The last war?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

The tears and crisp salutes of another Memorial Day hold their fleeting dignity long enough for the still shots. The day is a photo op for the undeserving: “Bush salutes bravery of fallen GIs.” Meanwhile, the real heroes face court-martial.

The mockery is almost too much to bear. This somber celebration of patriotism has become a holiday of blood-soaked lies. Between the Downing Street memo — the “smoking gun” of Bush administration intent to invade Iraq without cause — and Scott McClellan’s pathetic damage control about Korans in the toilet, the war’s supporters must be hard-pressed indeed to keep believing that God is on our side.

McClellan at a news conference in mid-May: “There is lasting damage to our image because of this report. And we would encourage Newsweek to do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done . . . and I think Newsweek can do that by . . . pointing out what the policies and practices of the United States military are when it comes to the handling of the Holy Koran.”

From the FBI file of interviews of Guantanamo detainees, released about the same time to the American Civil Liberties Union: “About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet. The guards dance around when the detainees are trying to pray. The guards still do these things.”

From the same file: “Military police have been mistreating the detainees by pushing them around and throwing their waste bucket to them in the cell, sometimes with waste still in the bucket and kicking the Koran.”

The time has come to say what must be said. The invasion and occupation of Iraq — the entire “war on terror” — can and should be humanity’s last war. A declaration such as this just might partially reclaim the lives that have been lost in its pursuit and make their deaths not be in vain.

I draw my inspiration for such an assertion — this gauntlet of peace — from the men and women on the front lines of this war who are coming to the same hard-earned conclusion and in one way or another are refusing to become Lynndie Englands or Charles Graners. The GI Rights Hotline is getting 3,000 calls a month from them. The only way for war crimes to stop occurring is for soldiers to refuse to follow orders to commit them.

One soldier who believes this is Sgt. Kevin Benderman, an eight-year veteran of the Army who has already served one tour of duty in Iraq and, at the beginning of this year, refused to serve a second; he now faces the possibility of a general court-martial from a vindictive military for whom soldiers with a conscience must be a recurring nightmare.

“But once you get right down to it, and you experience war firsthand, you realize that we should not be doing this in this day and age. . . . We should be able to figure out how to live in this world with everyone without war,” he told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! “We don’t need war. It is just an outdated, obsolete institution. We need to leave it behind us.”

Here’s what U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney said of Benderman on the floor of the House of Representatives in April: “Sgt. Benderman’s opposition is not the theoretical if sincere opposition of a student peace activist. Kevin Benderman has seen things that none of God’s children should have to endure. He was present when his superior ordered his unit to open fire on small children who were throwing rocks at the soldiers of his unit. He chased the hungry dogs from an open mass grave filled with the bodies of young children, old men and women. Kevin saw the burned child, crying in pain, while all around her ignored her injuries.”

Why, why are such horrors seen as necessary? How do they keep America safe? We all know such behavior is insane, that it will come back to haunt us, yet it takes someone of rare courage to declare this out loud in a context that is not academic, to say no, this stops now, with me.

To do so is to invite a fierce, unreflective mockery. When Benderman first filed for conscientious objector status, according to Kevin Zeese of Democracy Rising, his battalion chaplain told him, “I certainly am ashamed of you. I hope you will see your misconduct as an opportunity to upgrade your character and moral behavior for your own good and the good of your fellowman.”

What lunatic God was this chaplain fronting for? Islam is not the only religion the war on terror is defiling. This is the nature of war. That’s why it’s time to leave it behind us.