Many ex-soldiers work for peace, but the majority still believes in war. Even the war in Iraq
From our correspondent
After what theyíve seen at the front, many soldiers soften their positions. They
may have lost several friends, they have had to kill, and sooner or later they
are bound to ask themselves whether war is pointless or positively destructive.
Some enroll in the battle for peace, uniting in associations with unmistakable
names: Veterans for Peace, Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Common Sense
are a few of them. But a soldier often remains a soldier in spirit, accustomed
to obedience and inclined to believe that his president is acting for the benefit
of the nation. Thus, even though pacifist soldiers might make the news once in
a while, most ex-combatants support the ongoing conflict, and the same is true
for the current war in Iraq.
"The war in Iraq? Itís going extremely well, for sure," Arnold Graham says with
certainty. Heís a robust veteran of Korea and Vietnam. We are at Arlington National
Cemetery, just across the Potomac River from Washington DC. It is the last Monday
in May, Memorial Day, a holiday second only to Independence Day on July 4 for
the demonstration of American patriotism. The United States shuts down for a day
to remember all the fallen in Americaís wars and to express gratitude to those
who have served their country. In Arlington alone lie the mortal remains of more
than 260,000 soldiers; today, every single tombstone displays a US flag. Every
Memorial Day, thousands of veterans come here to lay wreaths at the tombs of friends,
fathers, and sons.
The old soldier looks the impertinent journalist right in the eye and answers,
"The Middle East needs democracy, and itís only right that the United States takes
on the mission, because we have the military power to carry it out." At a price
of how many dead? "Any price. I donít care whether 100,000 Americans die in Iraq,
because the cause is just. You know how many people die every year in car accidents
in the US? Forty thousand." But what about all the civilian casualties? "Many
are killed by the terrorists, so the Iraqis have to help us defeat them. Youíll
see, the passage of time will show we were right." When reminded that the war
was declared not to bring democracy but to remove a dictator armed with weapons
of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist, Graham doesnít hesitate even
for a moment. "They moved them!" he yells. Now his wife intervenes as well, "They
must be in Iran now, or Jordan. But Iím sure they had those weapons."
Democracy, weapons of mass destruction, the need to stabilize the region. But
the war in Iraq was launched because the Bush administration traced a line between
September 11, al Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein. The relation was not confirmed by
an independent study released by the Congress in the summer of 2004. Nonetheless,
many of the Americans here at Arlington today believe that Iraq policy should
not be changed. "You know why I like Bush?" Martin Collins, another ex-soldier,
asks me, "Because he sticks with his positions." Even if his positions turn out
to be wrong? Collins thinks a moment and answers, "Yes. Bush believes in what
heís doing, and lots of Americans appreciate that."
"Polls say most Iraqis want the American troops to leave? I donít believe in
these numbers," says Greg Taylor, a veteran, but one who never saw battle, "So
many voted in January, did you see all those purple thumbs? I donít care what
the newspapers say about Iraq being in chaos. The media always report the bad
news, not the good. Iím sure things are going much better than people think."
Near the exit to the cemetery, Josh Howard sits on a bench. He was never in the
army, but he supports Bush one hundred per cent. The Italian reporter asks him
what he thinks about the war in Iraq. "It was necessary, because Islamic terrorism
has to be wiped out. Look what happened in Spain! Rome could be next." When you
point out that the war had been underway for a year when Madrid was hit, and that
it may be creating a new generation of terrorists, Howard smiles and makes a clear
gesture with his hands, "Come on, just let them try it. Weíre waiting for them.
We can wipe them out in one stroke with carpet bombing."