Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Generals' Private Pain

Behind the headlines, two swatches of news reflect a reality that tells us much about our moral lives today.

In Afghanistan, boys under 15 are collecting firewood when a U.S. helicopter swoops down to kill nine of them. Gen. Petraeus says, "These deaths should have never happened.”

Meanwhile, another high-ranking General talks about losing his son there and the bitterness he had expressed days later.

"Their struggle is your struggle," Gen. John Kelly had told an audience. "If anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for their service, and not support the cause for which they fight--our country--these people are lying to themselves...slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to this nation."

Now, in a Washington Post interview, Gen. Kelly, who is Defense Secretary Gates' senior assistant, recalls the "unimaginable" pain of his son's death and offers another perspective--that he is opposed to indifference, not dissent:

"(I)f you are against the war, you should somehow try to change it. Fight to bring us home."

His emotions recall a 1942 story by Irwin Shaw, "Preach on the Dusty Roads," about a man who, after seeing his son off to fight in World War II, is overwhelmed with remorse that he hadn't been out begging people everywhere to prevent or stop it.

That story had come to mind in 1968 as many of us were criss-crossing Indiana urging people to vote for Sen. Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic primary to express their desire to bring other people's sons home from Vietnam.

Today, polls show that most Americans don't approve of what we are doing in Afghanistan, but they have no way to show what they feel or to "fight to bring us home."

As eyes are glued to a struggle to bring down a corrupt tyrant in Libya, Americans by their silence are endorsing the deaths of other people's sons and grandsons in a decade-long effort to prop up another in Afghanistan.

All "these deaths never should have happened," to broaden Gen. Petraeus' apology, but are we helpless to keeping them from going on?

1 comment:

Octopus said...

I remember 1968. I was one of those "clean for Gene" kids, and I also recall Nixon's "secret plan" to end the Vietnam war. The plan was so secret, the war lingered for another 6 disastrous years. Yet, here we are again ... two generations later ... talking of Afghanistan. Do I dare eat a peach?