Tuesday, February 13, 2007

As a military family , I take exception to use of 'wasted lives' - Barack Obama or anyone else

Barack Obama using the words 'Wasted lives' is the news item today, or at least in my attention field today. Now I full well understand that this can be what media uses to make political hay one way or another. And I understand that when I generate conversation around it, I get to be a tool for one side or the other - blah, blah, blah. I write to a principle beyond that though; or at least it goes beyond political ammunition for me.

Whether Barack Obama said it, or my veteran neighbor said it, or my friend said it, or my family said it, or a stranger said it - it is a poor choice of words, in my opinion, when used as descriptive of soldiers killed in combat. Why use the words, I continue to ask myself, when other choices are more apt descriptions to say that a 'war action' has unnecessarily cut short the lives of so many young people? But 'wasted' lives? No. Up to the point that their lives are cut short in combat deployments, it is a poor definition to describe their lives as wasted. The waste lies with the Administration and politicians who tend to view the lives of our servicemen and women as expendible waste when initiating war actions.

If it was my son or daughter's life cut short in a combat deployment in Iraq (or Afghanistan), I would not be consoled thinking their life 'wasted' and I would be inconsolable that their life was cut short in a wasted war action initiated by a callous Administration. When my son-in-law and nephew are sent on their second deployments to Iraq this year, my worry threshold begins to climb again, having already anxiously awaited the outcome for them from their first deployment in Iraq.

I truly never thought when they deployed in OIF 2003-2004 that by 2007 the U.S. would still be occupying Iraq or that our military troops would be serving in second, third or more deployments. Yet, it is so, and the two in our family, who, incidentally, do have families of their own, will face additional deployments to Iraq. Of course, I earnestly pray for their safe return, but as for all military families who face deployments, family talk has to get to the place of 'what if' he/she doesn't return or returns so severely injured as to be life-changing? That is the reality for military families and troops.

I cite a conversation shared in my daughter's family recently on just this matter. The parents are deciding on their daughter's college entry potential, now that she is in high school. Since Dad will be deploying again to Iraq this year, Mom needs to decide where to best put in the 'waiting time' - at the base where he is stationed; coming home to have family support close at hand; and what about disrupting high school for oldest daughter? It won't be as tough a disruption for the two younger children in elementary school as it will be for their older sister in high school.

As my daughter shares a bit of their decision making with me, I incorrectly come to an erroneous conclusion that it sounds like the decision is being left to my high school granddaughter and I tell my daughter that is perhaps extraordinary guilt to inadvertantly place on her daughter. How will she live with the consequences when Dad deploys to Iraq without feeling some guilt that her decision about where to live and attend high school had something to do with whether he lives, dies, or any other of the potential consequences. Me, an old caseworker, knows children will harbor guilt that they are somehow responsible, often even when the parents allay such untruths, knows the world of children is more often fraught with a child's sense of being responsible for what happens to their parents.

I need not have worried, nor incorrectly interpreted their family conversations. My daughter shares with me how their conversation went. Dad says to high schooler 'We want your input in the decision making. We want you to know that it doesn't matter what base or where the family lives, I'm going to deploy to Iraq anyway and you have some choice about where you want to go to high school. That part of the decision is not going to impact my having to deploy to Iraq, so you don't need to worry about what is going to be best for me or Mom but what is going to be best for you."

How many families share such conversations in the normal course of their lives? Military families do share such conversations since it is left to the troops and military families to carry the burden of this 'war' in Iraq. Perhaps I become over sensitive to the language, words and meanings as the general populations attempt to try to address the changing political climate about the war in Iraq. And I know I am particularly sensitive to the insensitivities of politicians, having met with some to advocate for an end to Iraq war and bringing the troops home....now. Of course, I've been saying 'now' since 2004 and it is now 2007, so the word starts to sound hollow to my own ears...

Not to put too much onus on Senator Barack Obama, in his poor choice of the words 'wasted lives' to describe something which I'm sure he meant other than what it sounded like, I have heard others use that phrase and I find myself reacting just as strongly when I hear it from others. Others who actually have perhaps more of a right to define it than I do - veterans, veterans of Vietnam, veterans of previous wars - to be specific. 'Wasted Lives', I realize isn't intended to say the individual's life was a waste - rather that their lives were spent and cut short in an unnecessary war. But, I still contend, that the families whose lives have to go on, can hardly be comforted by the use of words 'wasted lives' .

I contend that great care be given in choice and use of words to describe those whose lives have been cut short as other than 'wasted lives' for their lives mattered and even if this Administration, in it's callous disregard, does not believe that to be so - those lives mattered and deserve honoring, memorializing, rememberance as the individual lives they lived. Not some category catch phrase to promote a viewpoint as to the value of the war of the moment - be it Vietnam, where my young husband was deployed and could have become one of 'those wasted lives' or Iraq, where my son-in-law and nephew could still become one of 'those wasted lives'...... how dare people reference our loved ones lives as 'wasted lives' and how lazy not to find more appropriate language to make a more clear description of opposition to a war.

Among some of the peace activist people with which I find myself in what is frequently an uneasy collaboration, I am sometimes startled by what feels like 'coarse' choice of descriptive words to further perhaps their message even at the expense of my message - which is often times, as a military family, not the same as their message. And, I also do find, among some of the peace activist groups, some people among them are not so peaceful and more interested in activism at all costs. even if it runs roughshod over the very people who carry the weight of this war on their shoulders and live it daily - troops and military families who love and support them. Even when their words indicate support for the families and troops, their message and actions convey otherwise. I don't like leaving it to peace activists or politicians to frame on my behalf my message, and I find treasure in the people willing to listen, adjust word useage and language.

Usage of the words wasted lives' to describe a war initiated and sustained by politicians -- yes, it's a big deal to me.

Apologies accepted Barack Obama

quoting from article;

He told reporters that even as the words came out he knew he had misspoken.

"It is not at all what I intended to say, and I would absolutely apologize if any (military families) felt that in some ways it had diminished the enormous courage and sacrifice that they'd shown."

and in a round about way, I guess a thank you could be in order for accidentally creating a forum of discussion which is part of the dialogue on Iraq war. Now, if you will kindly Vote the Power of the Purse ..... bring them home, it would be even more meaningful ... to me.


Lica said...

I have found myself using those same words - "wasted lives" - in reference to news reports reporting death tolls. Would I say the same thing if the most recent death toll included my cousin or brother-in-law? Probably not. I know too much about them to consider their live wasted. So when I say it in reference the thousands that are not members of my family, am I disrespecting their memory, or more importantly their life? I don't know.

I do know that their potential has been wasted, their dreams wasted, the dreams of their families wasted. Was their life wasted? Certainly not.

Yeah, maybe "wasted lives" is not the right thought.

Arthur Ruger said...

"half the soldiers listed on that [VietNam] wall died after our leaders knew it could not be won."
Iraq vet Representative Patrick Murphy, of Pennsylvania,

Anonymous said...

I would think he meant that the politicians wasted the lives of the soldiers, not that the soldiers led wasted lives. But I agree, better words could have been used.

President George W. Bush's statement in March 2006 after 3 yrs of war "a future President will have to resolve war in Iraq"


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