In humble attempt at casting this in the tradition of Socrates, a (slightly altered) quote:

"The unexamined vote is not worth casting."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Why Isn't War More Painful for the Rest of Us?

War is hard, I've been reminded with recent news coverage. I've never known this through my own experience, and obviously have a sense, like everyone, that it's painful. Human coverage is what brings it home though, I believe, and that's what did it for me recently; like so many otherwise distant experiences, individual, human stories can communicate so much. So I thought I'd write down some thoughts on this. I'll end the post with links to a handful of the TV and radio pieces that led me to write this, for anyone who wants to check them out; they're pretty tough, though worth checking out for anyone who, like me, feels quite distant from the reality of these wars that our fellow Americans have been asked to fight.

I think that many of us who aren't in the military, or don't have family or close friends in the military, haven't felt the real pains of war. I think this is true in many ways, though I wanted to specifically highlight how many haven't felt the emotional pains of war. However, as a sidenote, I don't think many of us have felt many economic or other pains either (at least not middle to upper-class Americans). Lots of people have noted this by pointing out that Americans haven't been asked to sacrifice at all, through higher taxes or in other ways that were common in past wars. For my part, I undoubtedly believe that we should be asked to give more, especially since we are hemorrhaging money and resources in these wars, and so many lives have been lost; it seems quite distant when one thinks of their country being in debt, but it just isn't small that our country has been spending over $10 billion each month in Iraq.

In terms of the emotional pains of war though, the news coverage I mentioned has made me realize how I haven't hurt or mourned much, at least not in ways that come close to the pain and loss that Americans, Iraqis and Afghans have felt. Is that my fault? I don't know, perhaps in part. But maybe the President and others could do more to bring the painful substance of these wars before the eyes and hearts of the American people (and the world for that matter).

In my last job I wrote some about Congress and budgets and related issues, and so I wrote a piece on what the President had to say in his annual State of the Union address back in early 2008. The hubbub about his State of the Union addresses has naturally died down over the years, in terms of press coverage, however it is still considered a significant event. What if the President had some events to highlight the realities of these wars, where he called for similar news coverage? Some might say this would kill his image politically. One, humanity has precedence in my view; but two, a human side to anyone, politician or otherwise, is good. Imagine, for instance, if he started some nationally-covered TV address saying something like:

"We have young men and women dying, as do the Iraqis and Afghans, and so I want to take some time to talk to the American people about how sacred these losses of human life are--why? Because life is sacred, and we need to tell the stories of what is lost when someone dies in order to remember that; and similarly, we need to tell such stories if we are going to understand the need to resist anything that might put more lives at risk, unless we absolutely have to do otherwise."
Wouldn't something of that nature be truly significant to hear a President say? I think it would, particularly if he followed it up with individual stories of lives lost, as well as respectful, caring discussions with families of those who lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan. Something like that could easily be put on some major news channels, or C-SPAN or PBS, as happens with the State of the Union and other major addresses; I'm sure people would ache to hear it once they understood the general idea. I also think that Obama would have the gall and understanding to deal with realities such as this straight on, whether in a similar fashion to what I described above or in other ways.

Taking a step back, the basic concept of war is tough for me to swallow, admittedly, however I can say that if it is ever merited--which I grant may have been the case with Afghanistan--it must be done with the utmost respect for human life; more specifically, I believe it should be done with an attention to detail that weighs our time in war by the hour, not the month or year, resisting even another hour or day of war, with the intention that not one more person's life should be put in danger than is absolutely necessary.

That said, based on the evidence, I can say that I have unequivocal problems with the idea that we went into war with Iraq, most specifically because there was not what is considered an "imminent threat." As Senator Carl Levin, a respected senior Senator from Michigan, said in a 2002 press release opposing the vote for war with Iraq, "This grant of authority is also unacceptable since it empowers the President to initiate the use of U.S. military force although the threat against which it is used is not imminent. International law has required that there be an imminent threat before one initiates an attack under the rubric of self defense." For more information on that vote, and why I personally have an irreconcilable doubt about those that voted for it--from Hillary Clinton to John McCain--see this first piece on that vote; for a contrast with those who supported the war, take a look at this piece I wrote on Obama's 2002 stance against it, and this piece on Rep. Dennis Kucinich's stance (Kucinich is a member of the House of Representatives who, like over 150 other members of the House and Senate, voted in 2002 against our invasion of Iraq; he also ran in the 2007-2008 Democratic primary for President).

But now for a quick list of the news sources that recently shook me into reality about the tragedy and pain that comes with war (and thus spurred this blog post):

-A radio piece from the show "This American Life," telling the story of John, an Iraqi veteran who was so shaken by his experience that he felt somewhat pushed towards violent acts at times. He also has been haunted by ugly dreams, and was sent to prison for attacking his fiance and others; you can listen to a short promo for the piece here, though the full radio piece should be available shortly it looks like (I'll post it when it is, I think they still have to load it onto the website since it aired today); update: here's the full piece available for listening online, just scroll down to "Life After Death" and click on "full episode";

-Coverage from Bill Moyers Journal of the documentary "Body of War," and the struggles of an Iraq war veteran named Tomas Young who was shot and paralyzed in Iraq; watch (or read the transcript for) the two-part series online here;

-A piece from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, a daily news show on PBS; the piece highlights conversations with children whose parents have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also discusses the fears and stress this places on the children, and highlights a camp which the kids can go to and meet other military children. You can listen to the piece here (though the video version of it should be available as of Monday, July 21st, just search for "camp for military kids" on the NewsHour site).

I'd be interested to hear any thoughts back on this overall issue, as it's obviously such a weighty topic with so many factors involved. As a last note, I have been on a little hiatus from posting because I took two weeks off in between jobs, but also because I was a bit troubled with Obama's stance on not accepting public financing; I wanted to spend some time researching it. I've looked into it a bit, and while I still have a few things I'd like to look into, I feel it was merited on a whole. I hope to have a piece on that before long.

Above photo credit: New America Media.

Update (I also added this same note to the end of this post): As an addendum here, I just watched Obama speaking at a faith forum where he talked about the "solemn obligation that you do everything you can to get that decision right," talking about decisions of war and peace (see the last 30 seconds of this video); that's a solemness I must say I do not see in the disgusting casualness with which McCain approaches issues of war--e.g., in the way he has literally joked about the idea of bombing Iran (video here). I'll hope to write more about the faith forum and McCain's overall views on war later.

Update 2: I just watched a tough TV news piece tonight, 8/21, on the grieving that families go through at the loss of their family members in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can watch the full piece online here; it includes a discussion with a Marine whose job has been to deliver the news to families about the death of their loved ones. You can see the newspaper series the news piece was based on here, where you can also see some of the tough pictures that go along with it.


soc said...

We all know that war is painful, but this post is important because it is easy to forget our responsibility. We can't take the place of the soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, but we can continue to speak up on their behalf, to protest an unjust war, to press for fair treatment when they return. Just as they can't quit when it gets tough, we can't grow weary in doing our part.

Brendan said...

I don't know soc, part of what i'm saying is that i don't think we understand that war is painful in the ways that we need to. It's just not before our eyes and striking us in the ways that reflect the real pain that's out there; i think we have more of a distant, nonspecific sense of the whole thing that cheapens the reality of it--but as i say in the post, i think that is in part b/c we have not been exposed to it and b/c we have no leadership that educates us about the horrific reality of it.

Agreed on the other parts though, i think it does place a deeper call on all of us,.me included i realize as i write this, to remember that when we protest the war, we are more specifically protesting the unjust death of many (American, Iraqi, Afghan, and those w/troops from other countries). Thanks for the comment!