16 July, 2006

Gifts Given and Refused

I haven't written much about the war(s) lately, or the soldiers. But they've been on my mind and weighing on heart. There's an ugly darkness swirling that I haven't wanted to turn and face.

We have several high-profile cases of alleged wrongdoing by our warfighters that aren't quite convincing at this stage but are being treated in the media as decided fact; the fighting in Iraq has moved into a phase that is requiring a level of restriction on use of force by America's fighting men and women that increases their vulnerability; major media figures like the NYT editorialize and report (often the same thing) as if the war on terror is trumped up, or distort the news about it to the extent that returning veterans don't even recognize the news as covering their experiences; anti-troop and anti-war types are feeling bolder and bolder about saying some of the most hateful, ignorant, and repugnant things... words and emotions our nation hasn't experienced in nearly 35 years.

We are faced with the almost undeniable truth that the major media is morally and intellectually corrupt beyond repair, that the politicans on both sides have allowed the siren song of re-election to turn them from their obligations of good governance, and our "allies" are showing signs of being the moral midgets we've always feared they were. War rages on, as these groups play games with the lives of Americans and others alike. They impugn the honor of those who have given us their innocence and faced the demons for us, they use and abuse the likenesses of those whose ultimate gift means they can no longer speak.

In the middle of this, I don't know how the warfighters keep their composure. People like Uncle J rant (quite appropriately), but it's still somewhat restrained, it's still expressed in only the proper forum. Other respected voices quietly and methodically peel back the layers to expose the disgusting filth hidden behind the terms objective, citizen of the world, nuanced, and elite. But no one has taken to assaulting journalists. No military member of stature and sanity has threatened the life of an ignorant and opportunistic member of Congress. I don't expect they ever will; honor and discipline won't allow it. But it seems so much emotion founded in experience and knowledge is out there there under the public surface, usually only acknowledged in the presence of brothers who understand from experience the logical dissections that underlie the powerful emotions of those who have "been there."

Today Lex wrote about the disgusting fawning over a Time magazine photographer doing Soldier of Fortune-style glamour shots of a Mahdi Army "insurgent" sniper shooting at Americans in Iraq. Commenter "Captain J" shared his thoughts on those who praised the photographer:

One wonders if Ms. McNally has ANY idea how much blood there is in a human body. Add the smell of cordite, voided bowels, the sickly sweet hint of early stages of decomposition; or the rare roast beef whiff of a partially-charred corpse.

Maybe NYT photos should come with a “scratch & sniff” patch on the back for that extra frisson of “authenticity” the enabling MSM lusts after.
That hit me in the gut. Not because of what it described, but what it said between the lines. It was restrained, an almost medical discussion of something CPT J has surely experienced first hand. Something I hope never to experience... and due to the efforts of Captain J and others, I (fortunately) likely never will.

And that's what got to me about it. How many hundreds of thousands of veterans of wars do we have among us who know exactly what Captain J is describing? Who don't usually say it outloud, but who cannot help but remember, smell, hear all over again when some ignorant twit like Ms. McNally blithely talks about the aesthetics and heroics of photographing an enemy who is killing and maiming Americans, an enemy whose actions thus require the soldier to cross that line from Before to After. What emotion must well up at the thought of Ms. McNally's "elevated" and "nuanced" approach to war that celebrates the fact that a photographer is accepted by the enemy who would kill him by hideous means were not his willful ignorance and moral blindness helpful to their propaganda campaign.

I have written before about my appreciation of those who stand in my place, who face the darkness, who find they must fight for the brothers on their right and left because they long ago made a decision to put themselves in that position for their country. But this adds another layer of gratitude. And another something I wish we could change for them.

I am grateful for their self-possession and quiet confidence that allows them to respond to people like Ms. McNally in coherent and eloquent ways with the emotional or intellectual impact of a sledgehammer. But I wish so much those responses were not necessary. I wish they didn't have to protect against the battlefield dangers of people like the photographer as well as the homefront dangers of the enemy within like Ms. McNally (it reminds me somewhat of spending my career as a music teacher fighting to be allowed to simply do my job). Their duty to the war should end with their redeployment. The nobility of their sacrifice should not be treated as merely a choice between political candidates or even a question of religious philosophy. This is not a gray area! It is not a matter of equal philosophies and worldviews that one can pick and choose like a salad bar. They are not equivalent to terrorists, "freedom fighters," or insurgents. They fought to free and liberalize; the enemy fights to enslave and oppress. Their struggles on the battlefield are not staging and props for a reporter's career! How many times do we have to repeat, "This is not a game?!!!"

And so I wish we all understood how serious this war is, what is lost by all who return from the battlefield... understood that this is deadly serious.

To pretend that all is equal and that one can merely observe from afar is to lie to oneself. More graciousness and gratitude is shown by the average recipient of socks on Christmas morning than is shown by many who think they can operate supposedly above the fray of this war. They wouldn't dream of turning up their nose at a misgiven gift, but they do worse than that every day they pretend that what they do doesn't affect the very people who allow them the freedom to throw a gift back in a warfighter's face...

...on the business end of a sniper rifle.