With apologies to the Bard: To die or not to die? That is the question for young Americans in the post-Selective Service era. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the IEDs and RPGs of outrageous lunatics or to take arms against a sea of insurgents and, by opposing, feed Dick Cheney's blood lust.
In a stroke of ironic tragedy, one of the most recent victims of a roadside bombing in Iraq was 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar, who was killed in Anbar Province last week. If you don't recognize Staff Sgt. Plouhar's name, watch Fahrenheit 9/11 again. He is one of two Marine recruiters filmed at a mall in Flint, Mich., trying to talk poor kids into joining the Corps. I would crack a joke, but there's nothing funny about that.
I did some checking. To date, the U.S. has lost 2,538 service men and women in Iraq. Of those, all but 137 have died since May 1, 2003, when W landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared "mission accomplished." That's nearly 2,400 soldiers, sailors and Marines who have up and died after we accomplished our mission (whatever that was). We might ought to un-accomplish that booger right quick.
Regrettably, we don't know how many Iraqis have been killed in the war because, as Gen. Tommy Franks told us a few years ago, "We don't do body counts," but the best estimates put the number of dead civilians at around 40,000. Altogether, the number of people killed in the war in Iraq is roughly equivalent to the population of La Mesa.
The troops in Iraq are fighting a war without battle lines against enemies they cannot recognize, in a land in which they are not wanted, with insufficient armament and unclear rules of engagement. So why have opponents of the war stopped comparing this war to our 12-year sojourn in Vietnam? It must be because Cheney and Don Rumsfeld insist so vehemently that Iraq is not Vietnam. Jack Kennedy's people were firmly convinced that Vietnam was not Vietnam. It doesn't matter what you call it. You can call a mule a horse. It still won't win the Derby.
With all the evidence in and facing the obvious certainty that the U.S. cannot achieve its objectives in Iraq, cannot establish order, cannot keep its troops alive, cannot provide for public safety and cannot even tell the truth, one scratches one's head in wonder at the dearth of outrage. Where is the hue and cry? Where are the protesters? Where are the sit-ins? Where is Abby Hoffman? Where, for that matter, is Walter Cronkite?
During the Tet Offensive, Cronkite said on the CBS News that in his opinion the war in Vietnam had become "unwinnable," prompting Lyndon Johnson to remark, "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Shortly afterward, Johnson dropped out of the 1968 presidential race. I sure wish Cronkite would give W a call. I would settle for Dan Rather. Even Bob Schieffer would do. But Katie Couric? Come now.
That's the root of the problem. Forty years ago, the nightly news reported on what we needed to know. Today, it reports on what we want to know. And what most of us want to know, apparently, is that the vice president shot a millionaire in the face and a family of hamsters from New Orleans got a new home. I have some 900 cable channels and at any given time there's nothing important or even relevant on any of them. The late Neil Postman foresaw this, but few of us paid attention to him.
In his foreword to Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness, Postman touches on the different but equally chilling glimpses of the future offered by George Orwell in 1984 and Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. In Postman's words:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.... In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Now, I'm not certain that Orwell's Big Brother is a pure fiction. I wouldn't put anything past the Pentagon. But of the two scary versions of the future, Huxley's probably comes closer to smack on. We have no real, effective, cohesive outcry against Washington's heedless policy of attacking first and sorting out facts later because we are complacent, distracted boobs content with the Food Network and movies about cowpokes who poke more than cows.
For some time now I have thought that eventually, when the number of dead and mutilated starts to climb, the American public will get fed up and start agitating for some immediate change. Well, God damn it, 2,538 is enough. We need to start paying attention to the war all day, every day, and we need to stop caring about gay marriage, undocumented immigrants and flag burning. We need to turn off Lost and actually do something, anything. We have a responsibility to oppose wanton violence on a massive scale and to challenge the power that has unleashed carnage on an entire region.
Or we could all just go to the orgy porgy. I don't think Staff Sgt. Plouhar would mind.
Tony Phillips blogs at www.fifthavenuegazette.com. Write to fifthavenuegazette[at]yahoo[dot]com and editor[at]SDcitybeat[dot]com.