The authority of government...is still an impure one; to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right against my person and property but what I concede to it...Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it. --Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience," 1848
As a Marine mom who both hails from and married into strong military families, but who protested the Iraq war from the beginning, I spent several years in a very lonely place. I could not even discuss my fears about what I saw as war-mongering and media manipulating with my own husband without it erupting into loud arguments.
Most people assumed that because I was from a military family chock-full of combat vets and because, at the time, my own son was training to fight in that same war, that I would welcome an e-mail inbox crammed full of sentimental faux-patriotic forwards decorated with glittering waving flags and words like OUR HEROES!!!, interspersed with hate-filled diatribes attacking anyone who dared question this administration's smooth war-machine.
There were lengthy sobby poems about fallen Marines guarding the gates to Heaven with orders to DON'T DELETE! KEEP THIS GOING! SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!, and video montages filled with soaring music and slide-shows depicting troops doing things like passing out candy to smiling Iraqi children, and rambling lectures about how the Dixie Chicks were evil PASS THIS ON BECAUSE THE MEDIA WON'T COVER IT!!!!
For a year or so, I just deleted the messages without comment. I knew the people meant well. They thought they were being supportive.
But as the war collapsed under all the lies and as those same troops became bogged down and began dying in droves even as one beloved nephew deployed and my own son prepared to, I started protesting the e-mails, saying that, although I loved and was proud of my family warriors, I did not agree with the war, and that I was not a hippy-freak lefty-liberal Bush-bashing traitor because of it.
The response was usually shocked silence, or notes saying that they appreciated my family's service...followed by the implication--stated outright or hinted--that I was harming my son with my doubts and that I'd best keep them to myself.
Then, the forwards would resume. They continue, to this day.
It took my son's first deployment, in the harrowing Battle of Fallujah, and his post-deployment leave in which he raged his anguish at the disconnect between what the troops were seeing every day in battle and on patrol, and what they were seeing on news broadcasts and hearing in right-wing political rhetoric, for me to finally gain a measure of respect in my husband's eyes on this issue.
By that time, my son was angrily calling the war "a waste" and seriously questioning why troops were fighting and dying there. He did not want to go back. None of them want to go back after they've been once. But he, like most everyone else, had to, less than a year later.
Since I live in just about the most conservative area in the country (trust me; there are surveys), then everywhere I went, no matter who I spent time with, I was alone. I was alone with my family on visits and I was alone among friends. There were times in the early years, after a particularly bitter argument over the war with my husband of 34 years, that I would feel alone in my own bed.
As a writer, I felt urgency to use my skills and my voice to speak out to end this travesty, this horror. As time dragged on, I started hearing from active-duty troops and veterans who told me to keep speaking out, and from military families who feared speaking out because they did not want to jeopardize their loved one's career or get him or her in trouble. I worried about that, myself.
But my son said, "Keep speaking out. I don't give a damn what they do to me."
And so I did.
Recently, I read a book that gave me more courage than anything else I've read since the start of this long national nightmare: Dissent: Voices of Conscience, by Colonel (Ret) Ann Wright and Susan Dixon.
It seems that, all the time that this war was being cooked up, dressed up, and served up to the American people, there were voices of dissent crying out all across all levels of government. Both in this country and in Britain, brave souls risked--and lost--everything most people hold dear, from careers, professional standing, and reputation; to income, retirement pensions, and homes; to marriages and families; to sanity (there were several nervous breakdowns); and to, ultimately for some, suicide.
Career diplomats and high-ranking officers in the State Dept. and its British equivalent; top-level legal advisors in both countries, as well as national security whistle-blowers all fought from within the system to force truth upon criminally loyal sycophants and toadies who swallowed their souls in order to please the brass--and when all else failed, the rebels leaked documents to the press.
Military officers from across the ranks on both sides of the ocean struggled against superiors, questioned orders, were forced out for speaking out, or took early retirement so they could. Some retained command even though they vehemently disagreed with their orders--for the simple reason that they thought they might be able to protect the troops under them from some of the worst of the insanity from on high if they stayed on the job. As soon as they retired, they went loudly public.
More than FIFTY retired generals and admirals signed a number of letters sent to President Bush, on the question of torture, and on the war, urging a more sane policy on behalf of the troops. (Those letters and the names of the signees are included in the book.)
This is unprecedented in American history.
Understand--I do not include in this category those generals who trumpeted policy loud and clear all the way into the quagmire, THEN retired, THEN claimed that the mess was not their fault. There is a difference and you'd have to know the military to understand and recognize it when you saw it.
Also, we now know, according to an audit by the Justice Dept.'s inspector general, that scores of F.B.I. agents not only passionately objected to torture tactics they witnessed at Guantanamo Bay as early as 2002, took their objections up the chain of command, and refused to cooperate--but actually began a secret "war crimes" file documenting the abuses. (The NY Times and The Washington Post covered it, the Post editorial entitled "The Torture Scandal's Heroes."
From the beginning, there have been members of parliament as well as congresspeople and senators who've spoken out against this war even at risk of enraging their own parties and their own constituents and losing their own re-elections--Max Cleland, for one, who lost his re-election bid after being accused of being unpatriotic, even though he'd left three-quarters of his body behind in Vietnam.
Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel bucked his party, saying, "In my mind, patriotism is about asking tough questions, not avoiding them. It is unpatriotic NOT to question a government's policies before the first life is lost."
And in each instance, from the whistleblowers who paid for their integrity by enduring smear campaigns and professional murder at the hands of company-line bosses, (or faced criminal prosecution); to career diplomats who spoke out and paid for it by being stashed in some crummy outpost in a clerk-level job; to career military who left lives they absolutely loved because they could not in good conscience support an illegal, ill-planned, and ill-managed war; to journalists who put up with hate mail and death threats, (more about the journalists in my next post--not enough room here), and on and on...in each instance, they were at least as lonely as a Marine mom living in West Texas who struggled to find a balance between hating the war and loving the warriors.
But I was just lonesome--a small price to pay. These people (think Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame) were systematically and deliberately destroyed.
At least, the bastards TRIED to destroy them.
But it's a funny thing about truth.
Truth is immutable. Immovable. Indestructible.
You can cover it up with secrets and lies, layer over it with myths and fables, make a joke out of it, attack it as a lie, use it as a bludgeon.
But you cannot kill truth.
And even if those with the courage to speak the truth do not, in fact, survive the ordeal, the stark fact remains that truth does survive.
It survives, and it grows stronger and louder, until before long, there is no ignoring it.
THAT is democracy. THAT is freedom.
I don't need a glittery flag, soaring music, or sentimental poems to dress up my truth or my patriotism.
Truth stands alone.
And those who stand alone with it may be truly alone--at least in the beginning--but ultimately, they stand fearless.
"I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is strongest."--Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience," 1848
Read more at "Deanie's Blue Inkblots."