Which version of history…

I’ve been pretty silent in the past several days. I’m tired. I’m worn out by listening to the media fall all over itself to congratulate Karl Rove. While I acknowledge that it certainly seems like Rove chose a brilliant strategy to re-elect G.W. Bush, I’m not at all pleased with the outcome, and listening to people praise this feat just seems a bit like congratulating an executioner for having a swift and true blade.

I’ve also been trying to find historical context for what has happened with this election. So, in an historical mindset already I got the text below forwarded to me on a email list I subscribe to. It seemed very appropriate on this Veteran’s Day.

‘Is it “sweet and honorable” to die for your country?’ by Jim Babka

Veteran’s Day always saddens me. It _is_ noble to honor bravery and supreme sacrifice in a righteous cause. But have our politicians always sacrificed youth for good purposes? On Veteran’s Day we pretend that they have.

The Roman poet Horace once wrote, “It is sweet and honorable to die for your country.” But he was an apologist for the Roman war machine, and I doubt that death felt sweet to young Romans lying disemboweled on foreign battle fields.

What can we say – what can we do – for those who died in unjust wars?

The Department of Defense estimates that 1.2 million Americans have died in service to their country since the Revolutionary War. Another 1.4 million have been wounded – some of those maimed. In some of these wars, it could be argued that freedom was at stake, that our nation needed to be defended. But in most cases, the wars were avoidable, and were about things other than our liberty. Do we really honor the dead by pretending otherwise, or do we merely increase the likelihood that more young men will die to no purpose in the future. For me the answer is clear.

* We need to be honest about our wars.
* We need to acknowledge that many have died in vain.
* And we need to work to prevent such tragedies in the future.

At the turn of the century we fought the Spanish to give ourselves an imperial colony in the Philippines, and an economic dependency in Cuba. The men who died in that war, died for an ignoble cause.

In World War I we intervened on the side of imperial Britain and France against imperial Germany. There was no great moral issue involved in that war. The Americans who died in it, died in vain. In fact, our intervention may even have helped pave the way for the Bolsheviks in Russia, and later on, Hitler.

We were told that South Vietnam had to be saved from North Vietnam, or the communists would roll to victory in the entire region. But communism failed in spite of the fact that we lost in Vietnam. The Americans who died in that war died in vain.

Since then we have fought a war with Iraq to restores fat sheiks to their thrones in Kuwait. Now we are fighting another war there that we were led into under false pretenses.

Clearly, when it comes to war, our politicians get it wrong more often than they get it right. And young men lost their lives for no good purpose. Let us shed the Orwellian pretense. The dead and wounded may have been noble in their bravery, but their deaths were unnecessary – too high a price to pay for a cause that was questionable at best.


Anytime you lose a loved one, you search for meaning. “Why did they have to die?” It is easier to accept death if you can find a meaning for it. This is true even if the death didn’t happen on the battlefield.

My 37-year-old mother was killed by a drunk driver when I was 10. Even at that age I searched for meaning in my loss. And I found purposes that comforted me. Less than two years ago, I lost my father to a short illness that seemed to come out of nowhere. He was only 64. Again, I sought meaning – something to redeem a bad situation.

It may seem cruel to deny meaning to those who’ve lost loved ones in war. But I am not doing that. Instead, I am trying to replace a fraudulent source of meaning with a truthful one. It will give true meaning to the death of those lost in mistaken wars if we resolve to never let it happen again.

Too many good young men (and women), with their own dreams, plans, hopes, and ambitions, as well as their own families, friends, wives/girlfriends, and children, are being sent to die. They’re not dying to keep us free. They’re not dying for their country. They’re dying for the ambitions and plans of politicians in a quest to create a Brave New World.

It’s even possible some of these politicians mean well, but their intentions must not be allowed to replace the intentions of the young people who die in their wars.


Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz believed Iraqis would embrace us as liberators. George Bush has said he still expects that to happen – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Their intentions are good, but the results are not.

Wolfowitz and Bush didn’t trust the generals who said it would take 500,000 troops to do the job. Instead, they thought our good intentions would be enough to win over the Iraqis. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Government contractors supply the pavement, while policy wonks who’ve never served a day in battle supply the sales pitch.

Will the future be any better than the past? Not if history is any guide. When politicians go to war they usually get it wrong, and young men die for no purpose, while the American people engage in a game of “let’s play pretend,” to give false meaning to their losses.

If only John Kerry, the presidential candidate, had been as wise as John Kerry the returning Vietnam War veteran. He asked the right question back then: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

I want to suggest that the proper way to celebrate Veteran’s Day is to ask that question.
Bring the troops home and keep them here. Be pro-life and put an end to the perpetual war for perpetual peace. Have them march in a parade. That’s much sweeter than, and just as honorable as having a wreath laid on your grave.

And which of the dead wouldn’t prefer to be doing that on this 11th day of the 11th month?

—–Jim Babka is the President of the Downsize DC Foundation (DownsizeDC.com) and DownsizeDC.org, Inc.

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