Where's the outrage?
A real antiwar movement would end our Iraq disaster. But
the middle class doesn't care enough to protest, so the
kids who go to community college will keep dying.
By Gary Kamiya
01/16/07 "Salon" -- -- So now we wait for the end. The
man who led America into the most disastrous war in its
history has run out of tricks, out of troops and out of
time. It is no longer a question of whether George W.
Bush's presidency will officially die, but when -- and
how many more Americans will have to die before it does.
We find ourselves, almost four years into the Iraq war,
in a very strange situation. What do you do when it has
become obvious that the leader of your country is --
there is no kinder way to put this -- a delusional fool?
And that his weird fantasy war is hopelessly and
irretrievably lost? Apparently, you just wait. The
Democrats are raging and ranting, but they will not cut
off funds. Still crippled by their fear of being labeled
"soft on national security," the majority party will
watch the end from a safe distance, like survivors who
quickly paddle away from a doomed ship to avoid being
pulled down in the suction when it goes down.
It's no mystery why the Democrats will not pull the
plug. Cutting off funding for an ongoing war is a
radical move, one that would expose the Democrats to
familiar stab-in-the-back charges that they don't
"support the troops." Now that the ugly end of Bush's
war is in sight, why on earth would the Democrats want
to risk being blamed for losing it?
This makes a certain political sense, but it is deeply
cynical. It implicitly accepts that more young Americans
must die for a policy that has no chance of working.
They must die so that a cowardly president can delay his
day of reckoning a few more months. They must die so
that Democrats can wash their hands of the whole mess.
The only thing that could move the Democrats to abandon
this cold-blooded calculation and challenge Bush's war
directly is a clear message from the American people.
Not just their disapproval of Bush and his handling of
the war -- that message was sent in the last elections,
and in the recent CBS poll showing that only 23 percent
of Americans support Bush's war leadership. That
disapproval has emboldened the Democrats -- and some
Republicans -- enough that they have dared to criticize
Bush, something they didn't have the guts to do until
now. But it isn't enough to make them try to end the
war. For that to happen, large numbers of Americans
would have to actually protest the war. A real,
broad-based antiwar movement would immediately put an
end to the war -- and put the Bush presidency out of its
But there is no significant antiwar movement. And there
isn't going to be one unless Bush completely loses it
and decides to attack Iran. (Insane as this idea is,
Bush might see it as the only way to simultaneously
destroy what he regards as a Nazi-like threat and save
his shattered presidency.) This isn't Vietnam, where
hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to
protest. This is the new, post-draft America, where a
subclass of poorly paid professional warriors does the
bidding of a power elite. With some notable exceptions,
Cindy Sheehan being the most famous, the warriors and
their families, those who pay the price, do not protest.
And the rest of the country, not facing death or the
death of immediate family members, doesn't care enough
The sad truth is that America is not one nation. We may
not be Iraq, breaking up in hatred and a primeval battle
for power, but the fissures are deep. There is one
America that fights, and another America that doesn't.
The elites talk and the kids who go to community college
get blown up. Sens. James Webb and John McCain are
anomalies: Almost none of the politicians in Washington
who are debating the war have children whose lives are
on the line. Neither do the pundits and commentators.
The fact is, except for that comparatively small number
of Americans who have fought there, Iraq is just a name
on a map. The deaths there, too, are unreal. And if by
chance their reality becomes undeniable, they happen to
When America got rid of the draft, it also got rid of
the ultimate check against presidents who lead the
nation into foolish wars: people power. I am not
advocating a return of the draft. But its absence is
undeniably the single largest reason that there is no
antiwar movement. People are capable of genuine concern
for their fellow citizens, but self-interest is an
exponentially more powerful driving force.
There are other reasons the antiwar movement fizzled out
after the massive protest rallies that took place before
the war. The number of American deaths has been
extremely low by historical standards: About 3,000
troops have died so far, compared to 58,000 in Vietnam.
At this rate, it would take 73 more years for Iraq to
match Vietnam's fatality totals. (It should be pointed
out that these low death totals are in large part due to
advances in battlefield medicine, advances that have
allowed thousands of severely wounded troops, many of
them now permanently disabled, to survive. These men and
women, too, are victims of the war.)
There are also ideological reasons behind the absence of
an antiwar movement. Bush's "we're fighting terror"
justification for the war, while vigorously contested by
the left and now exposed as not just hollow but also
self-defeating, tapped into visceral emotions of
patriotism, fear and a desire for revenge activated by
9/11, irrational passions that neither Congress nor the
mainstream media, to their lasting shame, tried to
check. To this day, we have never had a thoroughgoing
national debate over Bush's entire misguided "war on
terror," or America's deeply flawed Middle East
policies. As a result, for many Americans the premises
behind the Iraq war remain unchallenged, and
disagreements over that war are merely over the way it
was executed. And it's hard to get people to take to the
streets over "de-Baathification" or insufficient force
Finally, there's the fact that American casualties have
remained discreetly hidden from view. (To say nothing of
the horrendous numbers of Iraqis who have been killed as
the result of the war, which the U.S. government has
callously avoided tallying.) The Bush administration has
tried to keep the dead and wounded out of sight, and the
media, cowed by "taste" rules and patriotism, has mostly
played along. The result is an abstract war, a play war,
a dream war.
Together, these factors mean there will be no serious
antiwar movement here, which in turn means that
Democrats will not muster the courage to stop the war.
The fate of Bush's last-chance gambit will be determined
not by Ted Kennedy or Gordon Smith, but by Nouri al-Maliki
and Muqtada al-Sadr.
And that means more young Americans will appear on page
A-3 of the paper, blown up or shot or burned to death
because America's political establishment decided that
they should go door to door in Baghdad and Anbar
province, trying to put the monsters that Bush unleashed
back in the box. If there were any real chance that they
could do that, it would be a job worth undertaking -- if
only because we owe that much, and so much more, to the
Iraqi people whom we have so grievously wronged. (Yes,
we removed Saddam Hussein. But a right can also be a
larger wrong -- an elementary moral finesse that many
war supporters seem incapable of grasping.) But there is
no longer any realistic chance of success -- if indeed
there ever was. Would you want your child's tombstone to
read "I died on Haifa Street trying to control a
Sunni-Shiite power struggle my commander in chief
So now we must wait. Wait until there is no choice but
to leave. Wait until the smoke and chaos and hatred have
driven us away. Wait until we have asked another
person's kid to be the last person to die for a mistake.
But there is one thing we can do while we wait. We can
stretch out our fingertips and imagination and try to at
least make this unreal war real. We can truly support
our troops, whom many of us will never know, by doing
everything we can to end this war. We owe those who have
died in Iraq, and those we are about to send to die,
Poetry, perhaps even more than pictures, makes war live.
We understand the true horror of World War I not because
of newsreels, but because of the searing words of Erich
Maria Remarque and Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.
And Iraq has produced its own poet, Brian Turner, who
was an infantry team leader there for a year. In 2005,
he published a collection of poems, "Here, Bullet," that
is destined to endure long after the shrill arguments
about the war have been forgotten.
In a poem titled "2000 lbs," Turner opens with a
description of a suicide bomber in Mosul's Ashur Square,
who is watching in his rearview mirror for a convoy. He
writes of two men, an Iraqi taxi driver named Sefwan and
an American Guardsman named Sgt. Ledouix, who are also
in Ashur Square.
A flight of gold, that's what Sefwan thinks
as he lights a Miami, draws in the smoke
and waits in his taxi at the traffic circle.
He thinks of summer 1974, lifting
pitchforks of grain high in the air,
the slow drift of it like the fall of Shatha's hair,
and although it was decades ago, he still loves her,
remembers her standing at the canebrake
where the buffalo cooled shoulder-deep in the water,
pleased with the orange cups of flowers he brought her,
and he regrets how much can go wrong in a life,
how easily the years slip by, light as grain, bright
as the street's concussion of metal, shrapnel
traveling at the speed of sound to open him up
in blood and shock, a man whose last thoughts
are of love and wreckage, with no one there
to whisper him gone.
Sgt. Ledouix of the National Guard
speaks but cannot hear the words coming out,
and it's just as well his eardrums ruptured
because it lends the world a certain calm,
though the traffic circle is filled with people
running in panic, their legs a blur
like horses in a carousel, turning
and turning the way the tires spin
on the Humvee flipped to its side,
the gunner's hatch he was thrown from
a mystery to him now, a dark hole
in metal the color of sand, and if he could,
he would crawl back inside of it,
and though his fingertips scratch at the asphalt
he hasn't the strength to move:
shrapnel has torn into his ribcage
and he will bleed to death in minutes,
but he finds himself surrounded by a strange
beauty, the shine of light on the broken,
a woman's hand touching his face, tenderly
the way his wife might, amazed to find
a wedding ring on his crushed hand,
the bright gold sinking in flesh
going to bone.
What does poetry have to do with politics? Nothing --
and everything. It is too late to stop the fatal endgame
of Bush's war. But at least we can honor those who have
died in that war, Iraqis and Americans alike, by
refusing to look away from their deaths. Poetry, as the
great Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote, is a
witness. And if we the living highly resolve, as we
must, that these dead shall not have died in vain, the
only way to do so is by ensuring that we never again
launch an unjustified war.
On that subject, the poet should have the last word.
Here is another Turner poem, whose title means "friend"
in Arabic, prefaced with a quotation from Sa'di, the
13th century Persian poet.
It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be
patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it
returns no more.
It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.
-- By Gary Kamiya
Copyright ©2007 Salon Media Group, Inc.