I have this ritual in the morning.
The radio next to the bed comes on at 6:30am, but I must wake fast enough to hit the snooze button before the NPR announcer, in his round-up of today’s headline news, has a chance to announce the day’s total of U.S. soldiers killed in bomb attacks. I must wake up, but I don’t want to know. I can’t face hearing so soon that more innocent men and women, both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi people, have perished. I could change the time I wake up, you say, or change the radio channel so that I wake to local traffic alerts or news about the weather, but then I’d feel like one of those willfully ignorant Americans that I’m always railing against. I want to know the news. I will not be indifferent to the freedoms our young soldiers provide. I must stay abreast of all that’s going on. I just can’t bear hearing the tally. Lord help.
But there’s no avoiding the truth. Democrats dropped a provision ordering troops home from Iraq beginning this fall and helped Congress pass on yesterday a revised $120 billion spending bill, providing $95 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. By voting more money for Bush’s war, the Congress granted permission to a president who has no plan, for a cause he can’t explain, at a cost that none of us can count, to keep our sons and daughters indeterminately in this war.
Decades ago politicians, especially U.S. presidents, were expected to have spent some time serving their country in one of the branches of the armed services. The elite enrolled their sons in the military as a rite-of-passage into manhood with the hope that the discipline and contacts their young scions made during their tour of duty would provide them a platform for future careers as leaders in the areas of business or politics. Times have changed. Virtually none of the members of this Congress has children serving in the military, and few of the newer members sworn into Congress have any first-hand knowledge of combat. Ours is a generation of policy makers who, in large part, hail from a class of soccer-dads and soccer-moms where the very words ‘boot camp’ are pejorative, conjuring up the image of a camp where ‘troubled youths at risk” are sent. It’s easy to vote to leave young people fighting in Iraq on your behalf when none of them come from your neighborhoods, and their parents aren’t anyone you’re likely to encounter on the golf course or at your favorite posh spa.
While my paternal grandfather was a veteran, none of the men from my immediate family serve in this war. But there are men, young black men, from my church who do serve in various branches of the military and whose names we keep on the prayer list.
In a part of the book of Jeremiah where we are supposed to find comfort, we find these words by the prophet spoken in the wake of war:
A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more. (Jer. 31:15)
Did I mention that there are many mornings when I don’t reach the snooze button in time? The announcer comes on, “A bomb went off in Bagdad killing…”