January 20, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     I listened to President Bush's inaugural speech on 
my car radio and noticed how often he used the word 
"freedom." As always, he sounded confident that this 
abstraction, freedom, is what America stands for and is 
fighting for in Iraq. He seemed to feel no need to define 
his terms or explain his reasons. He simply asserted that 
our freedom depends on the freedom of the rest of the 

     Afterward there was a lot of commentary on the 
speech, not very enlightening. The best response to it 
was a piece that was actually written some time before 
the speech was given. I read it when I reached home.

     It was an article in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE by my 
old friend Fred Reed. Fred writes often on military 
matters, with special sympathy for the soldier. He now 
lives deep in central Mexico, because he dislikes what 
this country has become, and he has found a lovely town 
that reminds him of the America he grew up in. He's also 
one of the best and funniest writers in the business, but 
his latest is serious, and few of his pieces have made me 
shudder as this one does.

     He begins by observing that media coverage of the 
Iraq war seldom allows us to hear from our troops -- 
particularly the wounded. They are off the screen, 
"throwaway people." As far as most of us are concerned, 
they may as well not exist.

     "Yet they are there, somewhere, with missing legs, 
blind, becoming accustomed to groping at things in their 
new darkness, learning to use the wheelchairs that will 
be theirs for 50 years. Some face worse fates than 
others. Quadriplegics will be warehoused in VA hospitals 
where nurses will turn them at intervals, like 
hamburgers, to prevent bedsores. Friends and relatives 
will soon forget them. Suicide will be a frequent 
thought. The less damaged will get around.

     "For a brief moment perhaps the casualties will 
believe, then try desperately to keep believing, that 
they did something brave and worthy and terribly 
important for that abstraction, country. Some will expect 
thanks. But there will be no thanks, or few, and those 
quickly forgotten. It will be worse. People will ask how 
they lost the leg. In Iraq, they will say, hoping for 
sympathy, or respect, or understanding. The response, 
often unvoiced but unmistakable, will be, 'What did you 
do =that= for?' The wounded will realize that they are 
not only crippled, but freaks.

     "The years will go by. Iraq will fade into the mist. 
Wars always do. A generation will rise for whom it will 
be just history. The dismembered veterans will find first 
that almost nobody appreciates what they did, then that 
few even remember it. If -- when, many would say -- the 
United States is driven out of Iraq, the soldiers will 
look back and realize that the whole affair was a fraud. 
Wars are just wars. They seem important at the time. At 
any rate, we are told that they are important.

     "Yet the wounds will remain. Arms do not grow back. 
For the paralyzed there will never be girlfriends, 
dancing, rolling in the grass with children. The blind 
will adapt as best they can. Those with merely a missing 
leg will count themselves lucky. They will hobble about, 
managing to lead semi-normal lives, and people will say, 
'How well he handles it.' An admirable freak. For others 
it will be less good. A colostomy bag is a sorry 
companion on a wedding night.

     "These men will come to hate. It will not be the 
Iraqis they hate. This we do not talk about.

     "It is hard to admit that one has been used.... 
[Some of these men] will remember that their vice 
president, a man named Cheney, said that during his war, 
the one in Asia, he 'had other priorities.' The veterans 
will remember this when everyone else has long since 
forgotten Cheney."

     The article ends: "They don't hate America. They 
hate those who sent them. Talk to the wounded from Iraq 
in five years."

     There doesn't seem much to add to that. But I think 
I'll recall Fred's words a lot longer than the 


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