I'm probably way behind the rest of the blogosphere in commenting on this piece by Andy Rooney, which goes well beyond condescending and puerile, even for him: Our Soldiers in Iraq are not Heroes. I was going to comment on this earlier this afternoon, but the piece upset me so that I couldn't form a rational response beyond "Shut the fuck up, old man!" until now.
Most of the reporting from Iraq is about death and destruction. We don't learn much about what our soldiers in Iraq are thinking or doing. There's no Ernie Pyle to tell us, and, if there were, the military would make it difficult or impossible for him to let us know.
Much of the reason why the reporting out of Iraq is usually so bleak is because al-Reuters, the AP, the NYT, etc. prefer it that way. It fits their ideology.
It would be interesting to have a reporter ask a group of our soldiers in Iraq to answer five questions and see the results:
1. Do you think your country did the right thing sending you into Iraq?
I'd be interested in the results, but I already have some idea what they'd be. There are many soldier-bloggers who have been answering this question throughout the war. Chief Wiggles is one, and I know there are others whose sites I couldn't find quickly.
2. Are you doing what America set out to do to make Iraq a democracy, or have we failed so badly that we should pack up and get out before more of you are killed?
Notice two things: (1) there's no middle ground; if we haven't achieved total success as of right now, we've "failed so badly" that we should quit; and (2) Rooney loads the question by the strength of language he uses to describe the first outcome versus his preferred outcome.
3. Do the orders you get handed down from one headquarters to another, all far removed from the fighting, seem sensible, or do you think our highest command is out of touch with the reality of your situation?
Rooney's second point is well-taken, i.e., high command should have an accurate, fully-informed picture of what's happening on the ground. But the first point, as to whether orders make sense to infantrymen, low-ranking officers and NCOs, may be the wrong question to ask in a top-down hierarchy, because they probably don't know everything that the decision-makers know. Mine is not to wonder why, mine is just to do or die and all that.
4. If you could have a medal or a trip home, which would you take?
What a supercilious prick. Apparently, to Rooney, our soldiers are either glory-hounds or in Iraq against their will and desperate to desert. This isn't surprising, since the basis for this entire piece as that Rooney thinks the overwhelming majority of soldiers are the latter. More on this below.
5. Are you encouraged by all the talk back home about how brave you are and how everyone supports you?
I hope so. I bet they'd rather have our support than our cheering for the terrorists trying to kill them.
Treating soldiers fighting their war as brave heroes is an old civilian trick designed to keep the soldiers at it. But you can be sure our soldiers in Iraq are not all brave heroes gladly risking their lives for us sitting comfortably back here at home.
Treating soldiers as heroes is not some cheap trick; it's paying appropriate respect to those doing a job so we can "sit comfortably back here at home." They may not be overjoyed to do it, but they are doing it nonetheless. That's called honor, a quality that deserves and demands our respect and a quality with which Rooney is clearly unfamiliar.
Our soldiers in Iraq are people, young men and women, and they behave like people - sometimes good and sometimes bad, sometimes brave, sometimes fearful. It's disingenuous of the rest of us to encourage them to fight this war by idolizing them.
Since when does courage = absence of fear? Absence of fear in a situation where your life is undoubtedly at risk = insanity. Courage is being able to do your job in spite of your fear. And again Rooney cheapens a soldier's choice to fight for his/her country by suggesting that s/he has been tricked into it by the masses. How dare he?
We pin medals on their chests to keep them going. We speak of them as if they volunteered to risk their lives to save ours, but there isn't much voluntary about what most of them have done. A relatively small number are professional soldiers. During the last few years, when millions of jobs disappeared, many young people, desperate for some income, enlisted in the Army. About 40 percent of our soldiers in Iraq enlisted in the National Guard or the Army Reserve to pick up some extra money and never thought they'd be called on to fight. They want to come home.
Let's unpack this staggeringly presumptuous paragraph. First, we award medals as recognition for outstanding service, not because we want a soldier to re-up (it's not like the government takes the medals away otherwise). Second, someone better tell Rooney that there's no draft anymore. All of our soldiers are volunteeers, not conscripts. That seems to have escaped him. Third, I call "bullshit" on that 40% figure. Was there some survey of National Guardsmen and Reservists asking why they enlisted? Fourth, even if that were true, can Rooney seriously be advocating paying people to do a job, but excusing them from doing that job when the time comes? Ridiculous.
One indication that not all soldiers in Iraq are happy warriors is the report recently released by the Army showing that 23 of them committed suicide there last year. This is a dismaying figure. If 22 young men and one woman killed themselves because they couldn't take it, think how many more are desperately unhappy but unwilling to die.
Every one of those deaths is tragic. But before we go blaming the suicides entirely on the soldiers' experiences in combat, we should be sure that each of those dead soldiers was balanced and well-adjusted before going to war. I would bet that they weren't.
We must support our soldiers in Iraq because it's our fault they're risking their lives there. However, we should not bestow the mantle of heroism on all of them for simply being where we sent them. Most are victims, not heroes.
Again with this. Yes, we (through Congress) sent them to Iraq to topple a heinous dictator, but they volunteered to be sent. Andy, there's no draft anymore. That's probably why there's been a paucity of long-haired types burning their draft cards on the steps of City Hall. Numbnuts.
America's intentions are honorable. I believe that, and we must find a way of making the rest of the world believe it. We want to do the right thing. We care about the rest of the world. President Bush's intentions were honorable when he took us into Iraq. They were not well thought out but honorable.
Bush's determination to make the evidence fit the action he took, which it does not, has made things look worse. We pay lip service to the virtues of openness and honesty, but for some reason, we too often act as though there was a better way of handling a bad situation than by being absolutely open and honest.
These last two paragraphs are non sequiturs, just Rooney taking another opportunity to call President Bush a liar. Ho hum.
I think what Andy needs is a nice, hot cup of shut the fuck up.