Friday, September 15, 2006

On Iraq

They booked a lot of Phillippino bands into the enlisted men’s, NCO, and officers’ clubs in Vietnam, in the ‘70s. Every one of those bands played, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” – a song made famous by Eric Burton and The Animals.

The girl singers wore mini skirts. The beer flowed. Cigarette smoke hung heavy on the air as the body heat from the crowd overwhelmed the weak air conditioning.

“… We gotta get out of this place – if it’s the last thing we ever do …”

Those bands had other, hipper songs in their repertoires, and the Armed Forces Vietnam Network played counterculture music all night every night.
But the song that summed it all up for most guys would have to be the less-hip, pot-and-acid-free “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”.

The song transcended race, class, and rank. It was easy to join in at the top of your lungs when you were stupefyingly drunk, feeling totally fucked, and wondering what the hell you were doing in Vietnam in the first place.

The military mission was unclear by then, but if you were a draftee (or if you had been harassed into the service by the draft board), your personal mission was perfectly clear.

Get your olive drab ass home in one piece.

Fast forward to Iraq today. We can only pretend to understand what the situation is like for the troops over there. Almost certainly, some – maybe most – feel we gotta get out of that place.

They have given so much for so long. They know that, back home, most people lead lives unaffected by what’s happening in Iraq. Equipped with all the communications tools of the age, they can see that, beyond their immediate circle of family and friends, most Americans don’t care about Iraq – or about them – all that much.

Imagine sitting over there, looking at life without sacrifice as we live it back here. The alienation must be exquisitely painful. Even yellow, magnetic “Support The Troops” ribbons must ring hollow. They seem to be aimed at bolstering support for the war as much as support for the troops.

When we talk about how “we” should stay the course, we should remember that we aren’t “we.”

The “we” who are in the boots on the ground in Iraq are the ones - the only ones – making real sacrifices. They have faces and names and families and friends and lives that have been put on hold while their government sent them halfway around the world to sit in the middle of an insurgency and wait for a resolution no one has yet to envision.

“We” is 147,000 Americans. They’re over there in an impossible position over there. They belong back here. As their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, friends and neighbors, we gotta get “we” out of that place. If it’s the last thing we ever do.


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