Take the Long Way Home


I'm very tired.

I am tired of watching the death toll rise on a daily basis in Iraq. Five more American soldiers died on Sunday, and eight more died today. Thirty-three Iraqi civilians were killed by car bombs on Monday, and another 120 were wounded. So far this month, 57 U.S. soldiers have died. 1,644 have been killed since this whole thing started. There is still no accurate accounting of Iraqi dead.

I am tired of trying to figure out a way to jar the American people into understanding how unutterably wretched the situation is over there, so that pressure from the citizenry at large can be brought to bear upon the Administration and this disaster can be brought to an end.

This war does not exist in American living rooms; it is only truly real in the towns that surround Bragg, Ord, Lejeune, and Benning, where the families of the soldiers forced to fight this war live and wait and worry. It is real only at Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies arrive home under a cloak of secrecy, entombed in their 'transfer tubes' and wrapped in the flag.

The war certainly does not exist on my television, and I am tired of that as well. The television news media's consensus-building machine works all day and night on a half-dozen news channels, and according to them, all is fine and dandy. It is amazing how effective these small boxes are at controlling the thoughts, emotions and desires of our population. It is daunting to try to come up with a way to get around their noise.

People ask me if the draft, or advocacy for the draft, would put this war into people's back yards and gather their attention to the matter. Of course it would, I tell them. Vietnam became an issue of pressing national concern because of the draft. It forced people to pay attention, to speak up if they thought the war was wrong, because the next lottery number read over the television might have belonged to their son.

With no draft today, with our volunteer army, most people are not staring down the barrel of having to practice what they preach. Patriotism, nationalism and the kill-em-all ethic is a safe place to stand these days, because no civilian is going to get a letter containing orders to report.

As tempting as it might be for some to try to roll this rock down the hill, the truth of the matter is that the draft is no answer to this problem. First of all, the Bush administration would have to be out of its collective mind to call for one. They have the people right where they want them - snowed, buffaloed and disengaged - and a draft would change that overnight.

A draft would also badly disable our already damaged military. During the Vietnam era, it took six weeks of boot camp to learn how to be a soldier. Today it takes two years, and a sudden flood of raw, unwilling recruits would snarl the works badly. Even if the administration wanted a draft, the armed services would kick and scream until the idea was taken off the table. And speaking of kicking and screaming, anyone advocating for a return of the draft will receive a faceful of angry noise from those mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers who have become the strongest and most eloquent anti-war activists anywhere in the country.

I'm very tired. I am tired of hearing about democracy in Iraq when no such thing exists. I am tired of people like Bush using terms like freedom as an advertising pitch for actions that promote anything but freedom. The word itself sounds like a dead fish in his mouth. I am tired of dead soldiers, dead civilians, I am tired of our highest ideals being used to peddle profiteering by war, and I am so damned tired of trying to shake people into doing something about it before we all go over the cliff.


Except maybe it is happening already. Pew Research came out with some poll numbers the other day that auger towards a swelling of anger and discontent across the country. According to Pew, Bush has an anemic approval rating of 43 percent. Approval for his handling of the economy stands at 35 percent. Only 37 percent of those polled think the Iraq war was a good idea. His numbers, in short, are in freefall; in many categories, his approval ratings have dropped more than 10 points since the snow melted in New England.

Just last night, after weeks of bluster and threats, Senate Republicans defied the wishes of their own majority leader and the political mechanics in the White House, and blinked on the filibuster fight. They didn't have to; enough arm-twisting plus Mr. Cheney in the Senate president's chair would have allowed Frist to kill the filibuster as he had promised. But they looked at their own poll numbers, and saw what damage would be done if they pressed this, and they backed off.

Sure, they got three of their wacko judges onto the appellate court as part of the deal, but the filibuster will be available when - not if, but when - a nominee is put forth to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. In other words, Senate Democrats, working with Republicans who were willing to defy their own leader, saved Roe v. Wade, and kept the GOP from owning the entire government from soup to nuts.

This, perhaps, is the leading edge of something I have been watching for these last months: A civil war in the ranks of the GOP between the movement fundamentalists and the old-school conservatives. On this filibuster fight, the movement fundamentalists got their lunch eaten by the old-schoolers, and there will be hell to pay.

So yeah, I'm tired. But maybe, just maybe, the clouds are parting a little bit here. It has been a long road to get to this admittedly desolate spot, and it is a longer road ahead. Just put one foot in front of the other, and see where it all winds up.

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