[[W A R]] * Abraham Lincoln was tormented by the knowledge that he had to send young men to die in war, even though he believed the cause to be just and good. There’s no sign of George W. Bush being so wracked by guilt; in fact, from everything I hear, his sleep is undisturbed by thoughts of the men and women he has sent off to perish in a war that was based on bogus information about weapons of mass destruction and driven by “clear political pressure,” according to Robin Raphel, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq assistance. The fact that CNN is reporting there have now been 2,000 military casualties in Saddam Hussein’s homeland probably won’t affect the prez’s sleeping, any more than did the previous 1,999 deaths. I am reminded of something that novelist E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime, The March) wrote of Bush in New York’s East Hampton Star newspaper in September 2004, when the Iraq body count was still at 1,000:
[T]his president does not know what death is. He hasn’t the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can’t seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.And yet the American public knows better than Bush the costs of his “pre-emptive” war, both to their families and to the United States’ future--which is why a 53 percent majority now say, according to the latest Harris Interactive poll, that military action in Iraq was the wrong course to take. They understand, as did writer Ernest Hemingway (who had a variety of experiences in World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II) that battle is not merely some noble, poetic exercise in patriotic sacrifice. “They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country,” Hemingway once said. “But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You die like a dog for no good reason.” Still, Bush sends more of America’s young to perish, unwilling to accept timetables for withdrawal or listen to Iraqis who say that “coalition” occupation of their country is only worsening the security situation there, not helping.
He does not mourn. He doesn’t understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.
They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life ... they come to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.
How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war’s aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice.
He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.
“This war will require more sacrifice, more time, and more resolve,” the prez proclaimed on this day that the 2,000th casualty was being tallied up. But without any plans to extricate U.S. troops from the bloodbath in Iraq, and with the United States hemorrhaging money to pay for a military adventure that could last for a decade more, at what point must the sacrifices stop being asked of the American public, and instead be asked of Bush himself? Will he ever acknowledge his mistakes, and allow the nation and the world to move on? Or will we eventually be mourning the death of the 3,000th U.S. soldier to die Iraq? And the 4,000th? And the 5,000th after that? How many lives are too many to lose for a lie?
READ MORE: “Pull 20,000 U.S. Troops from Iraq in December, Says Kerry,” by Vicki Allen (Reuters; excerpts from the speech here); “The Real Meaning of the Plame Scandal: It’s About the 2,000 Americans Who Have Died in a Deeply Dishonest War,” by Joan Walsh (Salon); “U.S. Military Death Toll in Iraq Hits 2,000,” by John Ward Anderson and Jonathan Finer (The Washington Post); “Grim Milestone for U.S. Military in Iraq,” by Robert H. Reid (AP); “Papers, Ignoring Pentagon Plea, Mark 2,000th U.S. Death in Iraq” (Editor & Publisher); “The White House Cabal,” by Lawrence B. Wilkerson (Los Angeles Times); “Bush’s Growing Credibility Gap,” by Mark Shields (CNN); “United States Casualties of War” (Wikipedia).