In similar ways, the loss of life and limb of our soldiers in Iraq continues unabatedly in a far away land. Like our leaves, soldiers continue to fall and die, their bodies devoid of a life once so full of energy. More than 400 have died, and the number of injured is eight times that, conveniently hidden from Americans’ view, lest we see the horrors that our little war for oil has spawned. They might be called lucky to have escaped the claws of explosives, flying shrapnel or bullets whizzing by their heads were it not true that many will have to continue living without hands, arms, legs and feet or with severe burns, scars, brain damage and handicaps that will forever traumatize their lives.
Of course the hidden and much more debilitating scars, the psychological, emotional and mental ones will linger perpetually in the minds of thousands who will never be able to escape the terror of war. These demons will haunt them for the rest of their lives. And, lest not we forget, thousands of these brave and young men and women will carry with them back to their homes the pulverized remnants of depleted uranium from our bombs, missiles, ordinances and munitions, creating in them diseases and sicknesses that act like a time bomb, ready to afflict and decimate over the course of time.
Much like Gulf War I, where anywhere from 8000 to 9000 of its veterans have already died from mysterious illnesses including numerous cancers, and where hundreds of babies have been born dead or deformed in ways never seen before, today’s troops may suffer similar fates. One need only look inside Iraq, where thousands upon thousands of civilians alive in the early 1990’s have died from cancers and other diseases, and where thousands of babies have suffered the same fate as those born to those of our own soldiers. Knowing that tens of thousands of tons of bombs, ordinances, munitions and missiles made of depleted uranium have been used on Iraq in Gulf War II, it is a good bet that many more thousands of Iraqi civilians and American troops will suffer the same fate. The remains of depleted uranium are literally scattered throughout Iraq, – and lets not forget Afghanistan as well – contaminating land, air, water and humans. And we can’t seem to find WMD’s. I know where these WMD’s are: stockpiled in our bases, right inside our country. Right in front of our noses, and we attack Iraq with them. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Iraq. Fertile Crescent no more. Are we such hypocrites?
Over 7000 soldiers already injured in some way, shape or form, but how quickly they are forgotten by an administration that will not dare go to funerals or hospitals for fear of awakening the presently placid storm called the American public. Men and women of the underclass, from rural and urban homes, their families supporting this adventure in empire building with their hard earned wages, fight for the interests of the upper class. What a dishonor to these fallen heroes to sweep them away into a dark closet, without mention or acknowledgement, used as nothing more than expendable pawns in Bush’s war. The United Corporations of America and the Military Industrial Complex are at it again, lying and manipulating, warmongering and profiteering, once more terrorizing the planet.
The administration bans cameras from showing dead soldiers returning in their flag-draped coffins. It uses its powers to hinder the media from showing armless and legless privates. This is done for the sake of brushing clean the horrors of war and anesthetizing a Hollywood conditioned citizenry into believing that this is just another PG-13 movie or violent video game where the good guys always win and never suffer anything but cuts and bruises. Quite simply, it is yet another fantasy that gets absorbed into our psyche. This is called the art of sanitized warfare, a good news-only policy of selling death and destruction to American citizens. Everything is airbrushed to give the illusion that Iraq is a nation on the brink of a renaissance, that what combat does exists is insignificant, that it is under control and that a few "terrorists" are nothing more than bothersome pests. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is politics at its worst, cynically gone mad, a way to keep Bush’s poll numbers up in light of his re-election campaign, a way to keep citizens supportive of the war and designed to maintain the country ignorant to a reality that is the wickedness of war.
If we cannot see the reality of war, and are only allowed to see a fictional delusion of it then we will never empathize with the dead or wounded, we will never see death, blood and gore, its violent sounds or putrid smells nor the inextricable agony and suffering of a dying soldier or a maimed Iraqi child crying out in terror for her mother. In short, we will never see war, thus becoming immune to the all too real, chilling and sobering effects of man killing man with the most violent of weapons. War is made an abstract mirage, allowing the war machine to ravage foreign lands and innocent civilians with impunity and with little care for accountability. Meanwhile, the American public, unaware of what is being done in their name thanks to government propaganda and corporate media filtering, remains dangerously incurious and passive while their loved ones in Iraq are subjected to a cruel game of Russian roulette. Congratulations George, you and your shadowy cast of characters have succeeded in curtailing outrage and furor by conditioning us through television shows, movies, video games, media lies, charades and delusion.
The thousands of physically wounded and mentally scarred survivors that return to our safe shores from the oil-filled deserts half a world away are swept under the rug of apathy by an administration concerned more for the President’s image than the sacrifices of those who left blood and limb in the sands of Mesopotamia. Stealthfully brought back into the country, mostly in the black envelope of night when we lay asleep so as to sneak in below the radar of attention, these men and women, along with their dead brethren, are quickly wished away, becoming not returning heroes but discarded statistics that are for the President more a liability than a symbol of what makes America great.
There is something rather perverse when a sitting President gives more importance to attending almost-daily $2000 a plate fund raising dinners around the country than to reassuring, sympathizing and helping to put at ease the thousands of walking wounded and hundreds of families of those whose spirit was unexpectedly taken away. Raising $200 million for his campaign from the wealthiest Americans seems to be of much more importance than showing compassion to middle and lower income citizens sacrificing both wages and loved ones to a war whose purpose and reason are not yet fully understood.
In these cold and dark days our dead citizen soldiers return home with eyes closed, never again to breathe the sweet crisp autumn air emanating from coast to coast. For these brave sons and daughters of our nation, America’s splendors, from its highest peaks to its magnificent valleys, will never be seen again as their once splendid energy, having been so deceitfully taken from them, exits the parameters of this great Earth in their journey to the unknown.
Meanwhile, our Commander in Chief, following not his heart but rather self-serving political decision-making interests, nonchalantly, purposefully and unapologetically forfeits a leader’s duty to help strengthen those who mourn and ail, comfort those children left without a parent and stand proudly next to the flag-draped coffins of the men and women he sent to die as they are forever laid to rest. This man should be forced to witness the sad tears and incredible pain and sorrow of those who have seen their loved ones for the last time. He should be forced to touch the frigid coffins of those whose bright lights have been extinguished. Perhaps then he will finally realize that the consequences of his actions come not in wrapping himself up victoriously in the flag but in seeing it draped over a coffin on a cold wet day and having it slowly folded up and handed to a bereaved wife or daughter as trumpets wail and thundering rifles roar homage to those whose ultimate sacrifices lie at his feet.
Manuel Valenzuela is an attorney, consultant, freelance writer and author of Echoes in the Wind, a novel that will be published in 2004. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org