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July 26, 2005

Dying for your country

Roy Meachum

Strong opposition to the Iraq adventure in my writings did not begin with grandson Christopher George Meachum's orders that will put him in the air, headed for the war, on August 1, the day after his 20th birthday.

My protest during the run-up to the March 19, 2003, invasion was not personal; it was on behalf of human beings, Arabs and Americans, who would lose their lives for no valid cause. Firmly fixed under international scrutiny, mad dictator Saddam Hussein was capable of small cruelties only; his capability for genocide and war sapped and snapped by reaction to his murderous occupation of Kuwait.

For other people, including my fellow veterans, questioning the "commander in chief" ranked as high treason tinged by cowardice; I am told there was talk at the Legion bar about kicking me out. But my qualifications for membership cannot be impeached: I served more time and spent longer months overseas than all but a few, there and in the VFW.

Continuing appraisal of the escalating loss of lives and deepening failure has not lessened the enmity toward me, as I have reflected here before. It appears the volume and the bitterness have grown as popular sentiment swells that these United States may have descended into a moral hell that makes agony over Vietnam benign by comparison.

We are witness to the death of patriotism, as demonstrated month and after month in the decline of young men and woman willing to serve their country. Whatever the arguments, the truth abides: Our youth stand revealed as doubting their home and family are under threat from Iraq.

And all the money in the world cannot convince them otherwise.

Okay, they are not being offered "all the money in the world," but published reports say those who enlist for a fighting arm can receive a sign-up bonus of $10,000, with the figure climbing 10 times for critical specialties. By the way, I have no idea how much Christopher received for joining armor; he goes to Iraq qualified to drive a tank.

There is little reason to suppose that patriotism is the primary motivating factor for anyone in uniform. Immediately after 9/11 - as the Monday following Pearl Harbor-a flood of willing bodies descended upon recruiting offices. That enthusiasm died long ago. In choosing a service, under normal circumstances, including now, the opportunities for training and travel have always predominated.

My nearly seven years in uniform were occasioned by a combination of factors, including the feeling of being locked out, by age, from World War II; more important really was the recruiting posters' promise I could go to Europe; I did.

My grandson was having difficulty coming of age; his venture into college proved a near disaster. He needed time to finish growing up. Joining the Army was suggested by his grandfather, among others. In the event, there he was on his home leave a few weeks back covered with muscles and speaking bravely. He professed himself very willing to go but.

"Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori." Translated simply as "It is sweet to die for your country," the most famous war lover's poem was written by Roman poet Horace, who had survived the loser's side of a battle (Phillipi). No one bothers to regard "decorum," which means handsome or becoming: the root word for decoration.

A conservative friend, who spent no time in uniform, argues vociferously that everyone who joins up should expect combat. "Armies are meant to fight war," he states with some smug satisfaction and he is right.

But in this republic, unlike ancient Rome, enlisting had always entailed an understanding that no soldier's life would be given in vain, even volunteers and even those who have received big fat bonuses! No more.

Combined with the handsome monetary inducements, the absence of a draft robs today's Army of any pretense of belonging to the long and honorable tradition that America's wars would be fought by its citizens, as part and parcel of their civic responsibility.

Like it or not, I am forced to concede my grandson is part of an army of mercenaries, which means he and his comrades are totally subject to the whims of this country's rulers, no matter their political persuasion. And this explains how considerably less than half the estimated necessary numbers were deployed to invade Iraq. Their inadequate equipment was kissed off with the remark "You fight with what you've got," uttered by a man safely ensconced in the Pentagon.

My conservative friend's logic applied: They were ordered to do simply what they had joined the Army to do. And if that means dying, then the argument went, that's why they received all that money.

Long before Christopher George Meachum put on the uniform, I rejected all such arguments by the enlightened on the right who rush to swath themselves in the red-white-and-blue. I want no one's grandson, child, father, mother or friend to die in a war that has little purpose and absolutely no chances of succeeding to the goals postulated by politicians.

Genug! Assez! Basta! Kifayeh! Dostatochny! Enough, already.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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