And the hits (to the national psyche) just keep coming

By and

It became a running gag last spring. I trudged in just before deadline and the sports editor asked me what I planned to write about.

“The war,” I breathed out in a defeatist deadpan.

How original. Although a newsworthy enough subject, columns about the conflict in Iraq hardly brimmed with creativity. Besides, I like finding humor in subjects and it helps for mourning to end before one can divine humor from the bloodletting. I wrote of the war, yet felt grateful when new subjects jarred it from my conscious. My Marine Corps acquaintances started coming home. Bush’s flight-deck banner even told of us a “Mission Accomplished.” Sorry Ms. And Mr. Pessimist-I respect any banner our leader decides to unfurl. It was a very striking banner.

A Johnny Cash lyric gnawed at me for the past few weeks: “I wear black in mourning for all the lives that could have been. Each week we lose a hundred fine, young men.”

Cash released the song in 1971. America’s tolerance for body bags neared critical mass. The late singer listed the reliable supply of dead fighting men from Southeast Asia as one of the many reasons behind his drab attire.

The American body count from our newest “War Against Something or Another” barely approaches those from the Golden Age of Quagmire. I hope they do not. However, I uneasily envision it becoming a reality. While contemplating a return to writing war columns, guerrillas took aim at a chopper full of soldiers headed for a few days of rest and relaxation. They released what was likely a shoulder-launched guided missile. It planted itself squarely within the exhaust spewing from the aircraft’s churning engines. Down it went.

Several died, even more were injured. I refrain from congratulating the wounded. Wartime injuries disfigure and maim. After all, we’re dealing with the aftermath of weapons designed to destroy human beings. Amputees and those with 80 percent burns over their bodies can hardly be called lucky.

Back to the dead, however. The dead that come with a daily certainty. We run the risk of becoming accustomed to a column or so about the last ambush victim. They lose their news value, just as the war lost its urgency in my hierarchy of newsworthy. Walter Cronkite said he saw the same dismal trend in the late ’60s. CBS began ending each newscast with a solemn strain of “Taps” and a list of names scrolling across the nation’s picture tubes.

Maybe the somber pieces bred dissent against war making amid the American heartland. Reminding people of reality hardly seems treasonous. I foresee a mess o’ trouble for recent military excursions. You won’t see me gloat over particularly deadly days for those in uniform. I never wanted any of this. I never bought the sales pitch. I sit and wait to be proved wrong.

A distaste for liberal wags bolstered my resistance to war resistance. Certain Democratic candidates for president suggest we throw more troops at the problem. I’m not sure if they are serious or just want to exorcise the ghost of Lyndon Johnson from their party’s list of blemishes.

I know guns. I know military. I know the history of human conflict. These alone can make the assessment of the war in Iraq a very depressing thing. And I just heard, a Marine buddy says command is preparing them for another tour of duty in Iraq. May the mission continue to be accomplished.

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