Mr. Bush’s Human Shields
“We can debate Iraq—and should,” President Bush said at a Pentagon briefing on May 10. “There should be no debate about making sure that money gets there on a timely basis so our kids can do the job we’ve asked them to do.” When the president says “the job we have asked them to do,” who does he mean by that we? His administration, which even in 2003 was divided over whether to invade? His focus groups? Isn’t this the man who once told Bob Woodward, “Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel I owe anybody an explanation”?
When Bush refers to those soldiers as “our kids,” what does he mean by our, considering that he has yet to find it necessary to attending a single one of “his” kids’ funerals? What does he mean by our, considering that the overwhelming majority of Americans neither have a connection with these kids, nor want to have one beyond the clichés plastered on the butt of their cars (“support our troops”) and the hypocrisies spilling from the mouths of every other television talking head, none of whom would give up their six- and seven-figure jobs, ever, to put themselves in a working-class soldier’s shoes? I’m not suggesting they should. But the use of such terminology as we and our troops is shameless in its dishonesty.
It seems to me we ought to be having the debate the president deems unnecessary, but not for the reasons he fears. There is, to be sure, the debate about whether that money should be appropriated. Of course it shouldn’t, at least not to prolong what’s been nothing more than pointless slaughter: barring unseen miracles, what money to be appropriated from here on should be spent exclusively on facilitating a withdrawal—on bringing home “our kids” so “our kids” can have a future that extends slightly further than the confines of pine boxes and provincial memories on Veterans and Memorial Day. Beyond that, we should very much be debating what the president means by “our kids.” We have a mercenary army: recruits bribed to join with signing bonuses adding up to $40,000 in some cases, and forced to stay on in tours of duty now extended to 15 months at a time, and longer stays beyond the war zone. We have something like military servitude, and we have it from an infinitesimally small demographic in society. “Our kids”? More like our dregs in uniform. No one wants to be face to face with these soldiers, not in any meaningful way. We might clap once in a while, when the herd mentality takes over and uniforms parade before our eyes. It’s opportunistic applause, possibly cowardly, but it isn’t honest. No one wants to be confronted with the greatest outsourcing operation this country has ever known. A domestic form of outsourcing that sends off tens of thousands of “our boys” at a time to places less than half the population could even place on a map.
Four years ago an astounding majority of Americans supported the invasion. Is it to be excusable that four years later some of those have come to their senses, that only a minority, albeit a sizeable one, still supports the war? Not quite. What launched the invasion was a complicity of fraud, orchestrated from the White House but enabled by the electorate—not just in 2002 and 2003, but in November 2004 as well. It’s too late now to be withdrawing support. The only redeeming thing to do is to withdraw troops and quit yapping about “our” boys.
Meanwhile, this: In three days between Thursday and Saturday, 21 more American soldiers got killed in Iraq, all of them from hostile fire, most of them in Baghdad. That brings the month’s total kills of American and coalition soldiers to 75 (a Korean soldier was killed on Sunday). The death toll among Americans, by Memorial Day, will be around 3,435. On Sunday the White House press flacker took time to criticize former President Carter for calling Bush’s foreign policy “the worst in history” by calling Carter “increasingly irrelevant.” This from a sitting president whose capacity to grasp reality abandoned him, admittedly to profit, in November and December 2000, when he discovered that reality was whatever he and his team could make of it. He’s relevant, our Bush. No question. But it’s a relevance of malevolence, the kind that needs the plural-possessive (“our kids,” “the job we have asked them to do”) behind which to hide the singularly criminal and indefensible.
We howl at “terrorists” hiding among civilians and using them as human shields. What, exactly, is Bush doing, using the plural-possessive, if not dissimulating his rhetoric in a pluralism long dead to keep the guns blazing at masses of Americans and Iraqis still dying?