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September 25, 2005

Peace With Honor

PH2005092401737.jpg They gather on the Mall in their thousands, earnest, outraged, fired up. All the old players are there, and some new players too: a mingling of new and old mantras, yesterday and today blended artfully together in a pastiche meant to evoke the powerful specter of Iraq-as-Vietnam:

Backstage, and onstage, it was a reunion for aging activists. There was Jesse Jackson, threading a mike up through his leisure suit and talking about how Cindy Sheehan, the mother who lost a son to Iraq, was the Rosa Parks of this generation. Al Sharpton roaring his rage into the mike. There was politico Julian Bond and comic rebel Dick Gregory. Country crooner Steve Earle strumming his guitar and singing about the CIA and "living in the [expletive expletive] U.S.A."

Rep. Maxine Waters kicked things off with some fighting words:

"I am a member of Congress. And I. Am. Sick. And. Tired. Of. George. W. Bush."

The crowd let it be known -- loudly -- that it, too, was sick and tired.

"This gives me flash-forwards," not flashbacks, Baez said, looking lean and sinewy in a tank top and jeans, her cropped hair streaked with silver.

Back in the day, the 64-year-old singer said, she provided a spark for those who wanted to end the war in Vietnam. It wasn't her place to provide that spark now, she said, someone else had to do it. Michael Moore started it with "Fahrenheit 9/11," and Sheehan fanned the flames. Now, she said, people were rallying.

The concert was a place to start, she said, but not a place to end.

"Music is wonderful, but you've got to involve risk." Artists have to be willing to put themselves on the line.

"With Live 8," she said, "the only risk was not being invited. This involves risk."


The irony hangs heavy in the air but Baez, surrounded by an impenetrable force field of smug self-satisfaction, long ago lost the capacity for detecting such nuances. She is a Serious Activist, trained in a hard school where those who Speak Truth To Power were once hosed down or tear-gassed by National Guard troops and carted off by baton-wielding policemen for the crime of opposing a fascist government intent on eating its own young. That there are, on this day, no troops in sight - no evidence of John Ashcroft's much-ballyhoo'd Police State has evidently escaped her notice.

It's not much fun Protesting against the Man if you can't complain about risk. The saintly example of Mother Sheehan, hauled away in leg chains and stuffed into an airless cell in Guantanamo Bay, animates these brave patriots. It is all they have left.

For they have a mission. They want to bring the troops home. Too many, they say, have died. Iraq is another Vietnam, they say. Well, with one or two minor exceptions:

"Iraq is just like Vietnam except: We occupy Hanoi. We've captured Ho Chi Minh. The North Vietnamese have just held a free and democratic election. The North Vietnamese are working on a new constitution."

But it's not too late to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The important thing to remember is that They Support The Troops. The all-volunteer armed forces who, rather disturbingly, signed up to be there (as opposed to the conscripted force we had in Vietnam). The all-volunteer force who have been re-enlisting in record numbers despite a relentless media campaign to convince the American public that we are losing this war. The all-volunteer force who continue to remain positive supporters of the President and the war effort, and critical of the media and those members of Congress who have done their best to undermine what they are trying to accomplish.

But it is their right, in a free and democratic society, to try and overturn the results of democratic elections by making noise in public places. This is called "freedom". If one cannot obtain the desired results at the ballot box, one organizes marches on Washington and shouts into the air with megaphones. And hopefully, the noise will travel halfway around the world to Baghdad, where the troops will know that these good-hearted people support them by trying to undo all they have worked so hard to accomplish.

Just think how that knowledge will comfort them in their darkest moments:

What will we do when the crucible finds us?

What will we do when the arc of an ordinary life intersects with some unimaginable moment of trial, some circumstance so beyond anticipating that to prepare is all but impossible?

What will we do when to sacrifice may mean to sacrifice all?
Ordinary people, ordinary lives until the moment found them made of steel.

It is of such ordinary people that armies are made. From the cities and the farms, the factories and fields come the men who make an army, and as they pour themselves into warfare, they know of all occupations it is the bearing of arms that is most likely to put them at some fateful intersection.

That in itself, of course, is no sure thing. To slip into uniform is no guarantee the moment will ever come. You could wind up slinging hash in the mess hall or filing forms at headquarters and never hear a rifle crack.

And to take it further, even those who go to battle may escape the hour of test. Events beyond their control may swirl around them, the lines may advance and falter, the tides may surge and ebb, and all the soldiers can do, the best they can do, is follow orders, ride it out and try to make it home.

But in the wild randomness of combat, amid the flames and screams and smoke and blood, the swirling tides will pitch the occasional man into a circumstance so daunting that to shrink back - or succumb to normal fear, normal caution and, yes, to save one's hide - would be the cause of no valid criticism.

It is for those moments, and for those who do not so succumb, that the United States of America has created the Medal of Honor.

Each of those men and women once willingly signed their names on the dotted line and in so doing committed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the defense of this nation and to the furtherance of her foreign policy. They did so because they believed in the principles on which this country was founded.

They believe in democracy. They believe freedom is so important that it is worth fighting for - even worth dying for. And they are willing to put their lives on the line to further the interests of the United States of America.

They are not naive. They realize that sometimes nations go to war for reasons not wholly idealistic. They ask only one thing in return for the gift of their lives: for God's sake make it mean something. Do not let this have been in vain.

Across town, a different kind of gathering is taking place. At long last, a grateful nation is rewarding Cpl. Tibor Rubin of Garden Grove, California for extraordinary heroism in Korea from 1950 to 1953:

Rubin served as a rifleman with the 1st Cavalry Division and during numerous battles engaged the enemy and tended to the wounded with "careless disregard for his own safety."

In one battle, he single-handedly defended a hill, inflicting a staggering number of casualties, slowing the enemy advance, allowing the 8th Cavalry Regiment to withdraw. He was later wounded and captured by the Chinese. He spent 30 months as a prisoner of war, risking his life to keep his fellow soldiers alive by providing medical care and stealing food from the enemy.

A crucible is always out there, pitiless and cruel, for some soldier, somewhere.

Were the world suddenly to become sane, were the nations to lay down arms, were religious militants to recognize that worship involves self-sacrifice rather than the wanton murder of others, were we to supplant all our rivalries and all our -isms with a logical recognition of our human commonality, were those things suddenly to happen the crucible would pass into history, and history would record that Tibor Rubin had become the very last Medal of Honor recipient.

That would be, as we so tritely say these days, a good thing.

To know that the circumstances that thrust ordinary men into moments of such wild danger and terror were forever gone, that the dark impulses from which conflict springs had been at last effaced, that this evil would never again imperil the human family - wouldn't that be the day?

The hope is old, of course, and so far unfulfilled. It is at least as old as Isaiah, who wrote of swords becoming plowshares and spears pruning hooks. Instead, our swords have become atomic bombs and our spears a cloud of poison gas.

Until that is reversed, until the evil subsides, young men will flow to the battlefields, into the crucible. To fight for the right as they know it. To live or to die. And each, by risking all on the razor's edge between existence and the void, demands far better of the world that put them there.

But we are not there yet, and until we are the question remains: how will we "support" those men and women who volunteer to put their lives on the line for us? Who still believe in this 200 year old "experiment" we call Democracy?

Will we "support" them by allowing a discontented minority who were unable to win an election to override the votes of the majority and pressure Congress into pulling us out of Iraq? That will, truly, turn Iraq into Vietnam. And with what result? Niall Ferguson comments:

Is it time, then, for the Americans to revive their tried-and-tested policy of proclaiming victory and getting the hell out? I suspect many readers - not least those with sons, brothers or husbands in the services - fervently wish that they would, preferably preceded by us.

And yet, as Kipling so well understood, there are worse things than trying, however imperfectly, to police a foreign land. (Having spent last week in Cambodia, I have just been forcefully reminded of the horrors that befell Indo-China after the Americans abandoned South Vietnam.)

The kind of violence that we could see in Iraq if we quit now, leaving full-scale civil war to rage, would dwarf all that has happened since 2003. I once asked a friend in Beirut what he thought would end up happening in Iraq. "Like Lebanon in the 1980s," he replied, "but to the power of ten."

Nor is there any guarantee that it would remain a civil war. Last week, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, issued a chilling warning to the Bush administration that Iraq was on the point of falling apart. His fear is that this could "bring other countries in the region into the conflict".

By comparison with that scenario, what happened last week in Basra really was - in another time-honoured phrase of British imperialism - just "a little local difficulty".

The anti-war Left has told us over and over that Iraq is a quagmire: another Vietnam. It is not, of course. The differences are numerous and striking, but the unpalatable truth is that they long to make it one. And the old adage, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it" may well come true once again; for if we withdraw too soon from Iraq, we betray not only the Iraqis, but 150,000 men and women who have served bravely, believing that their service actually stood for something.

Believing that America meant what she said.

How sad for them to find out that the country they believed in with all their hearts is but a paper tiger: a nation of videots whose attention span lasts no longer than the next episode of Survivor Vanuatu?

That we sent them into danger and bloodshed and toil on a fool's errand and then, losing interest, said, "Oh... nevermind. This isn't really all that important after all."

Perhaps you can look that young graduate stepping off the parade ground in the eye after we make it clear what he has just signed up to serve: a nation that doesn't honor its commitments. A nation that will ask him and his friends to die for causes it does not really believe in.

I know I can't.

Posted by Cassandra at September 25, 2005 10:48 AM

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» What "Get Out of Iraq" Really Means from Fuzzilicious Thinking
In another of her amazing essays, Cassandra articulates one of the many reasons why the "anti-war" pressure to leave Iraq prematurely is so repugnant, and bereft of fundamental human decency. [Read More]

Tracked on September 25, 2005 06:03 PM

» What 'Get Out of Iraq' Really Means from Fuzzilicious Thinking
In another of her amazing essays, Cassandra articulates one of the many reasons why the "anti-war" pressure to leave Iraq prematurely is so repugnant, and bereft of fundamental human decency. [Read More]

Tracked on September 25, 2005 07:01 PM


I'm glad that a majority of people in this country aren't buying into the lefties' propaganda.

Thank God for the "blogosphere"!

Posted by: camojack at September 25, 2005 05:10 PM

Camojack, I sure hope you're right. I have to admit that I was very disappointed to see how many people showed up to counter the lefties in DC.

Cassie, your last six paragraphs are amazing.

Posted by: FbL at September 25, 2005 05:24 PM

Hmmm.. should be "how few people..."

Posted by: FbL at September 25, 2005 05:29 PM

What you have to remember is that the "anti-" protests (whether they are "anti-" War, Globalization, whatever) operate around a professional organization that has developed over the course of forty years, and is designed to maximize turnout. It has tons of money (take a look at the budget for Global Exchange, to name just one wing of a very large machine), offices, actual staff in many of the nation's and the world's largest cities, and a volunteer cast that will gladly ship themselves across the country once a month or so to turn up at whatever this week's protest is.

The pro-war protestors have none of that. It's just a few guys who decided, within the last year or two, that they'd like to show up and counterprotest. They don't have the budget of millions and millions, they don't have staff, they don't have offices near major college campuses, etc.

Protests are a sideshow. The thing to do, always, is to ignore them. If someone brings them to your attention, just remind them of these facts, and advise that person to ignore them also.

If enough of us do it, they'll finally go away.

Posted by: Grim at September 25, 2005 08:31 PM

Gee. I was going to do a topic kinda-sorta along these lines, but with a different theme, topic and characters that has more to do with a bar joke than anything else.
I open the management page in order to post, and notice about 10 spammer comments and the cork came out, so I posted about spammers instead.
I still have the joke, so maybe tomorrow.

Posted by: Joatmoaf at September 25, 2005 09:55 PM

Yeah I know, Grim... I just thought there would be more people within driving distance of DC that would show up. It would've felt so good to know there were equal or greater numbers of people who actually support the troops out there, too. Sigh...

Posted by: FbL at September 25, 2005 10:21 PM

What I can't figure out is whether these activists actually believe that an American withdrawal will actually end in the war in, or even on, Iraq. True, one might, for a time, end all American participation in that war, but the idea that it would end the war is so astonishing I cannot help but wonder whether they are being disingenuous. But they seem sincere. So I suppose the alternative explanatitons are "disingenuous" and "insane," neither of which is very comforting.

Posted by: TigerHawk [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2005 11:16 PM

Joan Baez is still around?
Maybe she and the Ditzy Chix can get together.

Posted by: Cricket at September 25, 2005 11:43 PM

What "they" believe and what their leadership believes are two different things, I believe (and you can believe that, if you wish).
"They", the great un-washed masses of cattle roaming around DC this weeked, reached the great and satisfying salt lick of "hey, let's all be for peace so we are moral people", as if it was that easy. If we'd just get out of Iraq, it would be off the evening news and they could stop being hurt and angry at Bush, the government, Americam, their fellow citizens, etc. It harshes their mellow, man.
Of course, the awful possible consequences never seem to occur to them, but it would be the fault of Bush/Cheney, the Rethuglicans, etc., if bad things happed in Iraq after we pull out (can you say Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge? Is this Deja Vu all over again?)
Their "leadership", however is a different matter. Either
1) They are professional protesters, and this is their rice bowl, and they truly don't have a conscience as to what the outcome could be
2) They want to "immentize the eshcaton", as Donald Sensing once phrased it, to bring about the secular politcal apocalypse, which will sweep the political and intellectual vanguard (hard leftist Marxists, Stalinists, etc) into power in America and around the world (yeah, right).
Don't confuse them with reality, or with the idea that actions have a consequence. Nope, don't go there.

Posted by: David at September 26, 2005 08:52 AM

Baez: "What do we want?"
Crowd: "Latte! Latte!"
Baez: "How do we want it?"
Crowd: "Vente! Vente!"


Nicely said Cass.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 26, 2005 09:54 AM

great and satisfying salt lick of "hey, let's all be for peace so we are moral people", as if it was that easy.

What a great way to put it, David!

Posted by: FbL at September 26, 2005 02:31 PM

Come see my latest post...your heart will soar!

Posted by: patd95 at September 26, 2005 10:05 PM

Can't you just imagine thier theme song...if it was sung by Country Joe and the Fish..

And it's one, two, three,
What are we yapping for ?
Don't ask me, We don't give a damn,
Lets keep them writing about Cindy Shehan;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! Were all gonna....

... Mike interupt...

Please Don't eat the grey Poupon it contains food additives...
Repeat..do not eat the Grey Poupon...

Someone who owns a late model Volvo with the Environmental License Plate "Vegan039" left their lights on....

Don't forget the free samplings of "Cherry Garcia" at the Ben & Jerry's booth next to the Tye Dye booth.

ect, ad nausea.._I hate hippies...

Posted by: Dr. Hippie Stuhl at September 27, 2005 03:32 AM

Harden, you are a hoot. You made my morning :)

I can't tell you how many times I drag myself in here in the dark and think, "My God, why the hell am I still doing this?"

And then I see something like your comment and I think, "That's why".

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2005 07:20 AM

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