Good morning, Vietnam 

It's deja vu all over again in Iraq

Last week -- some two years after George Bush made his famous "mission accomplished" declaration -- the number of U.S. soldiers to die in Iraq passed 1,800. In two separate incidents within a week, eight members of the same platoon from Georgia's Army National Guard died. Then, 14 more soldiers, a translator and an American journalist were killed.

To those of us old enough to remember Vietnam, Iraq becomes more deja-vu-all-over-again every day. The saber-rattling media once again conspire with the government to keep the horrific human cost of war unseen. The estimated tens of thousands of civilian Iraqis who have died are ignored just as they were in Vietnam. We hear nothing of the many thousands of soldiers who survived attacks but are maimed for life.

And, once again, Americans seem amazingly indifferent to the fact that 1,800 of their sons and daughters have died in a war against a country that posed utterly no threat to our own security. Where America's world image was devastated by Lt. William Calley and the My Lai massacre, now we see pictures of what turns out to be an official policy of torture of detainees.

Then there's the insane "flypaper" argument. We are fighting terrorists in Iraq, the flypaperists argue, in order to keep the fight out of our own country. We heard the same thing about the commies in Vietnam, as if they planned to get in their little boats and launch an invasion off the coast of San Diego. Never mind that this irrational argument was disproved when two of our allies -- Spain and the U.K. -- were attacked by al-Qaeda on their own turf. I guess the flypaper they set out in Iraq didn't work as well as ours.

Meanwhile, just as there was no plan in Vietnam, there is no plan for the withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. Depending on which liar in the White House you consult, the insurgency is in its last throes (Dick Cheney), meaning withdrawal will begin just before the midterm congressional elections. Or it could be 12 years down the road (Donald Rumsfeld). But they all insist it's not a Vietnam-style quagmire.

Bizarrely, a majority of Americans already believe the war was started by Bush, not by anything Saddam Hussein did. They believe he lied to the American people. But very few are willing to call for an immediate end to our involvement.

Those of us staggering around with the deja-vus know exactly what it's going to take to get out. That won't happen until enough young men and women have died that almost everyone knows a family who has lost a child. That is why the administration doesn't permit the photography of soldiers' caskets and why there was such furor last year when "Nightline" broadcast the names and pictures of dead soldiers. If you put a face on the dead or confront people with the corpse, you make it very hard to exercise denial of a dreadful truth nobody wants to accept: Young Americans are dying, not to defend our country, but to support the lies of George Bush. Hello, Lyndon Johnson!

In 1969, Life magazine published an 11-page spread of pictures of 240 soldiers who had died in one week in Vietnam. Nobody who saw that will ever forget it. As a kid, my own possible future was reflected back to me -- I remember it like it was yesterday -- and parents saw the faces that could be their own children's, killed in a war that had come to make no sense to anyone.

Although some media actually printed heartbreaking pictures of soldiers weeping over the loss of their friends last week, most are too afraid of being called "liberal" to depict the daily nightmare of death, torture and breakdown of civilization that Bush's lies have brought to Iraqis and Americans.

One of the Georgia National Guardsmen who was killed last week was James O. Kinlow, a father of two from Thomson in McDuffie County. I didn't know Kinlow, of course, but his death did add a personal element to the Iraq debacle. I was editor of the McDuffie Progress in Thomson while in my 20s, a couple years out of college. I found the Progress' website last week and read how the entire town has been grieving Kinlow's death. Everyone there is affected.

Those of us living in the big city, where you can reside for years without knowing your neighbor, are for the time being isolated from the dying. Many in the National Guard are from small towns -- ordinary working people who never expected to be shipped out to fight a war, much less a war that makes no sense.

As the number of soldiers killed continues to increase, more communities like Thomson will have to consider whether they really want to send their young to fight a pointless war. For now, it is too horrible to grasp that lives have been sacrificed for no good reason. Bush's lies remain easier to accept than the truth. Eventually, though, people will be unable to avoid the sight of spilled blood. Look for nothing to change until then.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.


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