Death of a soldier: two years laterAdirondack Almanack blog points to an interesting story in The Glens Falls Post-Star on the second anniversary of the death of a local soldier in Iraq.
Two years ago, Staff Sgt. Kevin Kimmerly was killed in Iraq. I believe he was the first local soldier to die over there. The day after his funeral, The Post-Star ran on the front page a picture of his young son Christopher, then 9, sobbing at graveside.
The Post-Star received a lot of criticism for running the picture. People claimed the photo was tabloid trash; they claimed it was sensationalism. Though I'm not the daily's biggest fan, I disagreed at the time with its critics and still do.
The picture of the little boy in tears with his father's medals pinned to his rumpled powder blue dress shirt was the most powerful photo I've ever seen in any newspaper. It was also also one of the saddest pictures I've ever seen. I looked at the picture on three separate occassions on that day and I cried each time for a little boy I didn't even know. That's what war's about, not some staged shot of a statue being toppled.
The picture drove home the reality of war. Behind the lofty rhetoric of freedom and liberty and democracy are human beings. Each of the almost 2000 dead US soldiers represents a family shattered. And yes, each dead Iraqi civilian (of which there are several times more) represents the same thing.
Whether the Iraq aggression is necessary or not will be debated for decades. But everyone, whatever one's opinion of the morality of this war, should acknowledge the tragedy it represents, both for Americans and Iraqis. To brush aside human devastation of this magnitude is beneath indecent.
I remember at the time of his death writing: I hope Kevin Kimmerly honestly believed in what he was doing over in Iraq. I hope he truly believed that our country's actions would eventually lead to a safer America and a better Iraq. I certainly don't but since he gave his life for the war he was ordered to wage, I hope he at least believed in the virtue of the mission he part of.
Kimmerley's widow, however, seems a bit more skeptical.
"People hear the number of soldiers killed, but every single number represents an entire family that's devastated," she said, adding that her television is tuned most of the day to cable news. "Why did we start a war with Iraq? President Bush had no proof of weapons of mass destruction, although he said he did. It was so obvious to other countries the weapons didn't exist," she said.
"It makes me so mad ... not just for the loss of my own husband. No good is coming from the war, and it's not getting any better," she said. "Every day it goes on, and there's just more pain and suffering. Every time they report that another soldier has died, I know what the soldier's family is going through," she added.
I mention her comments not to 'prove' that the Iraq war was wrong. The aggression was and is wrong on its own merits, not because one person who's angry and in mourning says so. But I do this to put another dent into The Big Lie.
Too many Americans act like anyone who dares raise questions about the wisdom of the Iraq aggression (either the fact of its continuing, the way it's being waged or the improbability of victory) is unpatriotic. That they are a terrorist-appeasing, America-hater whose sole thrill in life is to risk the troops' safety and undermine their morale. These fear mongers will always deny that they believe this but this is how they act.
Any relative of a soldier who advocates whacko policies that would ACTUALLY support our troops (like only putting them in harm's way for real reasons) or who otherwise dares question the administration's wisdom is smeared with taunts of 'media whore' or worse.
Some see these relatives as worse than the 'leftie peaceniks' because being linked to the armed forces, they are supposed to be submissive (since after all, a soldier's job is to follow orders whether s/he likes them or not). Some see these relatives as traitors to the institution of the military, in the same league with the subversive Veterans for Peace.
Maybe we should listen to these families of fallen soldiers. Some will agree with the war. Some won't. Some families will be divided themselves, just like the country. No one has a monopoly on speaking for all soldiers' families and no one claims to. But all these families have been deeply affected, their relatives having paid the ultimate price
If the family of a soldier who's given his life suppoedly for his country can't speak frankly about the war without being accused of 'dishonoring the sacrifices of our troops,' then who can speak openly?
Christopher, 11, likes to play fish, ride his bike and be outdoors. Except he now has to do those things without a father. Countless Iraqi children the same age as him also now have to grow up without fathers (or brothers or sisters or mothers). A lot of Americans don't like to acknowledge their existence and their suffering, those beneficiaries of 'liberation.' But they're part of this story too.
People think of war as glory, as liberation, as an expression of machismo. Some view it like a video game. But this video game has no reset button.
The reality of war is that people die. People get hurt. People lose family members. And the people most devastated by war are those who never chose to join any army.
Let me repeat that for emphasis: The people most devastated by war are those who never chose to join any army.
The people most affected by war are those who have no guns. The people most affected by war are those without tanks and bulletproof vests or armed comrades watching their back.
This is what war is about, whether it's a 'good' war or not. War and death should never be cheered with some deceitful 'mission accomplished' banner. "Rah rah, yay, our team kicked the other team's butt!" should be reserved for Super Bowl victory parades.
War may sometimes be necessary, though not in the case of Iraq, but to celebrate war is obscene, to glorify it profane.
Is what we're doing over there worth countless little American and Iraqi boys growing up without their dads, countless women spending the rest of their lives without their best friends? Is it worth it? That's for each of you to decide. After all, we might never have launched the aggression if 70 percent of Americans hadn't thought it a great idea at the time so your opinion does carry some weight.
But you owe it to the late Staff Sgt. Kimmerly and the other American and Iraqi dead to factor their families into that equation.