I I I I I I I  

Real Heroes

Usually I'm a pretty involved person -- politically active, social, "plugged in" -- but lately I've felt like all I want to do is hibernate. The spring weather couldn't be more gorgeous, but I have no desire to play in the sunshine. I'd rather stay in bed and read Patrick O'Brian and Georgette Heyer novels. Historical fiction is infinitely preferable to the front page of the newspaper or the scrolling headlines on CNN.

Current events are enough to make anyone reluctant to get out of bed. The news is depressing, as much for what they're not telling us as what they are. There's a visible and growing gap between the official story and the truth, and it's increasingly obvious that the ideals of liberty and democracy are being perverted for political ends. More men and women have died since the war "ended" a year ago than died in the official conflict. More Iraqi children have been killed in the crossfire than soldiers on either side. There's talk of bringing back the draft, because more troops are needed to fight the war that we've purportedly won. And now there are reports that some of our soldiers tortured and sexually abused Iraqi prisoners of war. The news itself is disturbing and disheartening, another huge disappointment in my country and my fellow citizens. But the pictures are the stuff of nightmares -- American soldiers, both men and women, grinning and giving the thumbs-up as they stand beside naked prisoners, their bodies forced into humiliating and dehumanizing positions.

Most days I'm a glass-half-full kind of gal. But after seeing those photos, my optimism abandoned me.

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The official statements say that our government does not condone torture, that there are no systematic patterns of abuse. Amnesty International and a detailed analysis in the New Yorker disagree. Considering Bush & Co.'s record of "misleading" (read, "outright lying to") the American people about the war, and especially about those infamous weapons of mass destruction, I know who I believe.

The images are too disturbing to contemplate at length; staring too long at that kind of darkness will blind you as surely as staring at the sun. I want to avert my eyes, hide under the covers and revisit the Age of Sail, but I can't stop replaying all the grievous pictures we've been presented with in the past few weeks: the flag-draped coffins, the dead children and severed limbs in these uncensored photos brought home by an American soldier, the young, hope-filled faces of the men and women who've lost their lives fighting in Iraq, the leering soldiers giving the universal sign of approval to sadistic torture and humiliation.

These are the images of the war that George Bush doesn't want us to see. Bush wants us to believe that we're on the side of the angels and that we've already won. Meanwhile, since the War on Terrorism is going so well, the government is encouraging us to switch our focus to the War on Obesity (cut out enough carbs and you'll be too dizzy to pay attention to poltics!), and Ashcrofts's War on Porn, in which he plans to take on the evils of Skinemax soft-focus, semi-nude, simulated sex. By all means, let's concentrate on what's important.

Reflecting on all of this, I'm filled with a sickening level of vitriol towards our government and towards the individuals responsible for these acts. I want to divorce myself from everyone involved, deny my country, and wash my hands of the whole grisly business.

But hope springs eternal I suppose, and before I can get out my passport and head north to Canada, I have a more encouraging thought. Bush doesn't want us to see these pictures, but we have. Tami Silicio lost her job providing us with the visual evidence of the human cost of war, evidence the Bush government has forbidden official channels to present. Probably as a result of her actions, the news show Nightline devoted an entire episode to the names and faces of the American dead - the first time the American media has personalized the death toll in that way. An American soldier, Specialist Joseph M. Darby, broke ranks to report the torture and abuse in Abu Ghurayb prison. American soldiers and civilians in Iraq are defying the government-enforced silence and emailing photographs to friends in the United States and posting descriptions of the war on their blogs, providing a scaled down and frank view of the war that directly contradicts the sanitized version we're receiving from politicians and the so-called "liberal media."

These people are never going to win medals; they'll probably be penalized in various ways for their outspokenness. But don't let the Right fool you. These are the real patriots. When we honor the heroes who are dying for the flag, let's not forget the ones who are taking risks for the constitution. Obedience and discipline are necessary to military service. But unquestioning obedience is un-American, far less patriotic and far more dangerous than flag burning or heckling the president. These are the people who make me proud to be an American.
About the Author:

Melissa Lipscomb lives in Austin with her children Drew, Franny, Alec and husband Adam. Some days she feels like she's figuring out, and others she's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Send feedback for Melissa to disturbance@austinmama.com and visit her blog


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