War in Iraq has brought us too many funerals, questions

April 08, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

FEBRUARY'S funerals were on the Eastern Shore - in Cambridge, for Lt. Adam Mooney, and in Chestertown, for Pvt. Bryan Spry. This week, the war in Iraq comes home to Cumberland, on the other end of the state, out in the mountains turning green.

Maryland's next military funeral will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Good Friday, at the Adams Family Funeral Home, formerly the Merritt-Adams Funeral Home, at 404 Decatur St.

There will be a procession of about 12 miles, out to the Rocky Gap Veterans Cemetery, and military honors will be accorded at the cemetery by an honor guard from Fort Detrick.

Jeff Davis will be there to see his son laid to rest.

I had thought to speak to him yesterday, father to father, but he was asleep when I called his home, and his fiancee, Kim Smith, did not want to disturb him for another interloping journalist, sleep being scarce in the days since Davis learned that his youngest son, Brandon, had been killed with four other soldiers in a place called Habbaniyah.

The soldiers were all from Fort Riley, Kan., all members of an engineer battalion. One was from Abilene, Texas, another from San Antonio; one was from Youngsville, Pa., and another from Rupert, Idaho. The oldest was 25.

Brandon Davis was the youngest, at 20, three years out of high school.

He and his comrades died Wednesday, March 31 - "About 6:30 a.m. Iraq time," says Kim Smith - when a bomb exploded under their armored vehicle. The news of the incident was overshadowed by the graphically reported torching and mutilations of American civilian contractors in Fallujah the same day, and by all the death since then.

It has been a breathtakingly violent week in Iraq. As of yesterday, at least 35 Americans and 230 Iraqis have been killed since the weekend, and the numbers will undoubtedly rise in what looks more and more like a door-to-door war that cannot be fought only with laser-guided bombs. More than 470 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations.

An end to major combat operations.

The president seems to think that announcing a date - May 1 of last year for the end of major combat; June 30 this year for the transition of power to the Iraqis - makes it so.

But things have only gotten worse in the past two weeks, with Iraq looking less like a liberated, appreciative nation than a caldron of armed, organized insurgents and militants - Sunnis and Shiites both - who see Iraq as a historic front line against an invading army intent on global supremacy for the United States and its Western values.

That has the makings of a quagmire. And the thing about a quagmire is, arrogance and bad judgments will get you in one, and you won't necessarily know you're in one until it's too late.

Ted Kennedy called Iraq Bush's Vietnam, and was accused of pushing a hot button, though for a lot of Americans that button was already half-pushed.

The president and his supporters don't want to hear those comparisons.

But, sorry, too many of us remember Vietnam, and year after year of funerals. We ended up with 58,000 funerals.

Vietnam echoes - not every time the United States reaches for military force, but when there are reasons to question leadership willing to risk a great many lives for a purpose that is not clear.

Where are the weapons of mass destruction or links to the 9/11 terrorists that were presented as justification for the invasion? In "postwar Iraq," did we expect organized insurgency of this scale, with the participation of Shiites we thought would be happy with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein? Are we really prepared for a running ground war, and hadn't we been warned about a lack of troops to carry out this mission? Can we really force democracy on this nation?

And what's the plan for June 30? Who's going to be in charge, and how much help will they need from us, and for how long?

I know: It's un-American - and disrespectful of families that sacrifice and suffer - to raise questions about a war when Americans are dying in it.

Heard that before, during another time of U.S. "pacification" of a foreign country. It was too many years before we asked enough questions. Too many funerals.

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