Saturday, March 10, 2007

Iraq Messages this week - a General, A Military Mom, A Congressman, A Military Wife, A Journalist...

My mind is swimming today with the differences in messages and approaches of so many earnest people endeavoring to try to end Iraq war.

  • Retired Major General Paul D Eaton, Fox Island, WA, speaks from Seattle last night on Real Time with Bill Maher about conditions of Walter Reed being the 'tip of the iceberg';

  • Representative David Obey (D- WS) recorded on video Thursday losing patience with questions from Tina Richards, mother to Cpl Cloy Richards, returning Iraq Marine veteran, twice deployed to Iraq, soon to deploy for third time. MSN, Chris Matthews interviews Tina Richards Thursday on Hardball.

  • Bob Woodruff, injured in IED explosion ABC journalist 'To Iraq and Back' and his wife are interviewed Friday on MSN Hardball with Chris Matthews.

  • Two of the arrested Port of Tacoma protesters are inteviewed on Fox News Hannity and Colmes.

  • Op-ed published this week by a Washington based military wife, Stacy Bannerman married to WA Natl Guardsman, himself a returning Iraq veteran. Stacy tells of the casualty of marriages in military families faced with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, including her own.

Different kinds of messages from different military-connected people with 'skin in the game' - a phrase for being in Iraq or having loved ones in Iraq. Different routes up the same mountain. But are the roads overlapping, perhaps tangling up the effort and the message - are some routes leading to dead ends?

-- video - HBO - Real Time, Bill Maher. Retired Major General, Paul D. Eaton, Fox Island, WA, speaks on the conditions of Walter Reed as the 'tip of the iceberg'. Paul Eaton was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004. He is speaking to Bill Maher via satellite with the Space Needle and Seattle skyline in the background. He says an interesting thing on the Real Time show last night and I have to admit, it took me by surprise, so when Bill Maher repeated it, I knew I had heard what I thought I heard. Quoting excerpt of end of one of his sentences

'arrival of Democratic controlled Congress, Thank God, 7 November'.
Bill Maher responds that it is not often you hear military people say arrival of the Democrats and Thank God in the same sentence.

See retired Major General, Paul Eaton, Fox Island, WA companion piece, NY Times Op-Ed, 'Casualties of the Budget Wars' published this week. You may recall also as reported by NY Times last year in April 2006, Paul Eaton was among the six Generals calling for Rumsfeld resignation - link .

-- link video - MSN - Hardball,Chris Matthews interviews Tina Richards; mother of Iraq veteran Marine son, twice deployed and will deploy third time March this year. Her encounter with Representative David Obey (D- WS). Tina was representing Grassroots Missouri on Hardball yesterday. She is also a member of Military Families Speak Out, although it sounds like she is taking action as an independent military family on behalf of her son's upcoming third deployment to Iraq.

-- link video - MSN - Hardball, Chris Matthews. Bob Woodruff and his wife interviewed on Bob's recovery from Brain Trauma Injury. Bob Woodruff ABC journalist who was severely wounded Jan 2006 in IED explosion while covering Iraq. (My note - reference another Washblog story I wrote on Bob Woodruff in the special ,'To Iraq and Back' )

-- link video - Fox News - Hannity and Colmes. Two arrested at Port of Tacoma protesting the loading and shipping of Stryker equipment destined for Iraq. See Noemie story at Washblog as she endeavors to explore the Port of Tacoma protests.

-- An op- ed by a published auther and military wife of Washington state National Guardsman, Stacy Bannerman wrote an op-ed March 7, courageously sharing with the public the breakdown of her marriage as a direct result, she says, of war in Iraq. Link 60000 Marriages Broken by Iraq, Including Mine, read through the comments and you can feel the tone of empathy (or lack of empathy) which military families generally encounter. Some of the comments are the usual of what we as military families have been hearing for the past four years now (and we heard it in Vietnam era too), but some of the comments are from peace/activist people who can be equally harsh in their comments. (I find this happens as well in the comments to Daily Kos stories)

She was prompted by the comments to write another op-ed, also published at Alternet March 10, 2007 link 'Volunteer Soldiers Devastated by Iraq Weren't Asking for It'. Stacy phoned me this week to pass along a request she had received for military family to speak at a Seattle area church for 4th anniversary event. She passed it along to me for consideration of Military Families Speak Out - WA chapter to determine if one of our member families was willing to speak.

That led me to share some thoughts with Stacy about how I am feeling more uncomfortable with the relationship of military families and the peace/activist movement/communities. As I explained to her, I can't tell if my growing discomfort, some of what has felt like exploitive experiences, is coloring my perspective. I am disinclined to want to participate in any of the 4th anniversary acknowledgement events being planned in Washington this month. I'm not so sure that the message I carry is best represented within the context of the planned events. I'm not sure it doesn't feel a bit like being a willing mouthpiece puppet for messaging that does not entirely reflect my own thoughts and message.

Sometimes, I shared with her, it feels like I am pressed hard from both sides - the right wingers rhetoric, and the peace/activist movement rhetoric. She, a long time peace activist, shared with me that until she herself became a military wife, she would have had a hard time understanding the viewpoint of military culture. It helped me to hear her say that, because it reminds me to continue to try to be patient and not grow impatient at what feels like the disconnect I sometimes feel with the peace/activist communities.

Of late, I'm not liking the direction of what I'm hearing from some peace/activists who point the finger at the soliders who do deploy. It sounds a lot like the residue of Vietnam to me - blaming the soldiers for a) going, b) for not putting down their weapons, c) for not refusing to go in the first place. I have actually heard someone say to me when I asked what you would have the soldiers already in Iraq do and the response was that they should put down their weapons. "While they are in Iraq," I asked, "they should put down their weapons?" I'd say there is a real disconnect happening that is unrealistic in this kind of discourse.

I received a phone call this week from a woman who invited me to show my oil paintings on an art show offered by Comcast TV channel in Puyallup. She came across one of my oil paintings on our MFSO chapter website . (That is the result of the pride of my husband who felt a photo of one of my oil paintings should be part of my profile info). As I explored this with her, confused because of the contact via MFSO website, she shared with me that her husband is a Vietnam veteran, who experienced the homecoming of having red paint poured on him and being spit upon by the peaceniks there to greet him.

This was astonishing to me because I know there is a published book, Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, indicating that this spitting on the returning Vietnam veterans never happened, is a myth, and can't be validated by first hand accounts. I asked her if she knew of this book. She did not, but she says her husband knows his own experience, and he might like to know about this book as he could offer direct first hand experience. He was not a protesting anti-war veteran. I know many Vietnam veterans reference the 'spit upon' as symbolic and indicative of how they were welcomed home as opposed to actual first hand experience. But as I shared with her, I well remember my own experience then, and the climate was not welcoming or conducive to my sharing that my husband was a returning veteran from Vietnam. We expected an unwelcome response so we shut it down in public venues and talked about it only among some of our friends - friends from high school who found themselves in Vietnam at the same time.

If the leftover ideals of the 60s protesting era are being revived and used again as rhetoric and talking points among peace/activist communities and directed at soldiers and military families, then I contend this is a disservice to those of us contending daily with this war. I'd like to think it is the few and not the general tone of the peace/activist communities, but my experiences tell me otherwise.

I don't know what the best course is to trying to end this war and getting our troops home, all the while ensuring they are not without the equipment they need while they are in Iraq; not to mention the medical services they will need, likely long term. A hard-wired mantra for me is that we (America) don't abandon our troops in the field and leave them with a shortfall of funding which translates to equipment and medical care. This is very real for me.

Another hard wired mantra for me is the experience of Vietnam. I'm still learning nuances - 35 years later - of what went into that era and what brought that war to an end, even though I actually lived in that time as a military wife. It doesn't seem to be any more clear cut now than it was then.

There are those who say it took the soldiers themselves protesting to bring it to an end (do see the dvd Sir, No Sir). There are those who say it was the massive protests, the college students, the violence against the protesters (ie, Kent State) and that without the 'movement' in place, the soldiers would not have had the support in place to launch their own protests. There are those who say it took politicians umpteen tries politically to bring it to a close; that the work of politics is a slow moving mechanism - taking years and years sometimes.

As near as I can tell, the stew of ingredients that finally brought Vietnam war to a close was a combination of many social, political, economic elements. It took a combination of ongoing public protests, increasing pressure on Congress, having the soldiers themselves refuse to continue to participate in Vietman war, the condition of the 'draft' = widely sweeping to affect all draft age males pressing them into involuntary military deployments, and the element of the 'unknown' as it was not expected that soldiers would find so many ways to refuse to participate.

What is different this time with Iraq is that this Administration - please don't forget this fact - was also there at the time of Vietnam. Rumsfeld, Cheney, George W. Bush, Wolfowitz, Perle, all had direct experience of the political climate of Vietnam. I would say they learned how to 'contain' the imaging, message, and narrative we are given about Iraq from what they learned about Vietnam. I would offer as well that there continues to be the kaleidoscope of the techniques of misdirection that keeps many of us off center and sometimes without firm ground as we try to dissect what is really going on.

Is Jack Murtha on track then? He has a strategy of redeploying the troops out of Iraq and leaving some of the troops on the horizon. How about his recent suggestions to ensure troops are given opportunities of full training, recuperative one year between deployments as a kind of back door approach to stemming the flow of 'volunteer' troops who are kept in combat via back door draft of stop loss extended deployments?

Is what Representative Dave Obey (D- WS)shared with Tina Richards on the mark? Is it accurate that Democratic party cannot get the required 233 votes on their proposed non-binding Resolutions? Is it true that even should they be able to get Resolution passed it could be vetoed by President? Is it true that the appropriation funding is needed to provide for the already deployed troops, get them fully back home safely and provide for their medical care? Is there a political way in which the Iraq war can be made to be an illegal war and therfore illegal to fund, as Rep. Obey seemed to suggest in the exchange with mother, Tina Richards?

Or is it true what Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) indicates as enough funding already in the pipeline to safely bring the troops home now, and that additional funding is not necessary to get them home, rather that additional funding perpetuates and continues the war in Iraq? That a vote now not to fund is not a vote against the troops and will not impede getting them home safely; will not abandon them in the field.

Is the Democratic party in the majority now working on a plan or several plans to actually find an effective way to end the war in Iraq, which they know is an immoral and probably an illegal war?

What about the voices and messages, ie, General Wesley Clark, that express grave concerns about the U.S. military action expanding to Iran?

I'm not at all sure on this fourth anniversary of the Iraq war what message I want to be sending and how to best symbolize and represent that message.

I want the politicians to do their jobs and bring this war to an end yesterday. I want to give them the space they need to do their jobs but each day of delay represents so so many deaths. A sense of urgency presses military families as their loved ones deploy over and over again into an ill-defined mission. When I speak of concern for our own loved ones and our troops, the focus is not limited strictly to our troops as that is too narrow - hundreds of Iraqis also are killed daily. I think of another Washingtonian, Bert Sacks, of Seattle and his own individual courage in trying to help Iraqi children.

What of General Casy who seemed to be warning us all of the impending 'long war' against 'terrorism' in the Middle East? When a military General says 'long war', my ears perk up and I ask myself if I am hearing the nuanced statement to the public of a General's assessment that this will be a decades-long war. Where will the troops come from to continue a decades long war with recruitment numbers down and fewer willing to enlist in what they have come to recognize as a questionable war? Will the two in my family be serving deployment after deployment over the next decade? How is this going to impact their wives and children?

How can the former code of the military that goes down through the generations telling the new crop of soldiers and their families to 'suck it up' possibly relate to the experience of so many repeat deployments? That is not in their experience, so how can they know to give advice of that nature? It is the new crop that have the message in this war, and we aren't yet hearing from them.

We hear from some, those who find peace/activist communities that give them a platform to be heard. I rather think though that there are many more who are very perplexed, dissatisfied,confused and wanting to share their own message but not ready to swing that far away from their clan in speaking out quite so radically. Often I ask myself, isn't there a kind of middle ground that permits one to have both conservative and liberal views - does it have to be one way or the other? Where are those people, and where is their platform, what venues are provided for them?

Maybe it all flows together in ways I can no longer easily detect and maybe we all do get to the mountain top by different routes. Maybe there is room for all the divergent viewpoints, approaches, strategies and tactics. Right now I'm having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees - I think - but I know my intentions are honorable. Aren't they all - the intentions of all who take on this struggle?


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