Epitaph on Empire

I have opposed the Iraq war since before it began, but it only became personal for me about a year and a half ago, on April 29, 2008. I remember the moment well. I had flipped open the Washington Post and there, on the front page, was a color photo of a 2-year-old Iraqi boy named Ali Hussein being pulled from the rubble of a house that had been destroyed by American missiles. The little boy was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and had on his feet flip-flops. His head was hanging back at an angle that told the viewer immediately that he was dead. That small boy looked remarkably like my little grandson, similarly attired, who was sitting beside me eating his cereal. When I gasped at the photo, my little guy looked up at me and grinned, wondering why grandpa was crying.

Four days later, on May 3, a letter by a Dunn Loring, Va., woman named Valerie Murphy was printed by the Post. Murphy complained that the Iraqi child victim photo should not have been run in the paper, because it would "stir up opposition to the war and feed anti-U.S. sentiment." I suppose the newspaper thought it was being impartial in printing the woman’s letter, though I couldn’t help but remember that the Post had generally been unwilling to cover anything antiwar, even ignoring a gathering of 300,000 protesters in Washington in 2005. Rereading the woman’s complaint and also a comment on a Web site suggesting that the photo of the dead little boy had been staged, I thought to myself, "What kind of monsters have we become?" And in truth we have become monsters, bipartisan monsters wrapped in the American flag. Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, once said that killing 500,000 Iraqi children through sanctions was "worth it." Every day our Democratic administration continues the policies of the preceding Republican administration as it bombs and kill farmers in their fields, children in their schools, doctors and patients in hospitals, and families in wedding parties. We do it using pilotless drones, helicopters, and airplanes flying so high in the sky that they are invisible to those on the ground. The slaughter is strictly 21st-century high tech, death from the skies, bloodless, without looking into the eyes of those we are killing. We do it because our leaders tell us we need to kill to keep others from attacking us, but we all know it is a fraud. Does any American really believe that what is going on in either Iraq or Afghanistan has anything to do with genuine threats against the United States?

The more we kill, the more we give cause to those who hate us, guaranteeing that the bloodshed will never end. Whatever our government does or does not do, we will surely leave Iraq and Afghanistan some day, and those two countries will quickly learn to live without us. Last Thursday, U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon, “I’m not sure we will ever see anyone declare victory in Iraq, because first off, I’m not sure we’ll know for 10 years or five years." If Odierno had deliberately sought to define his war in terms borrowed from National Lampoon, he could not have done any better. One thing that is for sure is that there will be no friendly crowds as the last C-17 lifts off from Bagram Airbase, and we will leave only hatred behind us – hatred and the dead, hundreds of thousands of dead.

These days, as the pattern of endless war seems to be locked into the DNA of all our leaders, be they Democrats or Republicans, I grieve particularly for our fellow countrymen who have given up their lives in service to their country over the past nine years. I remember well the young faces of my former Army comrades who died in Vietnam in a war that none of us understood, faces frozen in time from lives now lost forever. The numbers tell us that 4,348 Americans have died in Iraq and 869 in Afghanistan, with no end in sight on either front and the death rate in Afghanistan escalating dramatically. I carefully read the obituaries of soldiers and Marines in the newspapers, men and women just like me who leave behind shattered families, who will never see their children grow, who will never have their dreams realized. Dead Afghans and Iraqis are a huge and almost unimaginable human tragedy, but the Americans who have died are truly flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. As John Donne put it, the dead are of us, so "Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." And they have shed their blood not to nourish the tree of liberty, but rather a garden of deceit planted by our politicians, who have forgotten the cardinal rule that asking any American to die on foreign soil should be a last resort, not a "policy option." Eight years of the sacrifice of our children has not made us safer, has not made us better, and has only made much of the world hate us.

In the obituaries that I read this past week there were real lives and real people. Soldiers dead and families destroyed. On Saturday alone, eight American soldiers died in a series of attacks in Nuristan province, and two more were killed in Wardak province on the previous day when an Afghan policeman they were training shot them. The two soldiers killed in Wardak were identified as Sgt. Michael M. Smith of Manhattan, Kan., and Pfc. Brandon Owens of Memphis, Tenn. Four of the eight men killed in Nuristan were Sgt. Joshua Kirk of South Portland, Maine; Michael Scusa of Villas, N.J.; Spc. Christopher Griffin of Kincheloe, Mich.; and Pfc. Kevin C. Thompson of Reno, Nev.

Americans need to unite to tell the Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas that they will not have any more of our children for their wars. It is time for all of us to say to Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Petraeus, as well as their enablers in Congress and the media, "Enough." Every American should pause to remember Smith, Owens, Kirk, Scusa, Griffin, and Thompson, who gave their lives over the weekend. And all Americans should think first of their grandsons, sons, and daughters and their friends and loved ones who might be consumed in the long war that the politicians and generals continue to embrace. There must not be one more senseless death, be it of an American or an Iraqi or an Afghan or an Iranian. Not one. We must make this demand to our politicians, and, if they do not agree, we must do whatever it takes to remove them from office. They will undoubtedly be replaced by men and women only slightly better than they, but if we repeat the lesson often enough they will eventually get the message and possibly restore the United States envisioned by our founding fathers, ending a perpetual state of war and instead offering "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations."

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.