THE GOOD AMERICAN
I joined the American Legion a few years back. As a veteran of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, I was eligible to do so for some time but always hesitated, perhaps out of a sense of trying to deny that my days as an active-duty combatant were long past. Every year, on Memorial Day, my fellow firefighters and I would gather in the basement of the local American Legion hall before we paraded before the town we protect. I would look around at the uniforms and faded patches and ribbons worn by the veterans who joined us in the hall and realize that they, too, were deserving of a great deal more support than simply being wheeled out once a year to participate in a parade. So I sent in my application and was accepted.
One of the fringe benefits of membership in the American Legion is a subscription to its monthly journal, The American Legion, billed as “the magazine for a strong America.” It quickly became apparent that The American Legion magazine was a sounding board for many holding quite militaristic and jingoistic opinions based on their rather limited personal experiences, many dating back to World War II. The war in Iraq, together with the overarching “global war on terror,” seems to be viewed by many in the American Legion as an extension of their own past service, and much effort is made to connect World War II and the Iraq conflict as part and parcel of the same ongoing American “liberation” of the world’s oppressed.
It’s a shame for these Legionnaires that the Iraqis couldn’t have turned out to be blond, blue-eyed Germans who looked like us, and whose women could be wooed with chocolate and nylon stockings by the noble American liberator and occupier. Or, short of that, passive Japanese, who freely submitted their women to the massage parlors and barracks of their American conquering heroes while their men rebuilt a shattered society. The simplistic approach of many of the American Legion’s most hawkish advocates for the ongoing disaster in Iraq seems to be drawn from a selective memory which seeks to impose a carefully crafted past experience dating back to the last “good war” (i.e., World War II), expunged of all warts and blemishes, onto the current situation in Iraq in a manner which strips away all reality.
It turns out that the Iraqis aren’t like German or Japanese people at all, but rather a fiercely independent (if overly complex) nation deeply resentful of a so-called liberation which has brought them nothing but pain and agony, primarily at the hands of those who have, unbidden, “freed” them from their past. The fact that the Iraqis resent the ongoing American occupation, and choose to express this resentment through violent resistance instead of submissive passivity, is in turn resented by many of the Legion’s membership. “War has been declared on the United States by those who are envious of our freedom, and they won’t stop until we are under their heel,” writes one Legionnaire in a letter published in the May 2007 issue of “the magazine for a strong America.” The juxtaposition of Iraq with those who perpetrated the events of Sept. 11, 2001, implied in this statement is reflective of a level of ignorance that boggles the mind. Iraq never declared war on the United States, the salesmanship exhibited in our promotion of “freedom” in Iraq leaves nothing to envy, and the Iraqis will stop resisting when we leave their country. Don’t try telling that to the blustery former Marine who authored the letter in question, however. He, like the majority of the Legion, is tired of hearing about “Bush’s war.”
“Death, Not in Vain” is the title of the feature article of the May 2007 issue. The story revolves around how the parents of one Marine who died in Iraq seek to define their son’s sacrifice. “People may not agree with the reason we went to war,” the mother of the fallen Marine is quoted as saying, “but while our troops are over there, we can’t be telling the world what they are doing is wrong. If we say we support them, we have to support what they are doing.” Of course, the nature of the “disagreement” surrounding the Iraq war is never fully articulated in the article. There is no mention made of the discredited claims by President Bush and other war advocates about weapons of mass destruction or connections between Saddam Hussein’s government and al-Qaida. Instead, the reader is told repeatedly about how fallen American service members gave their lives for America and a “free Iraq.” Quoting their fallen sons, the families of Marines killed in Iraq speak proudly of bold statements such as “We need to be there, but it’s going to be hard, and it is going to be a long time.” Yet they never explore the actual “need” cited.
MORE AT THE LINK.
Editor’s Note: Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, and his latest is “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement” (Nation Books, April 2007).
U.S. soldiers detain a protester as Iraqis rally against the U.S. military presence in the Kamaliyah neighborhood of Baghdad on May 2.
Hundreds attended the rally, some throwing stones
at a passing American convoy.