This week, the 1,000th U. S. soldier died in Iraq, according to the Pentagon's own accounting, going back in time to the first day of invasion. My thoughts immediately went to the parents of these young (in most cases) men and women who lost their lives. I am sure that those parents feel proud for the sacrifice and bravery that their children demonstrated, putting themselves in harm's way in service for their country. I am equally sure that those parents feel unspeakable grief once the phone call came that their beloved one would not be returning home alive.
Grieving these 1,00 lives is made tragically difficult, since the public relations of war dictates that Americans should not see their soldiers come home in body bags. The Pentagon bans photographs of dead soldiers, let alone the coffins that hold them. The message is: let's not make the war personal. War is best fueled by ideologies, slogans and fears. The faces of the victims throw off the tempo of the military parade. It goes without saying that we Americans will not honor the lives of Iraqis who have been killed in this conflict either. We do not know their names, nor do we imagine the pain that the parents of those victims feel. The Pentagon even refuses to track (publicly) the number of their fatalities. They are not people to us. They are terrorists, Arabs, Muslims, aliens, enemies.
Modern warfare ceases to be war once it becomes personal. Have you ever stopped to think how ironic it is that of the men who are most responsible for unleashing a pre-emptive strike on Iraq : President George W. Bush, Vice-president Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle, and White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove : not one has spent a single moment in military combat? Nor do any of their sons and daughters put their lives on the line out of patriotism. Surely there would be less swagger in their rhetoric if it was they who walked the front lines, or if it was their children who would seek to occupy the streets of Fallujah.
As a father, I am left cold by the campaign trail. The presidential candidates trip over themselves to convince me that they are more warrior-like than the other. George W. Bush, who apparently could not even make time to check into his military base in Alabama, tells us that he will rattle the sword to usher in freedom to the Middle East. Not to be outdone, John Kerry greets us with a military salute and wants us to believe that his true legacy from Vietnam is as a war hero, not as a principled anti-war veteran.
For my part, I want to hear how candidates will be peacemakers. How will they contribute to a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine? How will they stop violence in Sudan? How will they end the hostilities pushing us towards a clash of Christian and Muslim civilizations? How will they build bridges that terrorists wont want to blow up?
I take peace personally. I do not want to see my children grow up with the imminent fear of a terrorist attack. I wish the next president of the United States would take war, and peace, personally too.