Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Stroking Egos

Have we not heard it again and again? We learned our lesson in Vietnam. Never again will we sacrifice our youth on the altar of an unwinnable war. Is that so? Then what were we doing in Beirut, Grenada, Bosnia and now Iraq? We were stroking egos. Living out the John Wayne-ness of those who waged war but had never participated. Where the guys in the white hats always won no matter what the odds.

Boot camp is kindergarten in the school of life, where youngsters still fresh faced and loaded for bear are taught to kill. In the Vietnam era the teachers were those leather skinned veterans of WWII and Korea. These were the heroes of those movies boys had all cut their teeth on, on Saturday afternoons. This, however, was real life. These were the men who had stormed Normandy and survived. Beaten a path to Berlin and survived. Those who had survived the meat grinder known as Pork Chop Hill. Survival was what they were there to teach these new recruits.

Robert McNamara, in his book "In Retrospect" wrote about..." there are those things which you cannot quantify but the things that you can count you should. Loss of life is one when you are fighting a war of attrition. We tried to use body counts as a measurement to help us figure out what we should be doing in Vietnam to win the war while putting our troops at the least risk." The body count he referred to was the enemy body count. Those who had managed to escape the draft for Vietnam and who were protesting at home, were more interested in our own body count and who among us, who came of age in that era, will forget the chant, "Hey, hey LBJ. How many boys have you killed today?" Bleak days for a President with an inherited war and one who had campaigned on the promise not to send American boys to fight and die in Southeast Asia. But then, Vietnam was all a horrible mistake we are told.

Before we knew it we had in the White House a bona fide Hollywood "war hero". Ronald Reagan, an actor of questionable repute who was elected President and as such was now Commander in Chief of all the armed forces. His dream come true, and a nightmare for the rest of us. 1983 found Reagan and his advisors mired down in a totally incoherent Middle East policy. In an effort to show that the US meant business, 3,000 totally ill prepared and ill equipped Marines were deployed to Beirut where early on a Sunday morning, a suicide bomber drove a truck into their barracks taking the lives of 241 sailors and Marines. Ooops. Another mistake.

But in order to take the onus off the failed mission of Lebanon, three days later Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada. It seems this tiny island was fully capable of launching a full scale attack upon the mighty United States. Who knew! Grenada was a place few had even heard of much less thought of as an imminent threat to our safety and security CIA - The World Factbook -- Grenada But, Robert McNamara (again), Reagan's national security advisor, let us know that " we got there just in time." It certainly was just in time to take the spotlight off the debacle that had occurred in Lebanon. True to form however, Reagan blamed everything on the Russians, while stating that our presence in Lebanon was absolutely vital to United States interests. Just how vital and why is still a mystery as within a few months the marines were withdrawn.

Then we had Bosnia. An enemy that failed to listen to reason and NATO allies who failed to stand up to wanton aggression and genocide and whom they were unwilling to defeat. What to do, what to do? How to win in a no win situation was talked to death while the "peacekeeping" troops on the ground and the civilians were caught in the crossfire, denied the luxury of a voice in their fate. Full scale genocide was the order of the day and there was no way that the troops on the ground could prevail. Peace must be won before it can be kept, and there was no peace.

Now we are three years into another military boondoggle. The neo-cons, anxious to bring their John Wayne dreams to life, promised to shock and awe another soverign nation into submission. The rationale for this disastrous enterprise was based on falsehoods and manufactured evidence. It was sold to a nation reeling from an unprecedented attack. Egos swelled to near bursting capacity at the thoughts of what wondrous military actions could now be launched. We actually saw swaggering ego made flesh walking the deck of an aircraft carrier.

So once again, the cream of American youth is shipped off to a foreign land, put in harm's way, doing their duty, stroking the ego of their Commander in Chief.

Susan B. Goodwin