Friday, September 22, 2006

Cannon Fodder

I was heartstruck this past month at the news of the three latest Wisconsin casualties in the Bush wars.

Two were 21-year-olds – Shaun Novak of Two Rivers and Kenneth Cross of Superior – whose sweet baby faces stared out at me from the newspaper. They looked more like they ought to be playing in their Little League or swiping chocolate bars from the Seven Eleven than toting ammo and dodging snipers in godforsaken Iraq.

Like all loved ones needing to understand and rationalize their “sacrifice,” family members said the young men were proud of their service, were motivated by patriotism and understood the dangers. I don’t wish to show disrespect to Shaun or Kenneth or their families, but I can’t help being a little skeptical. War has always been a game in which old men exploit the idealism and vulnerabilities of the young to pursue mad dreams of empire or oil or “honor” or “peace.”

Then came news that 52-year-old Merideth Howard, an Army Reservist from Waukesha, was killed by a suicide attacker in Afghanistan. Merideth had made the innocent decision to join the Reserves back in 1988, no doubt never dreaming she would be deployed to an all-out theatre of war overseas – especially in her 50’s.

As a mature woman who’d seen a little of life, Merideth dropped the macho “Hoo-hah!” facade and honestly confessed to friends that she was “very worried” about being sent to Afghanistan. She admitted that she was poorly trained and unprepared. Lorraine Stevenson, a cousin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she was given a gun that she did not know how to use: “She was not adequately trained. She was just sent over there.”

This testimony reinforces the concerns of Stephen L. Castner of Cedarburg, whose 27-year-old son was killed in Iraq in July. Castner believes that his son’s National Guard unit received inadequate training before being shipped out and got poor equipment once in Iraq. He is demanding an investigation.

What a shameful government we currently have – saber-rattling, declaring pre-emptive wars and destabilizing whole regions of the world – and then betraying those pushed into the front lines. Sending untrained, ill-equipped and (aggravatingly) loyal citizens into a poorly planned and miserably executed series of wars that are achieving nothing, only exacerbating hatred and violence.

The disrespect shown to surviving families by military officials who have delayed providing accounts or who have lied outright about the circumstances of soldiers’ deaths – the case of Pat Tillman being the most prominent example – is contemptible. The growing skepticism at home is matched by doubts at the front where soldiers, facing hostile populations and impossible odds, are openly telling reporters that they have no idea what they’re fighting for or achieving. Their only goal, most say, is to make it through their tour with their buddies alive.

Well, I’m for sending Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle and all the sycophantic brass and cheerleading neo-cons (like the evil Charles Krauthammer who is now promoting war with Iran) for a long tour of Iraq’s Anbar province, or Kandahar in Afghanistan. Maybe it would knock some sense into them. Maybe, their own Humvees would have a personal encounter with an IED and someone, somewhere would get a clue.

Right now, our soldiers aren’t even engaging any “enemies.” Woefully unprepared and ill-equipped, they are being picked off one-by-one and two-by-two by roadside bombs – cannon fodder for the 21st century.