While he may possibly have flat feet and at 55 is probably a bit long in the tooth for battle, gung ho neocon William Kristol still could join the “all volunteer” army if he wanted to serve in some capacity. After all, this is a war that he and other neocons have championed– for someone else to fight, that is. In his New York Times column, Kristol criticizes an anti-war MoveOn.org ad that shows a mother holding her baby boy, Alex, and saying “And so, John McCain, when you say you would stay in Iraq for 100 years, were you counting on Alex? Because if you were, you can’t have him.”
Kristol sees a different message than many who understand a mother’s fear of a child growing into a war viewed as senseless horror. And she would be backed by such war heroes as Republican senator Chuck Hagel and Democratic senator James Webb, who have protested our continuing presence in Iraq. But, says Kristol, the ad is “barely disguised in its disdain for those who have chosen to serve—and its contempt for those parents who might be proud of sons and daughters who are serving.” Kristol quotes an unidentified mother of an “actual soldier” who responded to the woman in the ad: “does that mean that she wants other people’s sons to keep the wolves at bay so that her son can live a life of complete narcissism?”
Kristol praises the fact that we “live in a free country with a volunteer Army” and that Alex, when he grows up, would be free to join or not. So the “you can’t have him” sentiment is obviously moot. What Kristol does not mention is that he and his fellow hawks are totally free of any sacrifice in a war that, like Vietnam, asked everything of a few and nothing of most. (A draft, which no one champions, could even the playing field and certainly concentrate the minds of most of us who remain untouched except at the gas pump.)
This ad, despite its hyperbole, does not speak to a selfish position of “narcissism” and “disdain” for those serving but to a stay-the-course election gambit that exploits fear of terrorism. If he wants to hear from another mother of an actual soldier he should read this article in the latest issue of The Nation: “Jose was the youngest police chief in the state of New Hampshire, forever” says the mother of Sgt. Jose Pequeno. “But then he was in the National Guard, and they asked for volunteers.” While guarding an Iraqi police station, his Humvee was hit by a grenade. “When they found Jose, the lower part of his body was still inside the Humvee but the explosion had gone under his helmet and the left part of his brain was out in the sand….” Hours later the neurosurgeon sobbed into the phone from the hospital in Germany where Sgt. Pequeno had been flown. “Such a beautiful son,” he said. “What a terrible waste, a young man with such a life ahead of him…”
In this historic election, despite all the trivia about fist bumps and other measures of little consequence, the economy and the war are intertwined realities that need constant probing by the media—whether in ads or in tracking what the candidates and their surrogates are saying. The “wolves at the door” mentioned by Kristol’s unnamed mother are defined by the Republicans and many Democrats on the hill as the unseen terrorists, as witness McCain aide Charlie Black’s gaffe that a terrorist strike before the election would be a “big advantage” for McCain (for which Black apologized.) Using the fear of terrorism as an excuse for staying in Iraq (even though reports show that U.S. presence there has strengthened terrorist groups around the world) has its parallel in domestic events. The House all but mugged the Fourth Amendment, recently, passing a bill that amounts to legal immunity for phone companies who engaged in warrantless eavesdropping. The fear of terrorism was a major justification for both Republicans and Democratic congressmen who helped rip away basic civil liberties.
While the fear card plays out for the rest of this election year, Kristol and everyone else should remember that the ones who are dying are “actual soldiers” and actual civilians in Iraq.