Wednesday, August 10, 2005

VACATION MONTH

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By Elaine Meinel Supkis

The daily death toll rings a bronze clang, the voice of the dying, a whisper on the hot winds that chase dust devils across the blighted land. At home, Bush is on vacation. He sits in his airconditioned house and is flown in and out by helicopter, those black helicopters the right wing so fears fly him in and out of his New World Order Headquarters.

A mother sits by the side of the road, a Fury incarnate. A daily reminder of the spectre of the night when the dead whisper into unheeding ears. The media notices her now. When nearly a million of us demonstrated loudly in DC before the war was launched, banging drums, shouting, singing, ringing bells, the entire news media managed to miss this. They all sent news crews to cover the demonstration...only if it failed.

But it was a great success and I watched as the media folded their circus tents two hours before our march was scheduled to begin.

The media can't ignore the whispering voices of the dead. Today, like the other days this week, more soldiers were killed and killed more Iraqis. In this death duel in the sun, the bodies are rotting. Today, the dead come from the unit based in my neighborhood. The 42nd Infantry Division is based in Troy, NY, which is very near to my mountain. Five were blown up and they made a brief headline, too. It amazed me because up until this week, the dead were buried deep inside of various innoculous headlines.

Perhaps the news media is playing catch-up with public opinion now 61% against this war.

Here is a story of a man who is just beginning to see he is in for a lifetime of suffering. This is much better than dying but still heart breaking. From the Washington Post:
"So we're driving down the road and it's midnight, so it's pitch-black, and when you're driving at night, you don't use any lights," says Terry Rodgers, "but we can see fine because we've got night vision goggles."

He's sitting in the living room of his mother's townhouse in Gaithersburg, telling the story of his last night in Iraq. He's still got his Army crew cut and he's wearing a T-shirt with an American flag on the chest.

"We're driving down this road and there's this tiny bridge over a little canal," he says. "They had rigged up this bomb and they had a tripwire running across the bridge and we hit it and it blew up."

Like the rest of the 13,877 Americans wounded in Iraq, Rodgers has a story to tell. He tells it in a matter-of-fact voice, like he's talking about making a midnight pizza run or something. He's sitting in an armchair with his right leg propped on an ottoman, the foot encased in a soft black cast that reaches almost to the knee. His crutches are lying on the rug beside the chair.

"The Humvee finally comes to a stop and the right side is just torn apart and I hear my squad leader screaming, 'I think I lost my arm!' And my best friend Maida was in the front passenger seat where the bomb went off and he was screaming, 'Where's help? Where's help?' And then he went quiet.

"And me, I'm trying to crawl out of the Humvee and I get most of my body out and just this leg is stuck and I thought it must be caught on something in the twisted metal. I look back and I see it's just laying there on the seat, so I'm like, 'Why is it stuck?' So I try to lift my leg up and it won't lift. I just had to pick up my leg and crawl the rest of the way out."

He mimes the action of picking up his leg with his hands, then he continues the story.

"I started patting myself down and that's when I noticed that my face took some shrapnel," he says. "It was all swollen on this side, so when I'm patting myself down, my middle finger went, like, this deep into my cheek where the shrapnel went in."

He points to a spot about halfway down his finger, showing how far it went into the shrapnel wound behind his right eye, which is still pretty much blind, unable to see anything but bright light.

"Then I started checking out my leg. I knew my femur was broken, but at that time I didn't know my calf was missing," he says. "And that's when I hear my best friend Maida and he started heaving."

Rodgers takes a few loud, quick breaths to show what Mark Maida sounded like.

"And he breathes like that for a few seconds and then he just stops. And that's when he died."
Just four months ago, most of the stories about the wounded were about how even amputees wanted to rejoin their buddies and continue fighting. How they were happy to see Bush and wanted to fight and fight some more.

This was all propaganda, of course.

It seems Bush wanted to visit this soldier only he said no to him and to the other chickenhawks who wanted him to pose for photo ops to show they cared when they obviously don't give two pennies for any of his thoughts. Newspapers and TV still avoid showing the half dead: the people in comas, the ones with no faces or thoughts, the insane, the suicides. Every month, some kill themselves. If they are still in Iraq, they get counted. If they are discharged, they don't get counted.

Many after the Vietnam and Desert I wars killed themselves, either directly or via other means. The suffering caused by fighting eats at the soul. Quite a few family members go down with their loved ones when they go mad.
"It didn't do anything to us Americans," he says, "but it killed a few civilians."

Most days, Rodgers's platoon would patrol the town in Humvees, then set up a TCP -- traffic control point -- where they'd stop cars and search them for weapons. Or they'd do "house calls": "We'd pick random houses and just go in and search 'em." Sometimes they'd do a "dismounted patrol," which meant they wandered through the streets on foot.

"We'd have an interpreter with us and we'd try to talk to people," he says. "We didn't have any incidents when we were out walking. The biggest incident we'd have on foot patrol is we'd be mobbed by little kids asking us for candy. When people from back home would send me candy, I'd always give that to the kids."

Occasionally the Americans would hear about a house where somebody was rumored to be storing weapons or building bombs. They'd wait until dark and raid the place.

"It was very intense and very fast," he says. "We'd try to be as quiet as we could until we got to the front door, and then you just have the battering ram and you open the front door and you run in yelling and pulling your weapons and try to gain control of the house as fast as you can."
Other patrols found illegal weapons on these raids, but Rodgers's never did.

"We did hit the wrong house quite often," he says. "We had these overhead maps, satellite maps, and when you're on the street in the middle of the night, it's hard to find the right house. In those instances, we'd say, 'Sorry,' and give 'em a card with a phone number to call the Army and we'd pay for the damages."
You know, we rebelled against England because of this sort of thing. Why can't we understand how noxious this is?

Evidently, the people setting the bombs and those ambushing the Americans most likely were recruited from homes we randomly attacked.
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This is a picture from the 42nd's web site. They have several showing them luring very small children over to get goodies. Many children have died this way because small children don't know better, they don't know that approaching heavily armed soldiers who are fighting their families is very dangerous. We play Santa Claus during the day and at night, we play the Grinch who Stole Christmas.
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Here is another picture showing a soldier in full battle gear, luring small children to his side. This isn't a quiet city with our soldiers lightly armed, walking around. He is on a military vehicle and is primed to fight. Alas.

This desire to clothe ourselves in sheep's wool is why our soldiers are dying. We want to be loved but we also love to have our own way which is why the dissonnance of our candy for tots combined with destroying their homes and crushing their toys at night can't be reconciled.

There is not one picture of a teenage/military age Iraqi with the Americans except for pictures of the soldiers we are "training." Guess who knows where we are patrolling and how many are out and at what hour we will be abroad?

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of one of the fine young and old American citizens who has died in Iraq, sits in the hot sun in Crawford, patiently waiting for Bush to drive by. Bush flies in and out of his private Waco using helicopters. She is a trip wire he doesn't want to trigger.

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