VIDEO: From Here to Eternity

I was born in red state Missouri and raised on John Wayne. I grew up on war
movies. Lots of them. Maybe it was just that my family, by the time I came along
which was very late in the game, had some experience with sending their men
off to war, including uncles and cousins. My dad didn't get to go to war* (see note below), something
I always believed bothered him, though I really never knew my dad very well.
But before I lived through the Vietnam era, I saw war through the movies. It
was the lens by which I learned the nobility of this sacrifice. A lot has changed
through the years.

There's “From Here to Eternity,” a very small part of which I've captured for you to watch
today.

But my favorite is Otto Preminger's “In Harm's Way.” This is a classic
quick clip of Wayne blowing
his lines
while doing a scene with Patricia Neal.

There's also “Command Decision,” with Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon.

Modern war movies include “Saving
Private Ryan,”
but also “Platoon,”
a movie that haunts you long after seeing it. Both movies taking war into the
realm of the real.

Obviously, I can't name them all.

There is death and destruction in all of the war movies, but also great heroism
and purpose, along with sacrifice and sorrow. But something else, the possibility
of victory and the obligatory parade for those who have fought. If there is
anything that is lacking today in what our soldiers are experiencing in Iraq
it's that the lack of purpose for America and the reality that the mission has long ago
been obliterated, with “victory” an illusive mission on some forward date
ten years out. This curse of fighting wars Congress doesn't declare has been
around for decades, but from Vietnam into Iraq we have continued to repeat lessons
we long ago should have learned.

The worst thing a commander in chief can do is put men and women in harm's way,
then lose the mission on which we have sent them to fight. “Freedom”
doesn't cut it because we've got it and if the Iraqis are to have it they must take
it for themselves. It's the very nature of being free. WMDs long ago vanished
in the president's pre-war propaganda. Bringing democracy to Iraq was a joke,
because that is something that has to rise up from the public. The urge was
never there in Iraq, because the region is shackled to yesterday's feuds. We're fighting
“terrorists” is always used, then overused, but our soldiers are in
the middle of it so they're not easily fooled.

The nobility of war has been lost through Vietnam and Iraq, the necessity of fighting very hard for many to grasp, but without
a righteous cause and a valiant call to arms war gets worse and just becomes a bunch of shooting,
death, dismemberment, psychological cracking, and unending expense that costs
the warring countries their very souls.

Frank Rich (subscription
required
) said something yesterday that rightly puts us squarely in the center of the fierce storm that will rage whether we stay or leave.

The new White House policy, as Zbigniew Brzezinski has joked, is “blame
and run.” It started to take shape just before the midterm elections
last fall, when Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memo (propitiously leaked after his defenestration)
suggesting that the Iraqis might “have to pull up their socks, step
up and take responsibility for their country.” By January, Mr. Bush
was saying that “the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt
of gratitude” and wondering aloud “whether or not there is a gratitude
level that’s significant enough in Iraq.” In February, one of
the war’s leading neocon cheerleaders among the Beltway punditocracy
lowered the boom. “Iraq is their country,” Charles Krauthammer
wrote. “We midwifed their freedom. They chose civil war.” Bill
O’Reilly and others now echo this cry.

The message is clear enough: These ungrateful losers deserve everything that’s
coming to them. The Iraqis hear us and are returning the compliment. Whether
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is mocking American demands for timelines and
benchmarks, or the Iraqi Parliament is setting its own timeline for American
withdrawal even while flaunting its vacation schedule, Iraq’s nominal
government is saying it’s fed up. The American-Iraqi shotgun marriage
of convenience, midwifed by disastrous Bush foreign policy, has disintegrated
into the marriage from hell.

This is the second time in my lifetime we've walked into a country and blown
it apart. Good intentions aren't enough when whole countries are obliterated.
Bush was at the helm, but it's Congress who declares war, though that once great
institution long ago forgot that charge. So here we sit amidst the slaughter
of our own making yet again.

But the story of this war is not being told, at least not in visuals.

Photographs and other images of casualties have always been a delicate matter and most media outlets have shown restraint, particularly with pictures of the dead. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the ground commander in Iraq whose own son was seriously wounded in action, is said by reporters to be particularly alert to the depictions of casualties.

Working reporters say the soldiers in the field are not overly concerned with media coverage — they have more serious matters in their gunsights. The journalists also suggest that the current regulations have allowed the military to take concerns for the privacy of soldiers and their families and leverage them into broader constraints on information.

Not to See the Fallen Is No Favor

Bush and the Republicans have indeed midwifed a new type of war; this one fought
on slogans and hyperbole, fear and fiction. If, or maybe I should say when the
movie is written and produced it won't look anything like “From Here to
Eternity,” though the title certainly fits.

TM NOTE: My big brother read this post and sent me an email on my dad. My brother, sister and I are so spread out in age that there is much of our family history that is sketchy to me, which I've been trying to paste together for decades. This is what he wrote. It's news to me, so I thought I'd share it. It's amazing what you learn about your parents and your family as time goes by. I only hope I can put it all together before it's too late.

Read your blog and didn't know if you knew why Dad didn't serve in the military. He was working at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, an essential industry, during the war and they wouldn't accept him in the service because he was needed at Boeing. At least, that's what I was always told and have no reason not to believe.