was a popular song during the first World War.
Its title was "Over There." It encouraged young
men to "get your gun" and "make your mother proud
of you." It told the world "the Yanks are coming
. . . and we won't come back till it's over over
for most of us, war is indeed, "over there." It
arrives only in green-screen TV reports and controlled
press briefings and presidential photo ops that
say "Mission Accomplished." Some of us would like
to keep it that way.
last week, when images of flag-draped coffins
appeared on the Internet, many complained.
when USA Today ran photos of 116 U.S. soldiers
who died last month in Iraq, many complained again.
Ted Koppel, host of "Nightline," devoted his program
Friday to simply listing names of all U.S. soldiers
killed in this conflict, critics screamed he was
when photos emerged of naked Iraqi detainees,
bent in horrible, sexually suggestive poses, while
a U.S. soldier smiled and pointed nearby, critics
yelled this was undermining our national interest.
Since when was our national interest to stick
our heads in the sand?
first rule of war is young people die. As we coddle
ourselves more and more in this country, we seem
to believe that, through enough talk or "American
Idol" distraction, we can make death go away.
can't. When I hear people compare this war to
Vietnam, I shudder, not because both didn't have
some misguided perceptions, but because in that
war, everyone's son was a potential soldier. We
had a draft. If you were 18, you could be going
-- no matter what you thought.
we scream louder and have less on the line. Who's
really fighting this war for us? Young men and
women, mostly poor to middle class, largely minorities.
We're very quick to urge they go over there and
stick a boot in some Arab's behind, but we don't
want to know when they come back in a body bag.
remember once hearing of some students who decided,
on a Friday night, to begin counting the Jews
killed in the Holocaust. Not their names. Just
counting, one number for every victim, from one
to six million. They counted into the evening,
through the morning, through the day, through
the next morning. They stopped on Sunday night
-- and hadn't even reached 300,000.
when you start to realize what "over there" is
of the military
on anyone who hides behind "national security"
or "respect to the families" as reasons for shielding
the real costs of war, namely human life. Most
military families I know want the world to know
of their loss, and the pride they have in their
fallen loved ones.
as most of them want atrocities brought to light.
And when our people -- be they soldiers, intelligence,
FBI, CIA or whatever -- start torturing and humiliating
Iraqis in the same building that Saddam Hussein
used to do it, they are no better than him. And
they deserve no protection.
Hersh, the investigative reporter who broke the
My Lai massacre story three decades ago -- another
ugly incident no one initially wanted to hear
about -- was asked what should be done about this
latest apparent transgression.
may be a dirty word to the current administration.
It isn't to real Americans. It is the essence
of who we are. We can face the truth. We believe
in the truth. And the truth is our kids are dying
in this war and so are a lot of others'. They
have faces. They have families. And now some have
are facts. Not right or left. Facts. Do with them
what you will. But until we stop thinking of war
as "over there," we will never take full ownership
of who we are over here.
Posted: May 4, 2004