I met a chef from Texas who was like an oak tree with tattoos, and made a mean barbecue sauce. He'd been in the 101st Airborne and was about to be deployed to Iraq, but destroyed his knee in a training exercise and wound up getting discharged. He knew the war was nonsense and thought the Bush guys all deserved to rot in jail, but he still wanted to go to Iraq, and wept whenever a soldier he knew died over there because he should have been there and maybe could have saved that person if his knee hadn't buckled.
I met a woman in Texas who sat down in a fire-ant-infested mud puddle because her son died in Iraq. Everything was "Mission Accomplished" and high approval ratings, but she didn't get it and wanted an explanation from the man who'd sent her son to die for a banner on a ship and a bump in the polls. So, she sat in a mud puddle outside his house and waited for an explanation, and by doing so, began the final and inexorable turning of popular opinion against the war. The mothers of dead soldiers all had a face after this one mother sat in that mud and waited for an explanation that never came.
I met a journalist, a fourth-generation American of Lebanese descent, whose horror and disgust at the mainstream media's insipid cheerleading coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 compelled him to travel to Iraq and do some reporting on his own. Through his unfiltered and most decidedly unembedded perspective, we learned of the Iraqi hospitals overflowing with feces and urine, of villages targeted by Coalition forces for reprisal attacks, about bodies rotting in the streets of devastated towns, about dogs feasting on those corpses as they bloated in the sun, about gas lines lasting two days and about what America's war really looked and smelled like when the media's self-serving airbrush treatment was not applied.
I met a tank driver who had served along the Berlin line during the cold war, who marched next to me at antiwar demonstrations carrying an upside-down American flag. Whenever some outraged patriot challenged him, this man would reel off his service number, his billet, his AO and his record, and then dare his challenger to say something about his love of country. "The flag like this means 'Distress, Send Help,'" he would always say. "This country needs help."
I met a kid from upstate New York who was slinging burgers with this perplexed look on his face because he didn't know what to do with himself, so he was slinging burgers until he figured out what to do. For as long as he could remember, he had wanted to be a soldier and had bent his whole life towards that end. He ran the farthest, worked the hardest and even joined a competitive shooting league so his aim would be the best. He got himself into one of the best military schools in the country, and then Bush and Iraq and everything else happened and he knew it was wrong, and knew he could not devote his life and honor to all that, so he quit the military academy and abandoned his dream of military service, and was flipping burgers until he could figure out what else he could do.
I met a woman who was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, who worked next to Doug Feith and his merry men down in the Office of Special Plans. She saw them gin up all the false and misleading reasons for an invasion of Iraq we eventually saw on TV and read in the papers, and she decided to go public about what she'd seen. Very few mainstream media outlets wanted to talk with this Air Force lieutenant colonel about what she knew and what she'd seen because it made a mess of the accepted storylines coming out of the White House, the Pentagon and the Office of Special Plans.
I met an Air Force pilot who was protesting the war because he was pretty sure he'd committed serious war crimes on several occasions by following the orders he'd been given to drop bombs on places in Iraq we were not supposed to drop bombs. If he could have turned himself in for his crimes, he probably would have, because he had a haunted face and he knew that "I was just following orders" only goes so far. Nobody would arrest him, because he was a hero of course, so he was protesting the war with that haunted look on his face.
I met a corporal who fired artillery during the opening credits for "Shock and Awe." He'd been in uniform well before the invasion, and recalled his commanding officer's instructions for the green recruits who didn't know better. "You're not liberating anyone with this war," the CO said to the confused consternation of the new troops. "We're going in to get Iraq's oil, and you're going in to protect the guys around you, and that's the deal." The corporal nodded along with all the other old salts who knew better, and they went in, and the greenies learned a lot of new things in a hurry.
I met a woman in New York City who had lost beloved family in a pillar of fire and smoke and jet fuel when the Towers went down. She was part of a group whose members had all lost someone on that day, and they went from city to city demanding that Bush and America not use the deaths of their loved ones as a rallying cry for some stupid, useless, brutal, illegal bloodbath of an Iraq invasion. She knew all about how everything changed after 9/11, and she was right, and that's why she spoke out.
I've met a lot of other people like this. I met a staff sergeant whose Iraq tour got bumped back three weeks because someone in his unit failed a drug test, but after three weeks he still had to go. I met a Green Beret who wants to meet me again in 30 years so he can tell me all the stuff I don't know, but need to. I even met a guy with two prosthetic legs who would go from bar to bar and get people to buy him drinks because he said he was a wounded Iraq veteran. He wasn't; he was a spoiled brat from California who passed out drunk on some train tracks and got run over and lost his legs, and that was terrible for him, but he got no mercy from the real Iraq veteran who figured out this kid was lying, and that kid will never come back to my bar again, ever.
I want to meet the guy who threw his shoes at Bush on Sunday. I think he and all these others
I've met would have a lot to talk about. They all have so much in common.
It won't happen, of course. But I do want to meet the man who threw his shoes. I would like to shake his hand, too.Wednesday 17 December 2008 t r u t h o u t Columnist