Not Just Another Memorial Day
Several years ago, while driving around England, I dropped in on the Winchester Cathedral. The stone knights rested peacefully under the vaulting ceiling. It was summer and in that part of the world the sun threatens never to set; the light lingers, giving the stained glass windows a peculiar hue.
The windows themselves were very different; instead of Biblical characters or ornamental designs, they were dedicated to past members of the Royal Rifles, a British regiment formed in what became the United States. They were organized for the French and Indian War from colonials, particularly German immigrants. The regimental flag flew during the American Revolution, but on the English side.
Created to foster British imperialism, the Royal Rifles saw service in India and Africa in the 19th century. Several windows remember the fallen from those expeditions; one, in particular, was on my mind all weekend.
His name I can't remember. The window showed a boyish English officer being speared to death by fierce "natives." They were not Zulus but some lesser known nation. They killed the young man, nevertheless. His grieving family had commissioned the window in Winchester Cathedral, which serves as the regiment's "chapel."
Iraq may not be America's first colonial war since we grabbed the Philippines and Puerto Rico. There were excursions in Central America, including Cuba, and Marines also fought in China. Washington did not begin the fighting in Vietnam. The latter day roughing up of Grenada and Panama hardly count; they were in-and-out, "thank you, Ma'am" affairs.
Until Iraq, I cannot recall any U.S. administration declaring war with the announced intention of introducing democracy. That's not the same as trying to halt the march of communism, and pre-1989 we had lots of that.
While I have not visited each American cathedral, I feel safe in saying no stained glass window in this country proclaims colonialism as the Winchester Cathedral memento for the boy lieutenant; the artist dressed him in a formal uniform.
The blatant nature of our presence in Iraq was made screamingly clear this Memorial Day weekend; stories appeared in all major media about how the U.S. intelligence community, almost in lockstep, strongly cautioned Iraq would be no walk-over. They projected what I termed "urban warfare" in one of several columns printed before March 19, 2001.
My reaction to the news that America's spy industry had warned Washington in advance was highly personal. For saying virtually the same things contained in the stories this weekend, I was treated like a pariah, in Frederick and in particular by my American Legion "comrades." (I am a life member.)
In any event, the White House paid no more attention to the intelligence community's big boys than it did to a country columnist. We were assured all Iraqis were waiting to show gratitude and warmth for the Americans. Weapons of mass destruction got thrown into the soporific stew designed to stun the general public into submission; and it worked, for almost three years.
Of course, the media helped. Few journalists and their editors were willing to risk being called cowards and pro-terrorist, as I was. No publication or broadcast network of stature objected to the invasion. In the first place, there was consensus the Iraqis would not "last," which I found inherently racist. Ignorance played a large role.
As we learned well after the fact, really only this weekend, America's intelligence agencies knew and warned it could not be a short war. Politicians in the Pentagon paid so little attention they started the shooting with less than half the troops four-star General Eric Shinseki said we needed.
Ironically, right now, according to published figures, there are more Americans in Iraq than the first days of the war: 150,000 to 120,000. The original plan, crafted by politicians not soldiers, called for U.S. withdrawal in 2003.
At least, an increasing number of authoritative people, including generals, are now saying what I said in 2002 and early 2003: We cannot win militarily. The Arabs refused to stand and fight our superior military machine. Come to think of it, that's what the British Army discovered about the Americans, around 1776.
That young man memorialized in Winchester Cathedral's stained glass must be sad, wherever he is, to realize his death was in vain. England's former colonies are back in local hands, for the most part. He died with honor, upholding Queen Victoria and country. His parents and friends were certainly proud.