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The Mass Media

Meditations on the Meaning of SEMPER FIDELIS

My ticket is bought; my lodging secured for the October 25 Washington DC march against the ongoing American war in and occupation of Iraq. While preparing for this journey, I’ve found myself reflecting on those times, full four decades and more ago, when I was a US Marine rifleman.

One learns much of value as a Marine, including the demanding lessons of duty, of honor, of fidelity in the defense of one’s motherland, even unto one’s final breath. Such altruism is summarized by the official motto of the United States Marines; Semper Fidelis-always faithful.

Yet fidelity does not require that every Marine march in intellectual lockstep with the Marine before and after him: During the American War in Vietnam, former Marine and Vietnam veteran Daniel Ellsberg, then a senior research associate at MIT’s Center for International Studies, copied and gave to the New York Times the Pentagon Papers. They revealed the self-serving official lies, the misinformation, the lust for power, of then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson, of Secretary of Defense Robert Strange MacNamara, of military leaders at the highest levels of the Pentagon and so many others in the palaces of power and authority. Ellsberg’s courage helped bring to an end that tragic war, a war that cost some three million lives. Most of those who died were innocent civilians, and of those, half were children under the age of sixteen.

Now once again, as the economy crumbles, as millions of Americans are unemployed, as millions more lack the most basic health or other essential services, as educational budgets tumble, as we continue to pay $300,000,000,000 per year on the lingering bills from past wars, the drums of war have sounded once more. Though this is for a different war in a different era, the parallels in the official jargon and deception are striking and unavoidable. Once again, I hear the same falsehoods, the same self-serving rhetoric, the fear mongering, and the quintessentially un-American efforts to suppress loyal dissent issuing forth from the mostly armchair hawks of the White House.

George W. Bush stated, even if indirectly, again and again that Sadam Hussein was involved in the terrorism that has bedeviled us. On May the 30th of this year he stated publicly “we have found the weapons of mass destruction.” But these assertions were untrue. Sadam Hussein despised the Islamic fundamentalists such as those who lashed out against the United States. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfield, his lips dripping with unctuous hypocrisy, stated on national television “it’s not about the oil.”

Iraq is and has been a small and weak country, a fact that was apparent to anyone who cared to study the matter before the American attack. Its despotic and cruel former leader, though dreadful, was no more so than many that our government insisted were our friends. Sadam Hussein himself was our official “friend” only a few short years ago. Despotic leaders, after all, are many. Quite typically, they have their moment, and then, like drops of water sucked up by the sun, they are no more. Dr. Martin Luther King told us that though the moral arc of the universe is long, it bends toward justice.

The purported weapons of mass destruction, which our national leaders have touted with such detail and insistence, have not been forthcoming. Yet even if Sadam Hussein had possessed some trifling few examples of such, he could have done nothing but commit suicide for himself and his country by an attack upon the United States. It is America, after all, that possesses more weapons of mass destruction than any nation in the history of humankind.

Iraq is the home of twenty-two million human beings. Like ourselves, they bleed if you wound them, they weep when sad, and celebrate such joys as come their way. Like ourselves, most desired nothing more than to get on with the business of living as peacefully as possible. By their nature, they are hospitable, courteous, and welcoming. The land itself is rich in its culture and history as well as its oil. The legendary Garden of Eden stood upon the storied plains of Iraq. It is from the port of Basrah in southern Iraq that Sinbad the Sailor sailed and spun his mythic tales. It is the wellspring of the written word, of our code of laws, of many of our religious edicts and traditions. It is, arguably, in Iraq that western civilization began.

The American war on Iraq in 1991, conducted by current President George W. Bush’s father, killed innocent civilians, men, women, and children, by the tens of thousands. After that war, by UNESCO’s count, one half million children and 1,000,000 adults died as a result of US engineered sanctions.

On the 25th day of this month, I will march down historic Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC with hundreds of thousands of other students and others demanding that our troops be brought home from Iraq now. And as I march, it will be the faces of the dead from that long ago conflagration in SE Asia that I will see in that throng, and it is the dying cries of those whose life’s blood saturated the soil there that I shall hear above the clamor of the march; those 58,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and the three million others whose lives were needlessly snuffed out in that self-same bloody crucible.

And it is to them, the dead, that I will affirm with all of my being, with each step that I take, that never will our politicians so misinform the people of this great country for their own purposes and create another such debacle as Vietnam or the current war in Iraq without my voice being raised in patriotic protest, without my feet marching once more in loyal dissent. And with each step I take, I shall hear, like the bugle’s witching call across some distant plain; Semper Fidelis. Always faithful.

John R. GuthrieUMB Creative Writing Graduate Studies Applicant

More information on the October 25 march in Washington, sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R. -Act Now to Stop War and End Racism — Website, www.answer.org