The past week has seen an interesting confluence of events - the presidential
inauguration of George W. Bush, the confirmation of Dr. Condoleezza Rice as
Secretary of State, and the deadliest single day for U.S. troops in Iraq.
It’s a neat package: The man who wanted the war, the woman who helped sell
the war, the soldiers who die in the war.
First, from a Washington Post editorial (1/27/05): "Yesterday was the
deadliest day yet for the U.S. mission in Iraq: 37 American service members were
killed…[it is] a particularly shocking reminder of the painful price this
country is paying in Iraq, and of the courage and patriotism of those Americans
who give or risk their lives. They deserve our undiminished honor."
Before we bestow any such honors, however, let’s take a look at the Senate
hearings on Dr. Rice’s nomination. Although she was confirmed by a substantial
margin - 85 to 13, with two senators not voting - she nonetheless received the
most "no" votes for any Secretary of State nominee since World War II. The
primary point of contention had to do with her manipulation of pre-war
intelligence regarding Iraq; and, in addressing that issue, several Senators
voiced stronger opinions than are generally expressed in such hearings.
Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN): "I really don’t like being lied to…repeatedly,
flagrantly, intentionally…My vote against this nominee is my statement that this
administration’s lies must stop now."
Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) was only slightly more diplomatic: "Dr. Rice is
responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the administration used
to scare the American people."
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) referred to the Iraq war as "a catastrophic
failure, a continuing quagmire" with Condoleezza Rice as "a principal architect
of our failed policy."
In the end, of course, Dr. Rice was confirmed, with only twelve Democrats -
and independent James Jeffords of Vermont - voting against her. The "yes" votes
included such prominent Democrats as Hillary Clinton (NY), Joseph Biden (DE),
Patrick Leahy (VT) and Dianne Feinstein (CA).
It was California Democrat Barbara Boxer who offered the most condemnatory
assessment of Rice’s qualifications. In a lengthy and detailed statement she
outlined the pattern of deceit attributable to Dr. Rice. Quoting their own
words, Ms. Boxer showed that both Rice and Bush used exaggerated or incorrect
information to mislead and inflame the American public on such issues as Iraq’s
nonexistent nuclear weapons program and Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent ties to
al-Queda. Senator Boxer also outlined Dr. Rice’s efforts to permit the U.S. to
use torture as a tool for interrogating suspects.
In the final analysis, it is another comment from Senator Boxer that sheds a
clarifying light on the nature of war itself: Referring to our "brave,
incredible soldiers" in Iraq, she said, "…not one of them died in vain…because
when your Commander in Chief sends you to fight in a war, it is the most noble
of things to do that."
This statement is as disturbing as any of the deceptions attributed to Dr.
Rice or Mr. Bush. Nobility, according to Senator Boxer, is conferred through
blind obedience to obvious lies and deception. Nobility can be conferred by
killing, and being killed, in the course of an illegal war.
"Not one of them died in vain?" They all died in vain.
George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice may start wars, but the glorification of
wars starts with the attitude expressed by Senator Boxer - and the editorial
board of the Washington Post - that every soldier is a hero, a noble
creature of courage and patriotism deserving "undiminished honor."
A more rational perspective: "We shall never end war by blaming it on
ministers and generals or war-mongering imperialists…It’s the rest of us who
build statues to those generals or name boulevards after those ministers…the
rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields…" (Paddy
Chayefsky, The Americanization of Emily)
Yes, some wars are necessary. Vietnam was not; neither is Iraq. But even a
necessary war should be entered into as a last resort; it should be waged with
the understanding that war itself is a failure of reason; and it should be
concluded - even in victory - as a solemn occasion.
Forget the honors. Forget the glory.
A soldier’s medals are merely seeds for the next conflict.