Tuesday, January 31, 2006

SOTU 2005; A year later, SOTU 2006 tonight

A little reminder to myself of last year's SOTU (2005) and my reaction from last year as I prepare to listen to this year's SOTU (2006). When I wrote this article in Feb 2005, it reflected the political climate of that time, and actual dialogue on the Iraq war was close to non-existent. Well there was the 'wrap yourself in a flag' and all those magnetic yellow ribbons which didn't help much with the un-armored humvees and you could have dialogue as long as it was 'support the troops' by voicing no criticism or opposition.

As the year passed, and another mother who's son was killed in Iraq paid a visit to the President at his Crawford ranch, she had a quite different message to bring; generating front and center discussion and dialogue of the Iraq war.

As the year passed, a courageous Congressman, a 37 yr career and decorated Marine and a respected Congressman for 30 years came out front and center with his message 'Redeploy the troops out of Iraq".

As the year passed and the President's approval rating of his handling of the war has spiralled into the 30 % range, what the President; the Commander-in-Chief will say tonight in the SOTU while the Iraq war moves into third year will likely be more of the same, but sadly I will have to listen since he as Commander-in-Chief does hold the 'mission' (read lives) of our deployed troops (x 2, 3, 4, 5 repeat deployments) in his hands.

American Principles, SOTU 2005
written 02-03-05, by Lietta Ruger

Having watched the State of the Union speech last night, I find myself in a peculiar state of being today. While the news goes on and on about the emotional and moving tribute to the Iraqi woman who was thankful to be able to vote and the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq, I'm in a somewhat different and more somber place.

I could rant, but I don't think I will. First the Iraqi woman was strictly photo-op PR stuff, as she hasn't been in Iraq since 1968 (google her name, Safia Taleb AlSouhail, to learn of her history). Having her featured at the SOTU was staging, pure and simple. I mean no offense whatsoever to the woman, rather I am objecting to the manner in which she was used. Juxtapose that with an account from Dahr Jamail, a journalist in Iraq, reporting what the media will not report and you get a very different portrait of election and voting in Iraq.

It was said at the SOTU that her father was killed during the Saddam regime. Be it reported that the children of men and women, both our troops and the Iraqis now being killed (and tragically maimed) in Iraq may some one day claim their parent was killed during the Bush regime. That will be a future time in history. Those children have no voice now, rather live their lives as children trying to reconcile the irreconcilable in loss of parent to love and raise them. Those children will someday have their own voice.

I take no consolation in the Iraqi woman who lost her father being used as promo for the supposed victory of Iraq elections. She was not part of the Iraqi landscape during this recent occupation by our own American forces (our forces do comprise the majority of the Coalition forces) and I would think it unlikely her reactions would be representative of the majority of the Iraqi people who live daily with the Coalition bombs and raids. If she does represent that for you, then sadly, you may not be following news of the rest of the realities in Iraq. Perhaps you are preferring to get your news from a media who reports on the inexplicable "vision" of a man who seems able to sell his vision as gospel while his actions speak a seemingly quite different vision. Or perhaps history will show him to be a man of foresight and all will come out well in the end once the fullness of his thinking is played out. I rather doubt it, but it is for sure, he will have made his name in history. It will indeed be a memorable name, George W. Bush. Will the ones who gave limb and life be as well remembered? How will the children who lost a parent remember him?

Second and way more difficult to reconcile, was the parents of soldier killed in Iraq, who were asked to come and apparently agreed to have their personal tragedy shared before the nation. It was obvious the pain they were in and how they struggled to not succumb to their own tears as they bravely stood before the nation to let President Bush tell the spin he wanted on their personal truth. How would I feel if I lost one of our loved ones in combat, in Iraq, and the President, their Commander-in-Chief, asked me to come before the nation at one of his speeches?

I wouldn't accept the offer, that much I know. Yet there is the paradigm that a brave and courageous and dutiful soldier should be honored by the military, the CIC, the nation, as has been traditional since time immemorial. I accept that. I am after all, a military brat, raised in military family. I still get tearful with the military songs, the pledge of allegiance, the national anthem, the flag, the ceremony.......but from a place of yesterday, not a place of today. If another President besides Bush were to have an honoring occasion for a fallen soldier, how might I view that, I ask myself? Quite differently.

With President Bush, it is not authentic, it usually leaves me feeling slimed and dirty, like someone has just capitalized on personal trauma to their own advantage and re-traumatized the victims. With so many military families speaking out now and speaking a different military ground truth, it was opportune for the President to find a grieving military family willing to appear at his SOTU and permit their loss, their son's life to be shown as a patriotic and courageous cause. I can't, don't, and won't find fault with these parents who live with the loss of their son's life and will live that loss all their days.

What has been a proud tradition for military and military families, one they cherish and hold dear, as do I, is the ability to honor the sacrifices in knowing from inside the culture how much was sacrificed. It is this authentic tradition that has meaning for the troops and their families in ways personal to each of them. As I watch that very tradition usurped to aggrandize a flawed man in President Bush, my soul weeps and bleeds for our nation, for our troops, for their families, for the Iraqi people who have experienced the carnage and destruction in having their own families decimated in war.

I think what is sometimes more difficult to assimilate though, is that so many American citizens are willing to make hoopla of the misleading propaganda. It becomes increasingly more clear day by day that what is practically irrefutable and knowledge-based information, on which the President makes his bold decisions, will at a later date shortly down the road prove to be deceptive and unfounded knowledge or intelligence. Showing loyalty to this President is not a form of patriotism, or for that matter loyalty to American principles. Or is it?

What are American principles if what I am witnessing today is representative of the popular view? Have I deluded myself over my many years into believing a premise of the potential of America's greatness? Certainly, I'm not foolish enough to believe of America that it is all-good, neither all-bad as its own history which shows America's grandness along with America's horrific flaws. We have proud history and less than proud history to be sure. We have homage to pay to the populations we have exploited over the generations, and we have what has been "hope" that we can learn from our mistakes and grow into our potential as a people and as a nation among the world.

When in my young years as a new bride to my high-school sweetheart, we watched and marked time knowing the draft was in place and there was strong likelihood he would be drafted, his lottery number would be picked next. His number was picked, he went, and I chose to have my first pregnancy much sooner than we planned. If the death of my then young husband was to be an outcome, I wanted our child as a legacy to his life. I didn't join the protests of the sixties, as I was in that peculiar place of being a military family and of the military culture, one which esteems the military rule of discipline. Yet I was grateful that other voices were speaking out as it cast the questionable ness of the Vietnam War into a public dialogue. While I didn't always agree with the forms the protests took, nor even with many of the kinds of people protesting, I still valued that their ability to point out discrepancies did open the dialogue and minds in our nation.

I was of the generation of the fifties, and never quite fully made it into the rebelliousness of the sixties. I looked to the adult generation, as I was taught and trained to do with a certain amount of respect. And I looked to the leaders of our nation as Leaders. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, followed by assassination of Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy was a wake-up call from which I have never fully recovered. It seemed that Leaders who chose to actually Lead were an unwanted commodity in our country. By the time of Vietnam, 1969 when my husband was drafted, at the beginning of the end, I had the benefit of a decade of seeing dramatic change in our country.

When my then young husband had to make his own choice and decision about Vietnam, I was prepared to follow whichever way he might choose. I had my own opinions and preferences for what I would want him to choose. He chose to honor his own WWll pilot father and my young husband decided to meet his "obligation to do his duty in time of war". As his military wife, and remember, this was not choosing to enlist, rather the outcome of his being drafted, I knew already the military culture and did my own dutiful service to honor my husband in the tradition of military families. Essentially, that means to keep your silence on matters of policy and the Commander in Chief in public, while stoically carrying on in private and bearing your burdens in dignity and pride. I respect that dignity and that pride then and now. Now the daughters bear that burden and just as I did, they do so silently, respectfully in dignity and pride.

But I'm an older version of my younger self these days, and not unlike the unrest of the sixties, I find my own unrest with how this President is choosing to spend the lives of my young in a mission not well identified as clearly defined. Rather it seems to morph from it's origins as the deceptive information is revealed and a new definition gets assigned to why we are there. It is a recognizable pattern and it is reasonable to expect those definitions of what the mission is and will become to get re-defined each time we learn of a new deception by this administration.

I did not agree that a knee-jerk reaction to 911 was a rush to war. Since our President made that choice and decision, I had the dilemma of choosing how to support our own loved ones as they went into combat. My heart screamed No, and the sage in my own background in military life came forward to remind me of some old military principles. Out of respect for our new young warriors, I kept a silence as I watched neighbors and citizens move into a spirited patriotism, careful to thank the troops and not forget the lessons of Vietnam.

Yet they did forget the lessons of Vietnam. One cannot take part of the equation and say on the one hand, we will not do to our troops as was done to them in Vietnam, while dismissing the rest of the equation as not applicable. What is the rest of the equation? What are the many lessons of Vietnam? Friends, our President would prefer us to view Iraq and the future countries we may invade as a scene out of World War ll and skip past the history of the wars that came after, Korea and Vietnam, Bosnia and those other little excursions that were not quite wars, but combat nonetheless. Our President would like us to see our nation’s efforts in invading a country who did not attack us as noble, as rescuing an oppressed people. If we conveniently disregard the history of our own other wars in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere, then perhaps we can continue to delude ourselves into believing the propaganda that keeps our young deployed and in combat.

I choose not to delude myself, nor buy the propaganda. Rather I choose to see it for what it is and wonder at my incredible young naiveté when I was the young wife of a soldier and wanted to believe in my country, believe in my country's Leadership, believe in a wisdom that was beyond my every-day knowledge. Believe in spite of what was before my very eyes and ears as our country prolonged a war in Vietnam with incessant killing and carnage. I do not choose this for my young or for anyone's young, and the tradition of military culture is not what is going to keep them alive.

Now I'm a mother and a grandmother looking to my children and their children's future. I gave them the "rules" to living life as I knew them for myself and learned them along my own young and adult life. Now I find those life rules no longer seem to apply as the President goes about the process of re-arranging not only our country but the world in what seems to be a model known only to himself and some few insiders. Oh I know what the other half say or repeat verbatim as their own set of talking points and to listen to them, one might believe they believe what they are saying. Yet I wonder in their hearts, in those quiet moments, if doubts stir and rattle about and threaten to not be quelled so easily by those very talking points. I wonder if they have to force those nagging hints that all is not well into a subdued silence as the doubts suggest the talking points might be superficial, might be propaganda, might not be the whole cloth of reality.

Bless those parents who decided to go to the President's SOTU and who have now the memory of their child. Bless the Iraqi woman who had the opportunity in her lifetime to vote in an Iraq election. Bless this country that it has the potential to shake off the cobwebs it is allowing to grow in the corners of people's minds and will learn to engage each other again and listen to a fuller sense of experiences in what indeed has become a historical time as we live and breathe today.

Facing our future is not done easily by hiding truths in exploitation and propaganda. For my own two loved ones, who will return to Iraq in redeployment, second tours, I would not wish them to go blindly into combat on a feverish fervor of propagandized patriotism to give their limbs and lives that deception and lies might live in the cocooned minds of Americans as a testimony to our greatness. It requires us to do more than jump into the polarized camps of thinking that permit only either/or and very little in between. That in itself, ought to be a signal, a flag waving of an effort to minimize the ability to think more broadly about the issues and the war and to actually find a means beyond the constricted propaganda which has served to divide us, distract us, and keep us dis-engaged from talking to each other.

When did America stop being American? When did what stood for American principles change so dramatically and how will I teach my young what it means now to be American?

Lietta Ruger
Feb. 03, 2005


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