He Lost His Son to a War He Opposes

Andrew Bacevich has a wrenching piece in today’s Washington Post on the death of his son in Iraq. He relates what a few great patrioteers had to say to him about his son’s death:

Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son’s death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war.

But it’s the lip-service from politicians like John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, who listen politely but heedlessly to Professor Bacevich’s criticisms of the war, who have really driven him to reconsider just how well the Republic is holding up these days. To whom do the Bushes, Kerrys, and Kennedys listen? Lobbyists, of course:

Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.’s life is priceless. Don’t believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier’s life: I’ve been handed the check. It’s roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.

Bacevich ends on a note of near despair for the country; he thinks his own efforts have been wasted. They haven’t been. His 2001 book, American Empire, is still the most important single foreign-policy book to have been published this decade, and his later New American Militarism is up there as well. It will take a long, long time before the American public, or really its leadership class, absorbs the lessons of this war and long half-century and more of misguided foreign-policy. But if they learn the lesson at all I suspect it will be in large part to the efforts of Andrew Bacevich and others like him.


One thought on “He Lost His Son to a War He Opposes

  1. Scott Lahti June 1, 2007 / 5:18 am

    I’m glad you directed us to the Bacevich essay. See also his online discussion with Washington Post readers from 29 May at


    See especially the final reader’s question, which raises Ron Paul-type issues.

    Bacevich is an interesting figure – if memory serves, one of the very few writers to have contributed at least semi-regularly to both The Nation and National Review over the last decade – splitting the difference of course in writing for The American Conservative – to oversimplify for the benefit of dittoheads and Pop Snooze Channel viewers in these strange-bedfellow times.

    At the risk of picking up a few more such bedbugs, see this bit from the contribution by Bacevich to the American Conservative symposium from mid-2006 on the flux of contemporary political identity –

    ”In the political mainstream, expediency rules and principles are expendable—as baby-boomer Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have each amply demonstrated. In a system as corrupt as ours has become, principles survive chiefly among those who occupy the political fringe—populists, pinks, aging New Leftists, agrarians, radical environmentalists, Catholic Workers, libertarians, and paleocons. When it comes to illuminating the hypocrisies and contradictions that afflict the American way of life, each of these groups has something to offer—which is why the thinking conservative will find more of value these days in The New York Review of Books than in National Review and why true-blue progressives are better off subscribing to The American Conservative than to The New Republic.

    ”In a foreign-policy context, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ don’t have any real meaning and never have. When it comes to statecraft, the operative dichotomy does not pit Left against Right, realists against idealists, or (as President Bush has fraudulently argued) isolationists against those committed to engagement and leadership. The real divide today occurs between those who buy into the myths of the American Century and those who see those myths for what they are: once useful contrivances that have become a source of self-delusion endangering the national interest…”


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