War deaths rekindle old feelings of protest

November 04, 2003|By Susan Reimer

MY COLLEGE-aged son likes to irritate me by declaring that I am the same person I was in college: a feminist, a flower child and an anti-war protester.

I have ceased trying to convince him that I have matured and changed in many ways, and not just because it seems like a waste of breath, but because I'm feeling more and more as if he is right.

I feel like I am back in college, and it is Vietnam all over again.

Pictures in yesterday's newspapers of a smoldering helicopter and litters bearing wounded soldiers brought that feeling all the way back.

This latest incident is more devastating than the drip-drip-drip of one or two dead a day that was beginning to numb us to the news out of Iraq.

Sixteen soldiers, on their way home for a little R&R, died in a missile attack on their helicopter. Twenty more were horribly wounded. And I found myself feeling like I was stuck in a rerun of M*A*S*H, which we all know was not really about Korea, but about Vietnam.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, for whom I have great regard as a voice of reason in this war, says that Iraq is not Vietnam. He says the terrorists bedeviling our troops and murdering aid workers and assassinating citizens who cooperate with Americans are not Iraqi Viet Cong. They are "not killing us so Iraqis can rule themselves. They are killing us so that they can rule Iraqis," he wrote last week.

But to me, that is too fine a distinction to make, especially against the mountain of circumstantial evidence that this is becoming Vietnam redux: Witness the picture in The New York Times of the American soldiers searching the pockets of the little Iraqi boy. Once again, we don't know who the enemy is.

Once again, the terrain and climate of the region seem to be defeating us. We don't understand the language, the religion or the culture. We think we are fighting a war of liberation, but many of the people we are trying to liberate don't appear to agree. And we are trying to impose democracy on a people who are without a first-grader's understanding of that principle.

And once again, we are being told that the cost of the war, in terms of lives and dollars, will be much higher than expected and that the war will last much longer than expected. Again, we are hearing the word "quagmire."

When President Bush says that the more successful we are in Iraq, the more casualties we will suffer at the hands of desperate terrorists, I feel like I am hearing the Nixon-Kissinger doublespeak of 30 years ago.

"Light at the end of the tunnel," anyone?

We are told that we cannot leave Iraq or it will fall into the hands of Saddamists or bin Ladenists, and the entire region will be destabilized. Remember when we were told we could not leave Vietnam or it would fall into the hands of the Communists and the entire region would be destabilized?

It appears I am part of a majority of Americans - 51 percent in the latest ABC-Washington Post poll, released Sunday - who disapprove of the way the president is handling the war. It is the first time a majority in such a poll has disapproved. Which means it must be getting close to time for someone to suggest that we declare victory and leave.

At least one thing has changed for those of us who remember the Vietnam War and hear its echoes today: We will never again confuse the war with the troops who are fighting it, and we will say nothing that sounds like we are criticizing the young men and women who are dying in the war.

The irony is that our resolve to support our troops has caused us, I think, to stifle our increasing disenchantment with this war.

Oh. One more thing has changed.

I protested the Vietnam War, and opposed the president who pursued it, in the name of my boyfriend and my male friends and the boys I didn't know, all of whom were my age and in danger of dying in the war.

This time, I protest the war, and oppose the president who pursues it, in the name of my son, my nephews and all the boys - and girls - I don't know who may die there.

Yesterday's soldiers were my brothers. Today's soldiers are my children. That is the only difference 30 years has made in me.

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