The First Thousand
Honored sons and daughters of America
Bad news today. I was expecting this to take a bit longer.
U.S. military deaths in the Iraq campaign passed the 1,000 milestone Tuesday, with more than 800 of them during the stubborn insurgency that flared after the Americans brought down Saddam Hussein and President Bush declared major combat over.
I hope that all Americans will honor their sacrifice. I hope that all of their souls are at peace. I hope that no more blood will be spilled. I hope that I am wrong, and their deaths have helped secure liberty for us and the people of Iraq.
I can honor their lives and deaths, yet I'm uncertain of the word sacrifice in this context. It doesn't seem like sacrifice to me, it just seems like a bloody shame. And still we struggle on, trying to make sense, trying to make peace, trying to “live as though we were in the early days of a better nation.”
Some days this feels much harder than others.
The word “sacrifice” means that their deaths are sacred, and Yezida is a person who takes the sacred very seriously. Are the deaths of our soldiers sacred? Let me put on my pacifist hat for a moment, and ask in more uncomfortable terms. The central defining activity of soldiers is killing people. Are the deaths of our killers sacred?
We are indeed at a strange place in our nation's political rhetoric. I admit that part of why I make a point of so vigorously honoring the American dead in a war I so vigorously oppose is that hawks have cultivated a pernicious lie that doves and lefties dishonor our soldiers, veterans, and war dead. The need to pre-empt this lie is is why the Democrats' candidate for President is not only a Vietnam veteran but has emphasized it in his campaign. And it's part of why I beat this drum so hard.
Hawks talk about our soldiers “fighting and dying for our freedom.” I agree that American soldiers have bought my liberty with blood, and that this has often been the best available choice in a world of conflict. But I do not accept the implication that every drop of blood drawn or shed by our soldiers buys American liberty. Nor do I feel that to rue lives lost in war is to dishonor that loss.
If there is dishonor, it belongs not to our soldiers but to our government. Our soldiers' choice was to be willing to walk through the perilous gates of war, delivering themselves as the fragile instruments of our government for when they are needed to preserve our liberty. That is a sacred pact. Their loss in that pact is a sacrifice.
The conduct of war is that of a funeral;
when people are killed, it is a time of mourning.
This is why even victorious battle
should be observed without rejoicing.
Tao Teh Ching, XXXI
But Yezida is right, too. Our government's waste of that sacrifice is a “bloody shame.”