made easy for a society to undertake one. If the larger public pays no price, if our nation’s military force becomes separated from civilian involvement and responsibility, then our leaders are licensed for malicious adventurism. Would you be willing to take a bullet for Bush’s adventurism? I wouldn’t, nor would I want any of my loved ones to pay such a price. When you, me, and the great majority of Americans do not deem a war worthy of our own sacrifice (and when the war is so unworthy that the president is even afraid to ask us for sacrifice), there is a moral imperative for our democratic society to admit this to those few who have been put out there to make the ultimate sacrifice. And once we admit it, there is a moral imperative to get out of the war. It’s time for America to bring our troops home from Iraq. NO MORE LIES. NO MORE LIVES. To reign in future adventurism by the White House, I believe we have to find a way to restore a broad level of public responsibility for the desperate act of waging war by putting every family at risk of losing a loved one—especially the families of the rich and powerful. Dealing in death is the most somber decision a people can make, and it ought to be a decision that gives the entire nation pause, that gives every person reason to tremble. To establish democratic responsibility, we need to consider a national service program, or maybe a lottery system…or, better yet, a simple, new plan that I call the “Leaders First” rule: All the politicians who support a shooting war will automatically be drafted or have one of their closest family members drafted to be first in the line of fire.