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During World War I, when the British Parliament was enacting a conscription law, so that draftees could replace the depleted ranks in the trenches, a politician declared, "The necessary supply of heroes must be maintained at all cost."

No, this is not an argument for a draft.  And before we read those words we read theses

Reports from Afghanistan and Iraq have been numbingly discouraging, in part because, in the United States, they come as a steady stream of abstraction. We see the faces of American casualties on the evening news, and the fate of wounded GIs draws sympathy, but otherwise the human cost of the war is kept vague.

In Forgetten faces of war James Carroll reminds us of these facts only after he tells us of two Afghanis who died , and not when they detonated their bomb vests to kill the enemy.  The first saw people at prayer in a Mosque and changed his mind.  The other turned over thousands of dollars to his family and showed his vest, and his mother tried to remove it.  In each case the attempt to remove the vest killed the men and those around them

I do not think James Carroll is widely enough read.  His columns appear on Mondays in the Boston Globe.  While at times I disagree with him in part,  I find what he offers challenges my thinking.  

I began by quoting the two passages I do to set a proper context, that is, to help us refocus our minds.  World War I was a slaughter, where politicians and generals send young men to needless slaughter.  One image in my mind is from Dickie Attenborough's terrific anti-war movie, "Oh what a lovely war" where we see the British General praying, ending with words like "And Please God, gie me a victory before the Americans arrive."  

Why do young people go off to war?  Why are the situations we encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan seem so intractable?  Why do we, and our leaders, not fully understand what we are encountering.   "The necessary supply of heroes must be maintained at all cost."   What a horrifying idea!!!

I quoted the two paragraphs above the fold in inverse order.  Between them, connecting them, is the following:

We know to the single digit how many coalition fighters have died, but estimates of Iraqi deaths span a range from tens to hundreds of thousands. A single death - a tragedy; a million - a mere statistic. Meanwhile, as the suicide bombers treat their bodies as weapons, so do we, as if those faceless killers are indeed the automatons their masters want them to be. Yet this tale of two bombers suggests that every such deed, no matter how prompted by indoctrination or despair, must involve human responses.


Carroll explores the depths of human feeling.  I cannot effectively summarize and a partial quotation will not represent fairly.  You do need to read the piece. I can offer from this part of the op ed the following:

The two incidents from Afghanistan offer rare glimpses into the human depth of this otherwise inhuman act. Ambivalence and fear surely accompany each bomber on the way to destruction; anguish and dread must fill the hearts of their family members, if they know ahead of time. After the fact, grief must anchor every feeling.

Perhaps, perhaps not you will say.  It is tempting to believe that the ideology driving those young men is something so alien o all we hold dear that it must be the product of something warped, distorted, anti-all that is good in humanity, right?

Carroll reflects upon those affected, in te one example the mother wondering who could have done this to her child, the siblings perhaps realizing that they are about to die, and why?  Or of the young man, who turned to prayer, to affirm life.  He rightly describes those who who persuaded the young men to wear the vest as having manipulated them,

tricked them into imagining that death could be an affirmation


And in the last sentence of that series of thoughts, Carroll bring the focus where it must be, for us, for those in the nation that created the situation in which all this enfolds.

The conclusion of the piece is powerful, aimed at us.  Let me quote the three final short paragraphs:

What is that situation but an explosive vest? It does no disrespect to these dead people to recognize this image as a metaphor of what we Americans have created. We are the bomb masters who have wrapped the body of Iraq in wires and plastic explosives. How can we remove the vest without blowing it up?

Iraqi civil war, conflict with Iran, Turkish-Kurdish violence, chaos throughout the Middle East - and now President Bush tells us that, if we don't defuse the regional body vest carefully, World War III will start. There it is. Bush himself acknowledging at last what, under his leadership, the United States has done. We have put an explosive vest on Earth itself.

And now our job is to get it off. The revelation here is that, in the new age, every bomber is a suicide bomber.

We have put an explosive vest on Earth itself.   And hence the title of this diary.

Are we now like the young men who when they or others attempted to remove their vests were the cause of death and destruction?  Can we get out without making things worse?   What choices did the young men have, if attempting to remove the vest causes it to explode, merely to sit by helplessly, futilely, realizing that either they went forward and caused destruction, caused their own deaths without inflicting pain on "the enemy" or else stood by helpless and impotently, unable to go back or to do anything else constructively?

I also take that title and think not only about our military and geopolitical actions that have engendered so much violence, so much death and destruction.  I think of the other explosive vest, that of global warming, climate change, environmental destruction.  To avoid dying to protect oil supplies we are going to turn to coal, which pollutes even more heavily and which to obtain more cheaply we destroy mountains and valleys?  Is this perhaps the mother of the young man attempting to take off an explosive vest only to destroy herself and her family?

I am sorry that I put up a diary that offers little hope.  That is, I fully expect that reading Carroll and reading the diary might be quite depressing.   I opposed going into Iraq, and like many I want to see the death and destruction end.  But I also worry that the desire of many here to simply withdraw is the equivalent of attempting to remove an explosive vest as was tried in Afghanistan, with such tragic results.

Does that mean that I view those who pushed us into these endeavors as Carroll describes the bomb masters?  He wrote

I think of the bomb masters, who recruited those boys, manipulated them, tricked them into imagining that death could be an affirmation.

  The comparison may not be fair, because we do NOT tell our young (and not so young) men and women that they WILL die, although we hide the cost of death (no cameras at Dover) and we pretend that this is for a glorious cause.  But we were lied to as to the impact of our efforts, as to the reason for our actions.  And thereby is it possible that those who led us into this debacle have placed upon us an explosive vest that cannot be removed except with tragic consequences?

Let me take the images from Carroll a bit further, and attempt to answer my own query.  Is it possible that one or the other of the two young men, if either had fully realized the situation he was in, might choose then his own self-destruction, but without harming others? Is it possible he might go to an open space, and then attempt to safely remove the vest knowing he might die in the attempt, but ensuring that no one else were harmed?  Might that be an image that we need to keep in mind?  

We have a bomb strapped to us.  We cannot forever live that way.  It must be removed.  Perhaps we must accept the cost of the possible self detonation, pay that price while minimizing the harm to others.

It is possible that cynical people who advocated for this war did not care whether they won it or not:  war makes profits, offers justification for suppressing criticism and civil liberties.  They might not care how the war turns out.  That is not here my concern:  there will be a time and a place for accountability and placing responsibility where it belongs.

For now, Carroll's piece makes me realize that we must acknowledge the dangers of any course of action upon which we embark.  This is NOT an argument against withdrawing.   It is a suggestion that we think carefully about how we withdraw, so that the damage and destruction are limited.  And it is an acknowledgment that as we have realized the nature of what we have strapped on, to which we have bound our nation, it is us who must bear the greatest risk and cost of attempting to unbind that connection.

Those are my thoughts, not Carroll's.  I would be interested in yours, whether or not you agree with either Carroll or me.

Peace.  My fondest hope always.   Peace.

Originally posted to teacherken on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 03:36 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  this is my mojo mug (28+ / 0-)

    I am about to leave for school, for the first day of second quarter.  I am likely to be away from this diary for close to an hour.  I will read and comment when I can.

    I had no intention of doing a diary today, but when I read Carroll I realized that I must write something.

    I hope this is useful to someone.


    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 03:36:27 AM PDT

  •  A fine diary and a good question. (5+ / 0-)

    But you already gave the answer:  We can't keep wearing the vest.  It has to come off.  Since we are who we are (America), we can't go off in the desert and safely blow ourselves up.  We can withdraw, regroup and try and pacify this wildly spiraling situation into something that won't erupt into WWIII.  First we must pacify those groups at home who are roasting marshmallows on this conflaguration:  The neocons, the military/industrial complex and the terminally scared.

    It isn't great but it's alot better than the alternatives.

  •  But it was intended. (5+ / 0-)

    We the people of America may not have known, but the Bush regime certainly knew full well what they were getting the US into. Do we feed into this patriotic mess of my Country good or bad? Or, do we step back and untwine and say enough? I can't read about the Iraqis plight. I know they are a suffering people and it is a cloud hanging over every minute of my day because I see them as me. Every bombed out house is mine or my neighbors house. Every corpse is mine or my family. This has to end or it will destroy us.

    "Though the Mills of the Gods grind slowly,Yet they grind exceeding small."

    by Owllwoman on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 03:58:14 AM PDT

  •  I wish the gun=patriotism mind set would change (6+ / 0-)

    and that joining the military wasn't used as a last chance for a job or education opportunity.

    It's one thing to fight in one's backyard for family protection and quite a different thing to pick up arms for the profit of a few.


    "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones"

    by roseeriter on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 04:01:36 AM PDT

  •  I have come to the conclusion that we have wars (4+ / 0-)

    simply because we men enjoy killing each other. Maybe it's time to hand over power to women of the world before we kill everybody.

    When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross------Sinclair Lewis

    by rmonroe on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 04:05:09 AM PDT

  •  now in school (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pandoras Box, luckylizard

    some nice thoughts, nothing requiring a response from me

    I will be available for about 20-25 minutes, then have to go to a parent conference.  I will keep an eye on this while I do other things


    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 04:26:38 AM PDT

  •  It is also psychologically self-perpetuating (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Owllwoman, luckylizard

    When family and friends are confronted with the reality that someone they loved destroyed themself and innocent people, they face two choices.  Condemn the fatal act at the risk of terrible cognitive dissonance or believe that the act of violence was somehow justified and good.  From everything I have read about the families of suicide bombers, they opt for the later.  The most often these violent acts occur, the greater the spread of the belief that these acts are justified within the subculture.  The profoundly evil people who organize, fund, equip, and send these bombers off on their mission of violence know full well the psychological effects on their loved ones will "convert" them to the cause of violence.

    A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. - Aristotle

    by DWG on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 04:39:35 AM PDT

    •  and what about our people (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      roseeriter, Owllwoman, DWG, luckylizard

      what about our equipping them and sending them off on the basis of lies?  How do the families of some of hem feel?  And what about when we lie about the circumstances in which they are killed (Pat Tillman) or captured (Jessica Lynch)??   How does that compare, if at all?

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

      by teacherken on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 04:43:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is the same (7+ / 0-)

        Whether we are talking about suicide bombers or B-2 bombers, families and friends are encouraged to believe that the killing is justified.  When evidence surfaces to the contrary, it creates a terrible dissonance.  

        When lies are exposed, such as the Tillman family, their dissonance breaks down and they turn on the liars.  The Tillman family have become tireless adversaries of the Bushies and the Pentagon for the manipulation.  They cannot believe that Pat  was killed fighting for some good cause because the circumstances surrounding his death were exposed as a fabrication.  Jessica Lynch has personally been very dismayed about the fabrication of the events surrounding her rescue.  The noise machine quickly stopped talking about her when she disputed the facts about her case.  But for the families of the grunts killed by IEDs in Iraq, the knowledge that they were sent into harm's way without justification is more devastating and they cling to the hope that some "good" may come from the military intervention.  Cindy Sheehan was never convinced that the war was justified and when Casey was killed, her grief quickly turned to rage.  There was no dissonance in her case to prevent her from coming out hard against the war and the people responsible for starting it.  Unlike Cindy Sheehan, most military families start from a basic faith in our country and its leaders.  

        When you pay a big price for something, you want to believe it is worth it and even ignore or avoid contradictory information.  The Republicans know that Bush lied about the threat posed by Iraq, but understand quite correctly that they need to blame the Democrats for the failure of the mission or risk a psychological backlash that would doom their party for the foreseeable future.

        A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. - Aristotle

        by DWG on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 05:31:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  But aren't we using the same (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, DWG, luckylizard

      retoric? We aren't sending out people with bombs straped to their vests.  We are sending out bombers with multiple bombs straped to their wings. The result is the same. People fight with what they have available.

      "Though the Mills of the Gods grind slowly,Yet they grind exceeding small."

      by Owllwoman on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 04:56:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, JanL, Owllwoman, luckylizard

        If our children are risking their lives for a cause, then the cause **must** be worthwhile.  I read a story not long ago about family members of soldiers killed in Iraq.  The basic idea was that many need some sort of apparent victory in Iraq to prove that their loved ones did not die in vain.  

        A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. - Aristotle

        by DWG on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 05:06:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Another vest (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, JanL, luckylizard

    The US has strapped to itself a suicidal vest of debt. (You could say that the Bush cabal has strapped it on; but nevertheless it's there.) Eventually this could detonate and kill the country economically. Now the questions are, will the pockets of the vest keep getting filled with more explosive, and how many others will the explosion take down with it?

    This is not a sig-line.

    by Joffan on Mon Oct 22, 2007 at 06:57:08 AM PDT

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