Here are a couple of observations from two parents of American heroes fallen in Iraq.
The first is from Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Army Spec. Casey Sheehan, a brave man who enlisted in 2000, re-upped for a second tour and died in 2005 after volunteering for a rescue mission in Sadr City: “We’ve been talking about Martin Luther King Jr. this night. My son was killed the same day he was killed, on April 4. I don’t believe in any coincidences. Casey was born on John F. Kennedy’s birthday. He was born on the day, and died on the day, of two people who were assassinated by the war machine in my country.”
The second observation is from Martin Terrazas, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso, who was killed by a roadside bomb at a town called Haditha: “I don’t even listen to the news.”
The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of the most important newspaper (well, OK, the most self-important newspaper) in America, has written that “the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.” She wrote this about Mrs. Sheehan. She doesn’t seem to have found the time to write any columns about any other parents of fallen soldiers and their absolute moral authority.
Elizabeth Edwards, wife of “moderate” “mainstream” Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, sent out a letter headlined: “Support Cindy Sheehan’s right to be heard.” Mrs. Sheehan doesn’t have much difficulty being heard. The remarks above were made a week ago at a meeting in Melbourne. That’s to say, dozens of organizations pay to fly her around the United States and Canada and over to Britain and Europe and all the way to Australia to ensure her “right to be heard,” now and forever. She is the subject of a forthcoming movie, in which she will be played by Susan Sarandon.
But I would hazard that Martin Terrazas is far more typical of the families of American forces in Iraq: A man who can’t bear to pick up an American newspaper, or listen to a radio news bulletin, or watch a political talk show, because every square peg of an event is being hammered into the round hole of the same narrative, the only narrative our culture knows: This is Vietnam, it’s a quagmire, we can’t win, and the longer we delay losing and scuttling and getting the hell outta there, the more wicked things we will do. And, lookie here, whaddaya know, here comes the Sunni version of the My Lai massacre.
I don’t know any more than you do about the precise nature of events triggered in Haditha by Cpl. Terrazas’ death. But assume every dark rumor you’ve heard is true, that this was the murder of civilians by U.S. service personnel. In the run-up to March 2003, there were respectable cases to be made for and against the Iraq war. Nothing that happened at Haditha alters either argument. And, if you’re one of the ever swelling numbers of molting hawks among the media, the political class and the American people for whom Haditha is the final straw, that’s not a sign of belated moral integrity but of fundamental unseriousness.
Anyone who supports launching a war should be clear-sighted enough to know that, when the troops go in, a few of them will kill civilians, bomb schools, torture prisoners. It happens in every war in history, even the good ones. Individual Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians did bad things in World War II, and World War I. These aren’t stunning surprises, they’re inevitable: It might be a bombed mosque or a gunned-down pregnant woman or a slaughtered wedding party, but it will certainly be something. And, in the scales of history, it makes no difference to the justice of the cause and the need for victory.
For three years, coalition forces in Iraq behaved so well that a salivating Vietnam culture had to make do with the thinnest of pickings: one depraved jailhouse, a prisoner on a dog leash with a pair of Victoria’s Secret panties on his head and an unusually positioned banana. “Just look at the way U.S. Army reservist Lynndie England holds the leash of the naked, bearded Iraqi,” wrote Robert Fisk, dean of the global media’s Middle Eastern correspondents. “No sadistic movie could outdo the damage of this image. In September 2001, the planes smashed into the buildings; today, Lynndie smashes to pieces our entire morality with just one tug on the leash.” Down, boy.
But now at last the media have their story. They’re off the leash. And, if the worst rumors are true, those 10 Marines will come to symbolize the 99.99 percent of their comrades who every day do great things for the Iraqi and Afghan people. In 2004, in the wake of Abu Ghraib, I wrote “there is something not just ridiculous but unbecoming about a hyperpower 300 million strong whose elites — from the deranged former vice president down — want the outcome of a war, and the fate of a nation, to hinge on one freaky jailhouse; elites who are willing to pay any price, bear any burden, as long as it’s pain-free, squeaky-clean and over in a week. The sheer silliness dishonors the memory of all those we’re supposed to be remembering this Memorial Day.”
Two years on, it’s even worse. If you examine assumptions underlying speeches by professors, media grandees, etc, it’s hard not to agree with the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto that America now can only fight Vietnam, over and over: Every war is “supposed to become a quagmire, which provokes opposition and leads to American withdrawal.” That’s how the nation demonstrates its “moral virtue” — i.e., its parochial self-absorption.
Last week Cindy Sheehan said in Melbourne that “Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by the war machine in my country.” This week, Bobby’s son, Robert Kennedy Jr, said in Rolling Stone that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election. Next week, it’ll be something else.
But there is more pain and more truth about America in those seven words of Martin Terrazas. A superpower that wallows in paranoia and glorifies self-loathing cannot endure and doesn’t deserve to.
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator and a nationally syndicated columnist.