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War is Hell, according to General William Tecumseh Sherman, who knew about these things. It is Sherman who gave the order to burn Atlanta to the ground during the American Civil War so that ‘Gone With The Wind’ would have a punchier third act. Sherman is among the most famous military leaders in history. Named after the Shawnee warrior Chief Tecumseh (not the manufacturer of hermetic compressors as is often claimed), Sherman saw the worst of the war that sundered the United States, and prosecuted that war with brutal determination. “Sherman’s March to the Sea” does not refer to a holiday expedition in quaint bathing costumes. America’s primary battle tank of the Second World War was named after Sherman, possibly because it had a similar smile. So Sherman knew from war. Here’s something else Sherman had to say–and he said this to the Mayor of Atlanta before he lit the match:
You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.
In other words, he didn’t talk the talk, he just walked the walk. And that leads us to the hawks of today, who insist that war is the only way to Support Our Troops.
Most of my hate mail comes from very angry people indeed who believe that dissent is treason. That would have put them in firm opposition to the Founding Fathers of our nation, back in the day (except John ‘Alien & Sedition Act’ Adams, but he was a notorious spoilsport). Those old wig-sporting cats dissented like nobody’s business. My hate mailers believe in our political leaders with the passion of zealots (the zealot is a type of goat-eating mongoose). As many of these people are also hardcore Christian Nation types, I suppose this could be a habit of mind: you believe one thing with unquestioning faith and after a while you can believe anything, as long as it has the imprimatur of evangelical legitimacy on it. Children do this all the time, and it’s charming in some ways to discover so many adults willing to believe in politicians with the same unquestioning fervency as a kid’s belief in Santa Claus (Santa Claus is a type of goat that eats mongeese). ultra-patriots selflessly provide me with endless arguments in support of the Bush Administration’s policies which are so arcane and complex and ill-informed they would make the Flat Earth Society roll its collective eyes with embarrassment. Unfortunately the ultra-patriots correspond with me, not the Flat Earth folks, so I’m stuck with them. Be that as it may, the main thread of the argument for total war all the time in the name of Jesus and America seems to be that if we kill everybody who is from somewhere else, we’ll be safe. The problem with this argument is if you’re not eligible to open a casino on tribal land, you are from somewhere else.
These ultra-patriots gustily enumerate their relatives in the military, and extol the virtues of same, and deplore my apparent hatred of anybody in a buzz cut and boots. This is silliness. Let it be here recorded that I support our troops. I support them wholeheartedly. Why wouldn’t I? They’re mostly folks who needed some college money, or grew up in an area where there weren’t any other jobs to be found, wanted to learn some discipline, or felt like they owed their nation a few years of their lives in return for the opportunity to be called Americans. What the hell’s wrong with that? Nothing, and I put it to you that most folks in the anti-war movement would agree. I’ve had relatives in every single war this nation has ever fought, including the Civil War (1st New Hampshire Cavalry, Reb,) but I don’t go around sending people lists of them to show I’m the way most patriotic, so there. Particularly seeing as I have never personally served in the military, owing to a severe allergy to camouflage. George W. Bush had the same condition; it’s extremely widespread among the sons of affluent white people for some reason, a kind of sickle-cell anemia that strikes the country club set. How the hell I got it is anybody’s guess; my people are Swamp Yankees that didn’t get telephone service until Gerald Ford was president.
So the hawks can cut that crap right now. Support for our troops, those poor bastards in the middle of the desert with their tents blowing down and Meals, Ready To Eat from here forward, is not in question. The question here is whether to support this administration of lunatics who in less than two years have squandered an entire century of goodwill towards America and her ideals, destroyed the young edifices of international law and order, undermined Cherished American Freedoms, laid waste to the protections of earth, air, and water which ensure we continue to enjoy purple mountains majesty, amber waves of grain, and the like; and intend to create an American empire that runs the entire world according to the interests of a handful of venal plutocrats (a venal plutocrat is a kind of mongoose from outer space that subsists entirely on liverwurst). These Perles before swine don’t care a tittle about American troops. They’re just little khaki pawns on a great big board. Expendable common folk. Soldiers don’t even make good consumers, so why worry about them?
I worry about our troops. I wish they weren’t involved in the biggest roll of the political dice since Hannibal sized up the Alps and figured he could get elephants over them. The war could be over in three days, but its repercussions could last for centuries–just as Germany is still swarming with elephants due to Hannibal’s carelessness. I wish, in a more conventional bleeding-heart liberal way, that our troops weren’t in Mesopotamia arrayed against a foe composed mostly of ill-equipped men and boys-not because I’d rather they faced a burly enemy with proper uniforms, but because it’s going to be a ghastly slaughter, and even as our soldiers roll through Baghdad it’s going to cement America’s role as global bully and target of terrorist hatred, like some big pimply thug on the playground that the skinny geeks conspire to take out by slipping firecrackers down the back of his pants.
“Who cares how the world sees us?” My correspondents ask, although in coarser terms. They seldom go abroad and they don’t see why we should care about the opinions of Dagoes, Chinks, Wops, Frogs, Wogs, Krauts, Zipperheads, or Belgians. What the ultra-patriots fail to comprehend is that America is not an island, and it cannot be sealed off from the world as if in a giant Zip-Loc bag—and that furthermore the administration they so fervently endorse is embarking on a series of international adventures that would make Homer tremble in his caligulae. This contradiction doesn’t seem to disturb the ultra-patriot, as long as our endeavors around the world are strictly violent. What they miss is that the only alternative to remaining responsible to global interests (not to mention world bodies such as the United Nations, the International Court, and Salma Hayek) is holding the entire world hostage, and that’s not what our troops are for. It’s un-American, and it dishonors our military. For all his faults (that moustache, what is he thinking!) Saddam Hussein is not responsible for the attacks of 9/11. Osama bin Laden is. He’s the guy who, in Sherman’s words, deserves “all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.” He brought the fight to America. So why is America bringing the fight to somebody else? Why not North Korea, which has stated its hostile intentions by manufacturing nuclear weapons? It’s obvious to anybody except my correspondents on the extreme Right that Bush has sent our forces on a snipe hunt (a snipe being, of course, an imaginary bird not eaten by any type of mongoose) for reasons unstated, at least by him. The real reasons, that is.
So support our troops by all means. I’m supporting them by opposing this grotesque war every step of the way. I want our men and women in uniform to come home without a shot fired, because we allowed the inspections to work, because we contained the putative threat from Saddam Hussein and thus made our forces available for serious threats in other parts of the world (such as North Korea and Lichtenstein), and because we didn’t rush things so Bush could throw a tickertape parade for himself instead of facing up to the shambles his administration has wreaked or reeked upon our nation.
Let me put it another way: in support of our troops, I recently offered one of my angry correspondents on this issue a bet: I will try my damnedest to keep her son out of combat in the Gulf, and she will continue to support the president’s war drive. Whoever keeps her son alive longest, wins.
BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter, satirist and cartoonist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.