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Day 17

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Safe at Home?

The Truth of War’s Lies

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

I would do anything to save my child. I’d learn the language, read the books, delve into the mindset of the captors, cultivate a beard, if I could. Anything.

I walked fast down the busy street near my building, preoccupied with thoughts of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his parents. Encountering a mass of mostly young people waiting in front of a club, I zigzagged through the crowd and ran smack-dab into a memory: Times Square, May 2006.

I’d taken a bus from Highland Falls, NY after speaking on behalf of Gold Star Families for Peace at a rally to protest George Bush’s commencement address at the United States Military Academy that same afternoon. I returned at night and made my way home, walking the city blocks and negotiating the Manhattan energy field I miss so much.

That day at the end of May eight years ago, I stood before a group and gave the speech I thought George Bush should be delivering. I talked about the West Point honor code: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do” and then said, “Please break the code briefly and tolerate me as I apologize for my failures of mass proportion.”

Portraying Bush, I concluded with:

Today, I will turn myself in to be tried before a world court along with those in my administration who lied to sell this war. My co-defendants include members of congress who are still funding the war. Please forgive us all.

Of course, Bush was playing a part, performing his role of commander-in-chief, telling the cadets that we honor the dead by completing the mission. He closed his assignment that afternoon with, “This war began on my watch—but it’s going to end on your watch.”

Just three years before, Dick Cheney had said, “I’m confident that our troops will be successful, and I think it’ll go relatively quickly…Weeks rather than months.”

Same year, 2003, Richard Perle had said:

And a year from now, I’ll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush. There is no doubt that, with the exception of a very small number of people close to a vicious regime, the people of Iraq have been liberated and they understand that they’ve been liberated. And it is getting easier every day for Iraqis to express that sense of liberation.

Six months after my Hudson Valley trip, the Democrats took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in a dozen years and I, along with my peace friends, celebrated, hoping war would end. I was disillusioned within months.

Finally, in December 2011, during the ninth year of the war, the U.S. completed its withdrawal of military personnel, but violence across Iraq continues with car bombings, assassinations, and suicide attacks. The invasion that was supposed to be a cakewalk is a catastrophe.

On May 28, 2014 Barack Obama spoke to the graduating class at West Point. He said, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” We know his fiber content. Know he once told his aides, “I’m really good at killing people”, referring to drone strikes.

We bear the shame of carnage, expanded drone warfare in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.

Despite Joe Biden’s 2010 promise that “we’re going to be totally out of there, come hell or high water, by 2014”, Obama recently announced that 9,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan. The mission will continue through 2016. And so will the hell.

Now, back to Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who sent an email to his parents on June 27, 2009. Here’s a portion:

I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid … We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks … We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them … I am sorry for everything. The horror that is america is disgusting.

Bill O’Reilly said on his show, “He [Bob Bergdahl, Bowe’s father] has learned to speak Pashto, the language of the Taliban, and looks like a Muslim.” Other “news” anchors have said Bob Bergdahl looks like a member of the Taliban.

When someone said something similar to me, that the mother’s appearance is normal but the father has that long beard and looks…, I completed the sentence with “Amish?”.

Bergdahl’s parents are receiving death threats from people who’ve judged their son to be a deserter, responsible for the deaths of fellow soldiers, instead of praising him as a man who saw the truth of war’s lies. Sad that Bowe Bergdahl may have been safer in captivity than at home in the exceptionally exceptional boiling pot of America.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com