Backtalk, August 22, 2005

A Young Man’s Death in Iraq

Hello Mr. Engelhardt,

I read Mr. Christensen’s account of the loss of his young friend in the Aug. 14 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. I was very moved by it, and reread it several times. It provoked a series of issues that I feel are being inadequately addressed in the press. I hope that my response to Mr. Christensen’s bearing of his heart does not seem disrespectful of his feelings, as that is certainly not my intention.

When I first read the headline to this story (“Boyhood wish: kill enemy soldiers”), I anticipated another heartbreaking and disturbing account of a young Arab boy being brainwashed by mullahs in religious schools that preach violence against modernity. I expected to read about that young boy’s lack of prospects for a meaningful, rewarding life beyond his extremist religious training. Was I ever jolted out of my expectations! I quickly realized that this story was about an American youth, with limited prospects and limited knowledge of the outside world, who lost his life while serving his country, out of his desire to “go shoot some ‘Raqis.”

I empathized with the the Air Force vet, Chris Christensen, who shared his heart and his grief through this story. I, too, am crying for my country and for what we have become and are becoming. The ‘Raqis were not America’s enemies, until the misguided foreign policies of the current Bush administration made them so. Now Iraq is a geographical terrorist magnet. Granted, the Iraq that Saddam Hussein created before the 2003 invasion was terrible. But look at what it has become under our influence. It has simply morphed from one monster into another.

Mr. Christensen’s compelling reflections of and response to the loss of one of his hometown boys in this war included his earlier, disappointing attempts to deter his young friend from joining the Army to be sent “out to be a target.” He wanted this friend to consider joining the Air Force or Navy instead of the Army. I am under the impression that those who “support conservatives” believe that what we are doing in Iraq is the right thing, the honorable thing, for America to be doing, in order to preserve our national security and peace. Shouldn’t those who feel this way be honoring the courage of those particular men and women who volunteer for this sort of military duty by admiring and applauding them when they sign up, not by discouraging them? Mr. Christensen’s efforts on behalf of his young soldier-friend don’t speak very well for his support of our conservative president and his foreign policy actions in Iraq. If his hometown son shouldn’t volunteer for the genuinely dangerous work that our president insists needs to be accomplished over in Iraq, then who should? Whose hometown sons and daughters should be the ones sent over as targets?

Mr. Christensen does not want to be “confused with the liberal left.” I can’t blame him. I don’t want to be, either, even though I am a liberal, according to current popular labeling. The characterization of the liberal left as being unpatriotic and unwilling to sacrifice for the preservation of our American values is a false one. Simply because I do not “own guns and support conservatives” does not mean I do not value individual human rights and my responsibilities as a civic member of our American society. I come from a long, proud line of men and women who have served and are serving in the U.S. military. My conservative roots run just as deeply, if not more so, as do those who “support conservatives.” My father graduated in the D-day Class of 1944 from the U.S.M.A. The values that he was raised with, and that he took with him into West Point, and then on to the battlefields of Europe to hunt down the Nazi army, and liberate the concentration camps, did not include a desire to go shoot other people, born of hatred and violence. His values originated in a higher calling to duty and service for the American values we hold close to our hearts. I cannot help but think that my conservative father would not think very highly of his compatriots who would discourage their sons and daughters from serving in the Army during wartime.

Mr. Christensen feels that values of “hatred and violence in this country” are accompanying many young people being recruited into the military today. When liberal parents and other citizens speak up against morally questionable military recruiting methods that encourage and prey on these perceived values, we are mistakenly branded by conservatives as therapy-seeking wimps who don’t recognize that our way of life is being attacked by malicious religious fanatics. The truth is that every single one of my liberal friends does recognize the frightening reality that exists in today’s world. In civil discussions with others, I have learned that liberals tend to think, to one degree or another, that our current foreign policy actions are contributing to, not relieving, the increasing mayhem, death, and destruction we see going on all around the world right now. Plenty of evidence exists that suggests that this is, indeed, the case. There is no denying that this chaos begins with the unjust social and fundamentalist religious environment in the Middle East. But our military reaction to this chaos and violence has now melted together with it. It is becoming increasingly difficult to determine who is right, and who is wrong. For many of us, conservative and liberal, the term “moral clarity,” that has become one of George W. Bush’s buzzwords, is losing both its morality and its clarity.

Mr. Christensen refers to the sad situation in America in which “discussion or debate about policy in public is seldom heard and somewhat discouraged.” Why is this so? Could it be that a culture of hatred and violence does not encourage or even allow for respectful, informed discussion or dissent? Why is it that, as soon as someone who “supports conservatives” discovers that I do not support the policies of this Bush administration, (s)he typically jumps to the conclusion that I am not the patriotic sort of citizen that cherishes American values and is willing to sacrifice for my country. I wish I had the answer to that question.

Here is one thing I have learned that may provide some clues into the sorry state of our public debate: The newscasts and commentaries I have personally viewed on Fox News are rife with rhetoric, innuendo, and assignment of questionable motivations. Listening to personalities like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh does little more than rile viewers up either pro or con on any particular issue. Their shows do not contribute in any way I can see to fostering a social climate that includes a willingness to listen to each other, to respect each other, and to learn the truth of what is going on around us. They very likely contribute enormously to a national political environment that is unproductive and adversarial. This scenario in our media causes liberals such as myself, as well as conservatives, to wish for mandatory critical thinking classes for all citizens as a prerequisite to vote.

I have listened to the argument of many that the American antiwar movement is encouraging young Middle Eastern men to join the jihad fight, travel to Iraq, and attack our soldiers. This argument shows a disturbing lack of knowledge of Middle Eastern history over the past 20 to 30 years. These jihadists did not recently graduate from some fly-by-night two-week anti-West seminar. The soup pot that they have been living in, and that has been turned up to “high,” has been brewing for decades. The West’s corporate interests have been slowly stirring one of the spoons in that soup, with the unintentional and unfortunate outcome that all the ingredients for worldwide terrorism are now mixed and blended to perfection. Reluctance to speak out against the policies and actions of our government, out of fear of retribution, either abroad on the battlefield for our military men and women, or at home in our community, is not an American value. Those who speak out against our fundamental right to question the motives of our government are engaging in desperate finger-pointing, at best.

Cindy Sheehan is currently leading a vigil outside President Bush’s ranch to get answers to why her son, KIA last year in Iraq, was asked by her country to die. She is grieving in much the same way as Mr. Christensen. What I hope Ms. Sheehan accomplishes with her important work is to wake up enough of us across our country to the reality that most Americans do not really differ that much from one another in our conservative vs. liberal views. Most Americans I know support protecting U.S. security and values. Furthermore, folks I know, conservative and liberal, could agree on much of what should be included in a definition of U.S. security and values. Our current leaders are playing up the differences between various voting segments of our population for their own political gains, rather than working together to build consensus and American support for the safety of our people. What I see, as one who supports liberals, is that the current Bush administration is demonstrating a lack of the necessary leadership and competence necessary to successfully deal with the terrible threat that confronts the modern world today. That serious deficiency in the Bush administration, not the liberal left and the antiwar movement, is what is creating the danger for our troops.

~ Linda Sexauer

Glory in Dying

Sorry. Freedom isn’t free. Would you please explain how you would get into the mind of Hitler, Saddam, Lenin, Stalin, Tojo, et al., to make them NOT do the horrible things they did? Then how about this: Touhy that just murdered Jessica, John Wayne Gacey, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ramirez, and on and on.

Face it. EVIL exists. Are you going to let them take over? They certainly will if you don’t stop them.

Sorry, Monica, what a stupid post and showing your ignorance, if that is what it is.

WHAT is your remedy?

~ Kay, Glendale, CA

Monica Benderman replies:

Ma’am, you are entitled to your beliefs, and we have no argument with you. Our actions will continue to show how we believe what we are suggesting will be accomplished. Everyone is entitled to their lives and their choices, and freedom isn’t earned by dying: freedom is earned by living as our conscience tells us we must, and by looking at others as we would have them look at us, in our opinion.

I thank you for your comments. I welcome those who think differently than my husband and I do. If we can’t have a dialogue between people who disagree, we will never move closer to peace.

I hope, that as you say “freedom isn’t free,” you are willing, and DO, stand for your freedom, and fight for it, not expecting that it will be done by others at the exclusion of your efforts on your own behalf.

Thank you for your time, and for sharing your thoughts. We will continue as we believe, and perhaps, together, we can work to find a middle ground where all can live freely as they believe.

Thanks to US Taxpayers, Iraq Enjoys Some of World’s Cheapest Gas


This headline on your site this morning is the occasion of my removing your site from my reading list permanently. Please allow me a moment to explain why. In its first four words it expresses the most crass, self-centered and utterly hypocritical attitude about the subject of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq by any site I have come across, and that includes FreeRepublic.

Just to put one possible diversionary response to sleep right away – the linked-to site does not use the words as its headline you employed for your link. Nor does the addressed article even mention “U.S. taxpayers.”

I need not iterate to you, of all sites, the litany of disgrace that Iraq has “enjoyed” for 15 years “thanks to U.S. taxpayers.” If I do, then you are in the wrong game, and should shut down forthwith.

Moreover, the subsidies to which your profound selfishness is objecting are not actually at your expense. They were in place while you were starving Iraq’s children to death before you jackbooted into that country to take its oil. That they continue today is not in any way an indication that U.S. taxpayers are paying for them. In fact, you would be well advised to do some research and find out just how much of the money you are spending on this occupation is actually making it into Iraqi mouths, rather than being reabsorbed by American entities involved in the occupation, from KBR on down to Blackwater. Two gets you five, no more than 1 percent of the weekly $4-5 billion you are paying for your occupation leaks into the local economy to stay. That alone makes it impossible that the subsidy to which you so egregiously object be “thanks to U.S. taxpayers.”

And that is why it was unthinkable that you actually honestly pay for their oil on the open market, and instead employ brute force to attempt to take it. The money spent buying the oil would actually make its way to the people of the country, to some degree, but certainly out of American pockets. This way, you can redirect the flow of your precious dollars back into American pockets, albeit those of corporations, for the large part. No, for you, it is immeasurably cheaper (and cheaper is the only thing that counts, after all) to starve, smash and take what you want, than to strike an honest deal.

And even if it was, even if it was, “thanks to U.S. taxpayers,” what in the name of all that is sacred is your problem with that? No miserable subsidy (for which, lest you have already forgotten, your vicious and vindictive nation is not responsible) can assuage the crimes you have committed against those people. I repeat, even if the subsidy were “thanks to U.S. taxpayers,” you know something ? You owe ’em that. And more, a hell of a lot more, unaccountably more.

By this cravenly self-regarding headline you have demonstrated that when the veneer of lip-service to human values is scratched off your site’s words, thereunder lies the inevitable pervasive festering canker of American brutal racist exceptionalism.

~ Duncan Elliott

Eric Garris replies:

U.S. taxpayers subsidize the gas: the U.S. buys it at close to $2 per gallon and sells it for 5 cents. What happens when that subsidy ends? It will be a disaster for ordinary Iraqis. Unless you are proposing that the subsidy continue forever.

Cindy Sheehan

I would like to know exactly why Cindy Sheehan is protesting?

Did her son get selected in an Army draft? Was he taken away at night by George W. Bush’s secret boogeymen? Was he drugged, then forced to sign up for military service?

Or did he walk into a military office, as an American adult, and make the decision to defend his country from terorism?

I’d also like to know why it is being kept secret that after his first tour in Iraq, he had finished his military obligations. Why then, would he reenlist for a second tour?

Would Cindy Sheehan’s son approve of her “crusade”? She is disgracing his name – for the sacrifices he’s made.

Is she protesting his decision as an adult?

Or is she really the most selfish human being on the planet? But what is then to be said about the people who agree with her.


~ Brian Steeves

Eric Garris replies:

She is protesting the fact that Americans willingly went to war based on a set of lies. Casey believed these lies and was willing to go. She is trying to stop more Americans from dying to support these now-disproven reasons for going to war. It is as simple as that.

Previous Backtalk