Thursday, August 18, 2005

Upon the king!

I heard an open letter on NPR today from Stephen Mansfield, author of "The Faith of the American Soldier". In this commentary, he chided Cindy Sheehan for bringing her grief over the death of her son in Iraq into the spotlight by waiting outside the Bush ranch for an audience with the president.

The central issue is that when your son volunteered for military service, he placed himself upon an altar of sacrifice. Sadly, the ultimate sacrifice was indeed required. Yet he gave himself willingly, as all our soldiers do in this generation, and his death is therefore the noble death of a hero and not the needlessly tragic death of one accidentally or foolishly taken

When your son, and the thousands like him serving today, pledged himself to military service, he did not just "join the army." He offered himself to his God and his nation in an act of devotion that has been repeated for centuries. He entered the fellowship of those who offer their lives willingly in service to others. His death, though a horror, was a horror with meaning, willingly engaged.

My first thought at comments like these was that, in truth, these soldiers are not willing sacrifices. The vast majority of them are poor and undereducated, looking to do something better with their lives. They are enticed by military recruiters with promises of job training and money for college. I remember back in high school and early college when I was approached by these head hunters. They never talked about noble sacrifice. The never said anything about combat. They never mentioned the possibility of injury or death. They barely even mentioned service to country. No, this was a career opportunity.

The other image I had in my mind was Shakespearian. In Act 4, Scene 1 of "Henry V", the king, disguising himself as a "gentleman of a company" has an encounter with some soldiers pondering their fate and the coming battle.

One soldier speaks:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

This is Cindy Sheehan's contention. The war in Iraq is not the noble cause the administration makes it out to be. Saddam Hussein, while a tyrant, had nothing to do with the attacks of September 11th and did not have weapons of mass destruction. Without those reasons, George W's justifications evaporate, leaving only revenge for his father's embarrassment in not bringing down Saddam in the first war.

Only if George W's cause is just, will the deaths of the soldiers that he ordered into battle have meaning. Only if the battle objectives are noble will the deaths of the soldiers be noble. The president will have much to answer for should this adventure prove to be a fools errand. And, in my view and that of Cindy Sheehan, it's not looking to well.

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls, Our debts, our careful wives, Our children and our sins lay on the king!

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