I've been trying to write this editorial for months now, but I can't seem to find a good way into the subject. I still can't.
How do you vent about your disgust over President Bush's war in Iraq and your distrust of U.S. military leadership when dead Marines are coming home to area towns to be buried? How do you join eulogies for these young heroes while criticizing the strategic goals they died for? How do you balance competing emotions while most people seem to treat the war as a black-and-white, you're-for-us-or-against-us deal?
I guess you just do.
You start by reminding yourself what the conflict in Iraq is about and why U.S. soldiers are there. On the surface — the only place most Americans really want to discuss the war — young Marines and others are risking their lives in Iraq to keep you and me as safe from terrorism as possible. As a bonus, they're also trying to create a democratic Iraq out of the rubble of decades of dictatorial rule.
Even on the surface, the justifications for war fall apart.
There remains to this day no solid connection between Iraq and what happened on 9/11, and it's clear from various reports that the Bush administration used 9/11 as an excuse to execute long-discussed plans to topple Saddam Hussein.
As for helping the Iraqi people build a new, free society, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more noble job for our military or a more satisfying experience for our young people in the military. Maybe they'll come home some day and teach their complacent, lazy friends and neighbors what democracy is all about.
Still, it's easy to be cynical about raising the flag of freedom in Iraq when the U.S. military has ignored so many other opportunities to help the world's oppressed. Do you wonder if Iraq's oil resources entitle it to more freedom than Rwanda, Somalia, Mongolia and other wretched places deserve?
Do you think the Bush administration — chastened by its apparent double standards — has drawn a new line in the sand, literally and figuratively, and will no longer accept atrocities or brutal dictators anywhere? We'll know soon enough.
Below the surface, of course, it's even worse. The foundation of the U.S. war effort is a shambles, as the details that drove public opinion toward intervention in Iraq — weapons of mass destruction, potential nuclear and biological threats, connections to 9/11 — have been totally discredited.
The house that sits on this crumbling foundation, the military occupation of Iraq, is a disaster in the making. While the house falls apart around us, Bush and cronies assure us that we need to stay put. Don't mind the falling cross beams and chimney bricks. If you evacuate, it'll only mean the lousy homebuilders have won.
The circular logic behind such arguments is dizzying. "Stay the course," war supporters say now, because doing anything less would negate the lives and money already spent getting us to this point. "The faulty intelligence that got us into Iraq doesn't matter," they say, arguing that although the reasons for going to war might have been false we can't abandon what we started.
Obviously, those sorts of arguments can be carried down the line through every phase of the war effort, through every invasion of a sovereign nation, through every occupation of Middle Eastern oil reserves. Stopping at any point would negate the sacrifices that came before, Bush would argue, so you can't stop at all. Ever.
And so young Marines are signed up and shipped off to Iraq to honor those who served and died before them. And you admire their well-trained sense of duty, which has found glory and praise throughout our nation's history.
Then you consider Cindy Sheehan, the woman camped outside of Bush's ranch in Texas whose 24-year-old son was killed in combat in Iraq. She doesn't want her son's death to be used as justification for sending more U.S. troops to Iraq and creating more American (and Iraqi) mothers with dead children.
Can you imagine the pride she has in her son's sense of duty and the pain she deals with knowing he died for political goals she doesn't support?
Likewise, considering the ongoing funerals for local soldiers, can you imagine the pride and pain their families, friends and neighbors — those who support the war and those who don't — are feeling these days?
I can't, although I try.
The best I can do is to be a good American. To debate our government's actions, to speak my mind, to vote for candidates and issues that will move our communities forward, to promote tolerance and openness, to seek life, liberty and happiness.
And to be faithful to the long-term principles on which this nation was founded, not to short-term political schemes cooked up by shysters who aren't worthy to lick a Marine's boots.
CONTACT JOHN FOX: jfox(at)citybeat.com