Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mark Twain responds to President Obama on Afghanistan

I have seen some scoundrels in my day, but none smoother than Mr. Barack Obama - our President. It used to be when it was time to go to war, why we would just fire up the bands and make some big speeches about how our boys were going to whoop their boys and not make any bones about it. And we'd be sure to say that God was on our side, 'cause that made all the mothers feel better.

But nowadays I see you got this newfangled television thing and the President gets on and he's not talking about blowing them to smithereens. He's talking about how we're doin' it all for their own sakes. Well come to think of it, I heard much the same speech when they were sending the boys to the Philippines to kill the natives over there.

That was back in 1900. They didn't call them "terrrrist" back then, but it's all the same thing. I think they called them insurgents if I remember right. Doesn't really matter much what you call them. It just matters how you treat them.

Well those Filipinos didn't like being occupied any better than these Taleeban in Afghanistan do. They fought us tooth and nail. My point was that we didn't have any business bein' there in the first place. That's why we started the American Anti-Imperialist League.

Now all those politicians on Capitol Hill, well they just hated us. They kept objecting to the name. Said we should change it. Said they weren't imperialists because they weren't trying to create an Empire. Uh-huh we said. But we never changed the name. Because if you can't call a spade a spade, then how are you gonna explain to plain folks just what exactly is going on.

And I consider myself one of those plain folks. Sure I've been to Paris and London, but I'm still just a Connecticut Yankee. Always will be. And you can't sweet talk us. No sir. Why the British tried that in 1776 and we just didn't pay it any heed. Gave 'em a shot full of lead from our muskets is what we did. Guess they could understand that.

And then there was the Civil War where so many of our brothers died. What a terrible waste. The generals just couldn't kill off enough of our boys on both sides. Damn bloody mess. And what was the point of it all? Black people were hardly anymore free when it was over than they were before it began. Just killing for the sake of killing, if you ask me.

If you ask a General if he needs more troops, why the answer will always be yes. I've never met a General yet that didn't ask for more troops every chance he got. Gave them more options is what they'd say. Allowed 'em to fight on more fronts simultaneously. Got them all excited.

That way they could kill off more of our boys - simultaneously. Cause that's what Generals do generally. That's what they get trained to do in that there West Point. Why they take classes in it. Graduate with degrees in it. They learn to count up the acceptable casualties. Not men or boys mind you. Nope. Casualties. As if each one of them didn't have a mother or a wife. Or a daughter or a son.

And then there are the wounded. Damn nuisance those soldiers. Make a mess of the whole battlefield. And you can't tell the boys to just leave 'em behind because it would ruin the morale. That's what the Generals are taught at West Point. Have to keep up the morale.

And stay in command. An officer in the field has to maintain the command. You have to maintain discipline. Orders are orders.

So once you send those troops - those boys - over there, there's no turning back. Once they get shot at, they'll learn real fast to shoot back. And once one of their friends gets wounded or killed, well then the officers won't have to give them orders to kill anymore. More likely they'll have to make sure they don't start killing the women and children too.

Revenge is something that's part of a man's nature. Nobody needs to be taught that. Whole religions have been created to try to unteach it without much success.

It doesn't take a West Point graduate to figure out that revenge is the best motivator for a soldier. So the Generals send their troops out there into battle - in harms way. Knowing one or two of them will come back missing an arm or a leg, or paying "the ultimate sacrifice". And after that it's all you can do to keep them from going out there again and again.

That's how the soldiers are taught who the enemy is. The enemy's not their commanding officer who's putting them through hell, it's that other guy that's shooting at them from the other end of the field. From then on the boys are turned into some kind of brutes. It's kill or be killed.

And some of them, once they've tasted blood - well they get a liking for it. It becomes like a sport - hunting down their prey. And since we give them superior arms, they have the upper hand. So it's pretty much a turkey shoot once they get the hang of it.

And then there are the prisoners of war. Sure there are supposed to be rules of war, and codes of conduct. The only real code is the code of silence. You don't reveal the secrets to the outside world. They wouldn't understand anyway. How could they? They weren't there. They don't know what it feels like to see your best friend gunned down in front of your face, or to hold him in your arms as he bleeds to death.

There's no use trying to tell the story. You just had to be there. Damn it! You had to be there.

No, there is no noble war. There is no good war. There is just one war. The same one. The one that is fought over and over again. For what? Nobody knows. The generals don't know. "Ours is not to wonder why..."

War is like a giant infernal machine that once set into motion cannot be stopped. It swallows up our young men. It turns farmlands into battlefields. It gorges itself on the output of our industry. Like some old mangy dog, it remains just as hungry day after day - no matter how much you feed it.

The private. The corporal. The sergeant. The lieutenant. The major. The general. All have their orders in the great campaign.

One day those men will come home. Some of them at least. Tattered, torn. Shattered lives. To wives and mothers and daughters. To fathers and sons. Who will not recognize the boy that went away. Who will never know. Never know. They will seem distant, lost in their thoughts. A world away. Hearing bullets fly and cries of pain. The fierce thunder of artillery and the silence of the aftermath. The wild screaming emotions. The bitter pain. The brotherly love, the bond of friendship. The fear. The hatred. The unrestrainable passions.

The vows of loyalty, the unbreakable vows of secrecy and silence. The vows written in the blood of a fallen comrade.

The medals.  For heroism. For valor. For the wounded and the dead. In return for the unspoken promise to never tell the Truth. To hide with your silence the tears, the crying, the shame, the humiliation. The pain and fear. They wouldn't understand anyway.

A soldier's sacrifice goes far beyond the horrors of the battlefield. Long after the guns are silent. Long after the last goodbyes. The past echoes in the mind. Why? You had no choice. You did your duty. That is enough. It has to be enough. Because there will never be answers to these questions. And you will never get a second chance to save a life. These are things you will have to live with. And hope that time will fade these memories. And heal these wounds.

Time is a veteran's best friend.

And so President Obama. O Captain, my Captain. Now you know, if you didn't already.

There's no escaping the Truth. There's no running from it. When it comes to war. There are no good wars. Only inescapable wars. Wars of defense and necessity.

When it comes to foreign wars. There's just one kind. That's Imperial wars. Which is why we call our group the American Anti-Imperialist League. You can deny it all you want. It won't change the Truth.

You should at least have the courage to admit the Truth to the American People. They're not fools you know. They can see through your lies. And they'll hate you for it. They'll curse you like they would a stubborn old Missouri mule. And they won't forget either. Not even in their dreams.

Not even in their red, white and blue American Dreams.

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Joe said...

Good stuff Frank - We used to set an example for world wide 'democracy' then it became the duty of our military to 'spread the good word' -- Unprovoked aggression is sadly our calling card and has been for a while.

Frank Hope said...

Thanks Joe. I honestly had a lot of Hope for Obama. I was a long time cynic when it came to politics before his campaign came along. He was given a golden opportunity to invoke some real change in the system. By the time I realized that he was nothing but a Judas betrayer of the real dreams of the American people, I had already committed myself to get back actively in politics.

There is still an opportunity to use the lesson of Obama to teach people never to trust the leaders of the two party system, and to create an independent political movement.

As I was writing this article I felt like I was channeling the spirit of Mark Twain. There are some sentences that don't necessarily make the best sense to me, but that I felt compelled to write - as if guided by his spirit.

I also felt guided by the spirit of the men and women who have served in the military and are constantly haunted by the ghosts of war. I kept thinking of a documentary that was presented on Bill Moyers on this subject.