Before driving in Kenai to take this job, I stopped in Huron, S.D., to see my family. A week before I arrived, it was announced that a soldier from Huron died in Iraq. Daniel Bartels, a 22-year-old Army specialist, was the first Huron resident to die since the conflict began.
This was sad news. Courageous soldiers in Iraq do every day what few of the Americans they protect have the courage to do: put their lives on the line in the service of our freedom. Every casualty is a tragedy, and the words of pundits, pols and protesters don’t diminish the pain felt by loved ones left behind.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
At the funeral of Mr. Bartels, protesters showed up on the scene. It was good this young man was dead, they said, because the cause is not honorable.
Of course, these protesters were on the extreme end of the spectrum. Their ilk stems from the ministry (if you can call it that) of the Rev. Fred Phelps, who protested at the funeral of Matthew Sheppard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming beaten and left for dead in 1998. The Huron visitors also thought the United States deserved 9/11 because we’ve allowed homosexuals to live. So, yeah, this group is pretty extreme.
Reading the news, though, makes me wonder just how badly this group skews on the side of insensitivity and disregard. The group’s anger over the supposed deprivation of U.S. culture leads them to look upon those who disagree as less than human. Anti- or pro-war citizens may not see their opponents as less than human, but they seem all-too-willing to see them as less than they are.
Naomi Klein, a liberal speaker, journalist and frequent contributor to “The Nation,” has called the insurgency an encouraging sign, apparently forgetting that insurgents are out to kill soldiers who want to see Iraq stable and safe.
Disregard found a voice on the pro-war side of the spectrum a few weeks ago when Congressman Jack Murtha, a hawkish Pennsylvania Democrat, called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within six months. The next day, White House spokesman Scott McClellan compared Murtha to Michael Moore. House Speaker Dennis Hastert attacked on his blog. Congresswoman Jean Schmidt actually called him a coward.
What? Jack Murtha spent 37 years in the Marines, served in Vietnam (he volunteered), won two Purple Hearts and rose to the rank of colonel. It’s also telling to note that Murtha is a quiet politician who prefers to work behind the scenes, not in front of the cameras.
Murtha’s point: U.S. troops have become targets, and their continued presence in Iraq is a destabilizing force, not a stabilizing one. Murtha is not the only military leader who has raised this point, either.
None of this seems to matter to pro-war forces. By changing his position on the war, Murtha became a poster child for surrender-happy cowards everywhere.
Eventually, President Bush responded to McClellan’s mudslinging, defending Murtha’s character. Even he acknowledged the audacity of the attacks on the Democrat’s character. Schmidt has been apologizing for a while now.
The whole episode demonstrates just how disconnected we’ve become from the reality of the conflict. Respect has gone out the window and name-calling is more important than addressing the issues.
It’s bad enough that this happens in political campaigns. When lives are on the line, this sort of behavior is simply disgusting.
John Hult is a reporter for the Clarion.
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