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The Truth, Mainly - 04/14/2003

The irrational exuberance of victory

The scent of victory in our war has filled us with irrational exuberance. Three examples:


Americans are buying about 3,000 new Humvees a month. The larger model, the H-1, starts at $100,000, the smaller Hummer H-2 at $50,000.

Buying one shows your patriotism. Yes it does.

The guy who started the International Hummer Owners Group was quoted in the NY Times last week saying this: "Those who deface a Hummer in words or deed deface the American flag and what it stands for."

Got that?

The connection, see, is that many of our troops in Iraq get around in Humvees. And according to one civilian owner, that makes "the Hummer the most American vehicle on the planet. It oozes patriotism."


We've become awfully quick to charge each other with not supporting our troops.

Our president often refers to himself as "the commander-in-chief," thereby suggesting that he's simply the top troop and if we don't support him, we don't support the rest of the troops.

We also don't support the troops if we dwell too long on the casualties on both sides, or if we worry that the war may produce new terrorism.

If we question the connection between Osama and Saddam, if we oppose massive tax cuts, if Donald Rumsfeld gives us the fantods, then somehow we're not supporting the troops.

And if we find ourselves moved by CNN footage of a war-wounded little Iraqi girl, maybe two years old, with curly hair and a pacifier in her mouth, someone is bound to say, "Support our troops or go back where you came from."

In my case, that would be a little town in Kansas. When I was growing up there, the population was just over 600 people, five of whom were killed in WW2. Since everyone knew everyone else in town, the five deaths were a civic calamity, and if we complained that Generals Patton and MacArthur weren't as careful of their men's lives as they might have been, nobody accused us of not supporting our troops.

And later, I was myself one of the troops, albeit in peacetime. So long as I got fed and clothed and allowed to go off base for Hofbrau beer and weinerschnitzels, I believed I was being pretty well supported.

And I would have felt then—as I feel now—that being ordered to shoot at people who would then shoot back at me was not a very effective or friendly way of supporting the troops.

Another scene I saw on CNN last week was of one of our soldiers breaking down a door and pointing his gun at a frightened family—a mother, a father, and four children, the youngest maybe three or four years old—and making them all raise their hands over their terrified and weeping heads.

The Truth, Mainly


I identified with the unhappy soldier pointing the gun and I wondered if it made him feel as awful doing it as I felt watching him do it. I decided it probably made him feel worse.

And he's a GI who needs support, not just on the home front but all the way up the chain of command to the oval office where decisions get made that result in troops having to do such things.

You saw the stories in this newspaper earlier this month about two mothers of GIs. One, from Chicago, was marching in a protest parade carrying a sign identifying herself as a "Marine Mom Against the War." The other was from Lincoln, and she explained it clearly: "The people who are pro-peace can be very pro-American; they just don't like the war." She has a son in the army, and a daughter and a son-in-law in the Air Force. Both mothers support the troops with great maternal zeal.


Our former CIA director, James Woolsey, told a group of UCLA students that our war with Iraq is merely a part of World War 4, a war he expects to go on for years. Not, perhaps, as long as the Cold War (which he calls World War 3) but longer than World War l or World War 2.

Iraq, Woolsey says, is just the first enemy. Others, he says, are Iran, Syria, and al Qaeda.

"As we move toward a new Middle East," Woolsey said, "we will make a lot of people very nervous. Our response should be 'good!'"

"We want you nervous," he said, directly addressing Egyptian President Mubarak and the royal family of Saudi Arabia. "We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you most fear…your own people."

Whee. Buckle your seatbelts. Sounds like a long Humvee ride.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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