“He’s a deployable asset just like any other soldier in that unit.”
So said Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, spokesman for the Delaware National Guard, when asked if Mr. Beau Biden, soon to be sent to Iraq, would be treated differently than other Guardsman. Mr. Biden is the son of Democratic presidential candidate wannabe Senator Joseph Biden and currently serves as the Delaware Attorney General. The younger Mr. Biden, we are told, is a ‘deployable asset,’ similar, one might think, to a tank, Humvee or rocket-launcher.
One wonders what additional evidence is needed to prove that the warmongers of the Bush administration do not see or care about the individual soldiers forced to do their killing. A brief history, going back no further than the start of this abominable war, produces overwhelming evidence.
On March 17 2003, Mr. Bush advised the U.N. to remove the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who had been searching for six months throughout Iraq for the weapons of mass destruction that the president and his minions proclaimed they ‘knew’ were there. The inspectors had to depart, he said, because his invasion was imminent. One must wonder why he was so determined to invade. The weapons inspectors were doing their job, gaining unprecedented access to areas of Iraq where they had previously been forbidden. What was the danger to the United States of allowing them to proceed? With 130,000 U.S. soldiers stationed at Iraq’s borders, what was the threat to the U.S? Had the inspectors been allowed to complete their job it must be remembered that no such weapons have been found in the four years since the war started the war could have been avoided. Why, one longs to ask Mr. Bush, did he send over 100,000 Americans to start a war when it was far from necessary? Since the invasion, nearly 4,000 Americans have died, tens of thousands have suffered life-altering injuries, the death toll of Iraq’s citizens climbs towards or exceeds one million, and millions more have been displaced. Yet Mr. Bush, with Congress acting as his all-to-willing accomplice, callously jeopardized the lives of these Americans, to say nothing of the Iraqis, in a war that was clearly unnecessary, regardless of how loosely the term ‘just war’ may be defined.
As he rushed American soldiers to war, Mr. Bush did not have sufficient compassion to protect them properly. It is difficult to forget the question of Army Spc. Thomas Wilson to the then Defense Secretary, the grossly incompetent and unspeakably arrogant Donald Rumsfeld, on December 9 2004: “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” There was no imminent danger in Iraq; if Mr. Bush was determined to invade in order to possess Iraq’s oil, certainly he could have waited until the soldiers had adequate protection.
The callousness with which it seems Mr. Bush holds the lives of soldiers struggling to do their best for the United States is incredible. On July 2 2003, less than two months after his disgraceful ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech, as it became painfully apparent to the entire world that whatever mission Mr. Bush set out to achieve in Iraq was far from accomplished, he said this: “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on.” And as Iraq’s citizens have responded to Mr. Bush’s arrogant challenge, thousands of Americans have died. The president, of course, remains in the safety of the White House, while dedicated soldiers bleed and die.
In December of 2006, Mr. Bush toured a part of Washington D.C.’s showcase veteran’s hospital, the Walter Reed Medical Center. He visited several patients as a photo-op that he’s made a Christmas-time tradition since his invasion of Iraq. At that time he said the following: “We owe them all we can give them. Not only for when they’re in harm’s way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service.”
Less than two months later the world was shocked when the horrific conditions at Walter Reed were exposed. Injured veterans were left to languish in roach-infested rooms with rotting ceilings and black mold on the walls. Their records were often misplaced or lost altogether. Some, unable to walk the distance to the facility’s cafeteria, choose instead to purchase food from closer restaurants and stores in the crime-ridden area of the city where the hospital is located.
Mr. Bush, while proclaiming that the problems at Walter Reed were ‘administrative and bureaucratic,’ still pledged to remediate them. Following a media tour of one of the worst of the buildings a few days after the first news stories about conditions appeared, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army’s Surgeon General commented: “I do not consider Building 18 to be substandard.” Building 18, it must be remembered, was one of the worst buildings identified. Mr. Kiley continued: “We needed to do a better job on some of those rooms, and those of you that got in today saw that we frankly have fixed all of those problems. They weren’t serious, and there weren’t a lot of them.”
Mr. Kiley could happily report to Mr. Bush that a few cans of paint slapped against some walls covered the black mold, and certainly a broom and vacuum cleaner could resolve the mouse dropping and dead cockroach problems, at least long enough for the television cameras to rush through.
Perhaps this was all unknown to Mr. Bush; if one wishes to be extremely lenient, one might say that he believed all was well at Walter Reed until shown differently. If that had been the case, and if Mr. Bush really believed that ‘We owe them all we can give them,’ then one would think he would not rest until the heads responsible for those deplorable conditions had rolled and the facility received all the funding required to bring it to the level deserved by the suffering soldiers. Perhaps the expenditures on the Iraq war preclude that level of financing for the hospital that services its American victims.
It seems that to Mr. Bush, the soldiers he has so callously sent and continues to send to suffer and die in his war of choice are not human beings, people with hopes and dreams, people who feel love, pain, sorrow and the entire range of human emotions which the president seems to be lacking. They are, apparently, ‘deployable assets.’ After all, what does one do with other deployable assets, say for example, tanks, after they have been damaged? Perhaps some can be repaired: it is easier to replace a metal part than it is an arm or leg. Badly damaged tanks can, perhaps, be used for scrap, but generally they are simply discarded, like the soldiers at Walter Reed. Tanks, however, do not bleed, cry or suffer. They do not have anguished loved ones trying their best to soothe them, to force an indifferent and uncaring government to provide some relief from the suffering their soldier is experiencing. But it seems to Mr. Bush that one ‘deployable asset’ holds the same value as another.
With each war some people look for its lessons; one of the main lessons sought from each is how to prevent the next. But for others, like the Bushes and Cheneys of this world, war is a game played from a safe distance and without any personal risk. Today Iraq is their chessboard, with American soldiers and Iraqi citizens the expendable pawns.
As long as such people are allowed to run governments, with the complicity of a Congress more interested in creating sound bytes reusable in a future campaign than in demonstrating anything even distantly related to statesmanship, more and more ‘deployable assets’ will be wasted. And for some, the end will not be a scrap heap; for some, the end will be a tear-stained casket lowered into the ground.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘