Well, Saddam Hussein is dead. I’m sure the countless families of the people he tortured and murdered are rejoicing. The world is well rid of him, that’s for sure. But does that mean I think we had any business invading Iraq in the first place or that his execution is going to lead to anything positive in this insane war? Not hardly.
Instead of thinking about Saddam Hussein’s depraved legacy, I’d rather point you to a voice that should be heard far and wide—the articulate comments of a woman who is very much against the war but whose Marine son is currently serving in one of the most dangerous parts of Iraq. I can’t even imagine how I’d be coping if my only child were part of this nightmare. I try to put myself in Donna’s shoes when I think about what she’s going through on a daily basis, but I’m quite aware that any anxieties I have about my daughter pale in comparison to what this Marine mother must be feeling, especially when she is so ideologically opposed to our government’s actions.
I first hooked up with my old high school friend Donna Anton about a year ago when we started talking about planning our 30th reunion. Donna had found me through this blog, and I enjoyed reconnecting. She was now living in Cornwall, England, and I surmised that her decision to leave the States was due in no small part to George Bush’s re-election. I had always enjoyed Donna's cynical sense of humor, even more so as an adult. I was interested in her take on the situation in Iraq and intrigued to learn about the very different leanings of her 20-year-old son who felt it was his duty to serve his country in this conflict.
Last month Donna began her excellent blog called Mother Courage in which she shares her growing impatience with the Bush administration as well as her heartrending feelings about her beloved son’s decision to participate in this debacle. Donna has had several letters published in The New York Times and elsewhere, but I am grateful that she now has a regular forum for her views.
In her first post on her blog, Donna wrote:
The fact that my son is in Iraq has turned the world as I knew it upside down. On good days I’m a complete basket case; on bad days I clearly understand why people turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the terror, to take the edge off the stress, to dull the ache. Unfortunately, save for the magic of triptans for migraines, I am almost irrationally drug-averse.
Living with fear of loss is a terrible thing, one step before loss itself. My fear is mixed with rage, as my letters make clear. I am furious at the Bush administration for sacrificing almost 3,000 young lives over an ideology mixed with back-room politics that led to a bungled invasion and an ill-planned war.
At this point, with Iraq still on the brink of civil war, I only hope for my son to come home alive. But until he does, I thought that writing more regularly for the next four or five months about being an atypical Marine mom might quell my frequent anxiety attacks. I call myself atypical because while I’m proud of my son’s independent thinking in deciding to delay university for a stint in the Marines, not to mention his youthful patriotism, his determination to get through the rigours of boot camp and the courage to face combat, I don’t share the typical Marine parent’s knee-jerk “God bless my child the Marine and God bless America!” attitude. I don’t pray, and I’m angry with America right now. (None too thrilled with Tony Blair’s Britain either.)
Before Christmas, Donna bemoaned George Bush’s decision to wait until after the holidays to decide what should be done in Iraq.
Translation: “Merry Christmas, all you military families out there somewhere with pits in your stomachs the size of the Grand Canyon, surviving one day at a time as news about your soldiers and marines being injured or killed in my disaster of a war continues as it has for four years, which is to say getting worse and worse. I got better things to do.”
Donna did hear from her son on Christmas. This is a photo that he took of his friend with the barracks Christmas tree in Camp Fallujah, Iraq. She was grateful for her son’s phone call, but it could only do so much to allay her fears:
Needless to say, after being unable to avoid the continuing grim news out of Iraq—three U.S. soldiers killed on Saturday, three more this morning—I’m comforted to know that my son is OK—for now—but as anxious as ever over his continued safety as well as the “additional sacrifices,” as George W. Bush calls the inevitable future casualties, yet to come. This is quite aside from the despair and anguish I feel for the soldiers’ families who received the ultimate tragic news this Christmas weekend.
As The Guardian reported via AP this morning, the military deaths in Iraq have now exceeded the 9/11 death toll:
“In a span of a few hours, 2,973 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In a span of 45 months, the number of American troops killed in Iraq exceeded that grim toll as the war continues.
The milestone in Iraq came on Christmas, nearly four years after the war began, according to a count by The Associated Press. In announcing the Monday deaths of three soldiers, the toll from those fighting the war surpassed the toll from those killed by terrorists in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.”
The article goes on to describe the deaths of three young kids who, like my son, enlisted in response to the 9/11 attacks:
Jonathan Lootens, from upstate New York, joined the Army. “This is something I have to do,” he told family members. The 25-year-old sergeant was killed during his second tour of duty when a roadside bomb went off near his vehicle in the city of Kirkuk.
Marine Lance Cpl. John Edward Hale was only 15 and living in Louisiana when the planes hit the World Trade Center, but he never forgot what happened. He joined the Marines after graduating high school last year, and was only in Iraq for three months when he was killed by a roadside bomb.
Michael Glover joined the Marines after his boyhood neighborhood—the Belle Harbor section of Queens, N.Y.— lost several residents in the Sept. 11 attacks. Glover was killed by a sniper while on patrol in Fallujah.
Any of these could be my son. What’s more, I know I’m deluding myself into thinking that if he can just get through this tour of duty—if he can survive the next three months—all will be put right: my sanity will return, I’ll sleep again through the night, my family will remember that I can converse about topics besides Iraq, and I can take a break from blogging.
But the tragic upshot is that kids are being killed on their second or third tour, after they’ve already risked their lives for Bush’s war of choice. And if Bush, who is deluded, gets his way, if Congress capitulates to his bunker-mentality demands, and Iraq is flooded with a “surge” of “fresh” U.S. troops, it means kids on their fourth or fifth tour, decades before they deserve to, will have one more crack at meeting Charon.
Read more of Donna’s thoughts on her blog and try to imagine how you’d feel if your child were stationed in Iraq on this last day of 2006.