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We ‘Support’ the Troops by Burdening Them More

For a few paragraphs, simple labels will do: Soldier No. 1 and Soldier No. 2.

Besides serving in the wartime military, they didn’t appear at first glance to have been much alike. They were born in dramatically disparate cultural eras, Soldier No. 1 amid World War II home-front anxiety and rationing, Soldier No. 2 in a time of hippies and free living, during the Summer of Love.

No. 1 was reared on the country’s southeastern jut, in Miami, and No. 2 grew up on its western rim, in South Pasadena, Calif. Atlantic boy, Pacific boy.

No. 1 was a junior college dropout; No. 2 — who had been a high school football team captain and a surfer — won a degree after majoring in criminal justice at Cal State Long Beach and later was a graduate student.

The first ended up in a store where customers were urged to consider the attractive features of wristwatches and rings. The second had a less cooperative and rougher-hewn clientele: He walked the thin blue line, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The difference between them that was biggest—profound would be a better word—lay in what they did when they were in the U.S. Army. Soldier No. 2 won praise; his commander once called him “one of the [battalion’s] finest, if not the finest young officer.” No such accolade for Soldier No. 1. He emerged a moral monster who had brought atrocious disgrace to himself, his uniform and his nation.

But whatever their differences, in the end they had a terrible element in common, which we shall soon see. The lives of both were marked by deep calamity, and their tragedies — shaped by a monumental national force — deserve retelling for the lessons they hold for Americans singly and as a people. Especially in view of Barack Obama’s announcement Tuesday of a major escalation in the Afghanistan war.

A seemingly enlightened president, with the apparent acquiescence of much of Congress and, yes, the voters, has chosen to hurl more lives into the maw of warfare. Of course, Obama’s approach to the Afghanistan issue has been known since the presidential campaign, when the Illinois senator made clear that he thought military emphasis needed to be moved to that nation. Still, the decision is a grating disappointment to those who had hoped that Obama would shift his view after it became clear to him in the Oval Office that U.S. military participation in the Afghanistan conflict is elective and not vital to our interests.

There’s no need here to deal much with why it was not necessary or wise for the United States to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Countless articles have been written on the subject: the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the lack of a connection of Iraq to 9/11, the historical inability of invaders to conquer Afghanistan, the illogic of invading a nation because a cell of religious zealots carried out a despicable crime in our country, etc.

Soldier No. 1 and Soldier No. 2 stand here not so much as individuals but as symbols, reflecting what our national policies have done to harm scores of thousands of young and not so young Americans. Their cases are instructive and can direct light onto the human consequences of sending troops across seas to fight unnecessarily. Let’s look at what happened to two of our warriors.

* * *

Soldier No. 1: The Cries for Mercy Still Echo

Last summer, a man on the cusp of old age said he was sorry for something he did long ago. Normally, such a declaration doesn’t extend past the hearing of an aggrieved wife or an adult offspring with a wounded past, but in this case there were ripples that reached across the nation and even into foreign countries.

The Associated Press and other major news conduits didn’t latch on to the story immediately, so the information took a couple of days to spread widely out of Columbus, Ga., a city of 190,000 that doesn’t often attract the attention of the big media.

The unlikely news scene was a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus. No members of the professional press were there to hear the invited guest who addressed the volunteer organization that day: a 66-year-old Atlanta resident named William Calley.

William Calley. For Americans of a certain age, the name sets off a firecracker in the brain, an explosion of memories of one of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century.

Apologists will passionately object to that characterization of Calley, but it’s accurate. A criminal: convicted as a mass murderer and given a life sentence at hard labor at a 1971 Army court-martial. Notorious: many millions of words spoken or written in reaction to disclosures that left the nation sick with revulsion.

(Although Internet and print sources have thousands of references to Calley’s “pardon” by Richard Nixon, according to my reading of the case the then-president never took any such action, although he did intervene otherwise; Calley’s criminal conviction was never expunged.)

Calley was infamous enough to provoke a damning reference in a protest song written by the legendary Pete Seeger, “Last Train to Nuremberg,” and to inspire a heroic portrayal in “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley” — a spoken song, set to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”(!), that penetrated the top 50 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Hot Country Singles. Hot indeed, our Mr. Calley.In 1975 there was a television drama about his trial. He would write an as-told-to autobiography, and many books have dealt with his case and the events that seared the words My Lai into the American annals. It would not be a stretch to say that his name was among those most recognized across the country at the beginning of the 1970s.

After a string of rather complicated legal actions, Calley went free in 1974. He soon faded into obscurity, working at the Atlanta jewelry store of his father-in-law. It was not until Aug. 19 of this year — almost 35 years after he was released from custody — that he spoke out publicly, in person, about My Lai and how his feelings about it had evolved.

Recording Calley’s words at the Kiwanis meeting was Dick McMichael, a retired broadcast journalist who wrote the story on his personal blog and then in an Aug. 22 bylined article in Columbus’ Ledger-Enquirer. It was McMichael’s Ledger-Enquirer account that was widely quoted when international media got wind of what Calley had said.

The article in the small daily quickly got to the meat of the matter:

William Calley, the former Army lieutenant convicted on 22 counts of murder in the infamous My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, publicly apologized for the first time this week while speaking in Columbus.

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus on Wednesday. His voice started to break when he added, “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.” …

… When asked if obeying an unlawful order was not itself an unlawful act, he said, “I believe that is true. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a second lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them—foolishly, I guess.” Calley then said that was not an excuse; it was just what happened.

The officer Calley said gave those orders was Capt. Ernest Medina, who was also tried for what happened at My Lai. Represented by the renowned Defense Attorney F. Lee Bailey, Medina was acquitted of all charges in 1971.

William Laws Calley was 24 years old on March 16, 1968, when he trudged into the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai. Until then, the young Floridian had done little in his life that made him stand out, either positively or negatively.

Before he joined the Army he had attended a junior college, but his grades were bad and he dropped out. Eventually he enlisted in the Army, and after officer training at Fort Benning in Georgia he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. “Rusty” Calley — 5 feet, 4 inches tall — was a leader of men by decree of the U.S. government.

Later, in an Army investigation, men who had been in Calley’s platoon said he was not liked and was seen as lacking common sense. Some even reported that there had been talk of “fragging” him (the term, derived from fragmentation grenade, came to mean killing a superior officer during the Vietnam War).

Exactly what happened at My Lai, and exactly why it happened, may never be known. What is known is that hundreds of Vietnamese villagers—perhaps as many as 504—died that day at the hands of troops from a land that prides itself on being the home of the good guys. In the forefront of slaughter were William Calley and at least part of his platoon. Most of the victims were women, children and elderly people. Some were raped or tortured in other ways.

Here’s one nauseating quote from an eyewitness questioned by Army investigators: “[One of the U.S. soldiers at My Lai] fired at [a baby] with a .45. He missed. We all laughed. He got up three or four feet closer and missed again. We laughed. Then he got up right on top and plugged him.”

Many Americans were surprised to see Calley and My Lai back in the news near the end of the first decade of the 21st century. After all, more than 12,000 days had passed since the last member of the American fighting force was removed from Vietnam, airlifted by helicopter from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon on a spring day in 1975. A new generation of Americans has arisen since then, and today the nation has new worries — including, sadly, new wars.

Old film and video clips of Woodstock, the Kent State killings and Haight-Ashbury doings still are seen occasionally, but the milieu of the late 1960s and early ’70s is little known to many Americans born since then, and indeed is dimming in the memory of some of the folks who camped in the mud at Max Yasgur’s farm in New York state, or claimed they did. It was a time of passionate division over the Vietnam War and of confrontation about communism, an incendiary public debate whose embers still glow after four decades. The survivors of the anti-Red campaign of the 1960s and ’70s surely must be chagrined today when they look to the Far East and see the evil Communist Chinese playing banker to a U.S. whose faith in capitalism has been shaken by a series of near-catastrophic economic events. Another disconcerting object in their field of vision is Vietnam, a repository of American bones but also a nation that has metamorphosed in nearly stunning ways.

Today, Vietnam is a member of the United Nations and one of our trading partners. It had an average rise in gross domestic product of more than 7 percent annually from 2000 to 2007. The American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam has a chapter in Ho Chi Minh City, once known as Saigon. Vietnam.com — “your official Vietnam travel guide” — offers, for a fee, to expose you to the delights of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Hue.Today’s state of affairs probably would not be much different if 58,000 Americans had not died in the Vietnam War. It is a bitter and sobering thought that so many thousands of U.S. military personnel perished for so little benefit to the nation that foolishly sent them into what amounted to a civil war.

The prime architect of the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara, would later admit that Washington’s actions had been “wrong, terribly wrong.” The one-time secretary of defense went to his grave this year burdened with sorrow for his role in the conflict.

Because of audiotapes now made public, we know of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s anguish over sending more troops to Vietnam, an anguish he concealed from the nation he led. Before he ordered a military buildup, he told national security adviser McGeorge Bundy in 1964: “The more I think about this, I don’t know what in the hell. … Looks to me like we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. … I don’t think it’s worth fighting for.” But the United States did fight the war, however worthless it might have been, and as a result the presidency of a man who envisioned a Great Society fell in shards.

Johnson had been goaded toward escalation by influential advisers including Bundy. William Pfaff, in his column that appeared Nov. 24 on Truthdig, quotes from the recently published and aptly titled “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam,” by Gordon M. Goldstein. Pfaff tells of a 1967 memo from Bundy to Johnson saying, “The fact that South Vietnam has not been lost, and is not going to be lost, is a fact of truly massive importance in the history of Asia, the Pacific and the United States.” Pfaff then writes: “Looking back at the memo, nearly 30 years after he had written it in triumph, he [McGeorge Bundy] noted on it, for Goldstein to read and quote, ‘McGB all wrong.’ ”

All wrong. Surely one of the strongest and most compact self-condemnations ever written by a former presidential lieutenant.

The U.S. public has overwhelmingly acknowledged that the country should not have gotten militarily involved in Vietnam. The Gallup Poll said: “ … [I]n retrospect, Americans feel it was a mistake to send troops to Vietnam. Three polls conducted from 1990 to 2000 found about seven in 10 Americans saying it was a mistake.”

The nation slipped into the Vietnam swamp bit by bit, under four presidents. None of those presidents — whatever their moral or political defects might have been — shipped soldiers to that Asian land to pursue a military campaign for gold or petroleum or territory. The stated goal was loftier and arguably less material: to save the world — or at least the United States — from communism.

As it turned out, communism was a cardboard tiger that not only couldn’t devour the planet but generally couldn’t even save itself. Today only Vietnam and four other nations are officially communist … and two of the five (Vietnam and China), at least when it comes to commercial expansion, look as though they were brought up by a money-hungry Uncle Sam rather than an anti-capitalist Papa Karl Marx.

An appalling portion of the United States’ young population was squandered in Vietnam because U.S. leaders had forgotten a fundamental rule of poker: You’ve got to know when to fold. Starting in 1962, more and more Americans were tossed into the pot each year as the troop level surged: 8,498 … 15,620 … 17,280 … 129,611 … 317,007 … 451,752 … 537,377. Ever bigger wagers were made in a futile attempt to save a bad bet. Even in 1971, after a couple of years of U.S. pullback, the American deployment remained at more than 200,000.

The mission in Vietnam was disastrously wrong-headed, and much American treasure and blood could have been spared if our leaders simply had had the political guts to say: “Enough. This is not working. Let’s go home.”

* * *

Soldier No. 2: ‘Numb and Withdrawn Upstairs’

The story of Peter Sinclair is poignantly laid out by staff writer Jia-Rui Chong in a Page 1 story in the Nov. 2 Los Angeles Times.

When Sinclair was 20, he enlisted in the Army and later was sent off to the Persian Gulf War. Afterward, he became an L.A. cop and a member of the Army Reserve. In the first year of the Iraq war, he was back in the regular Army.

Chong writes:

Pete’s unit was quickly caught up in insurgent attacks. His base at Al Taqaddum, about 45 miles west of Baghdad, was shelled as often as 56 times an hour, according to a sergeant stationed there. In Balad, north of the capital, a rocket explosion threw Pete, who was asleep, from his cot onto the floor.

“I’m happy just to be alive today,” he wrote home. …

… His injuries [back injuries suffered in the Army and on police duty] were exacerbated by the weight of his body armor and the constant jostling in Humvees. Sometimes he experienced spasms in his lower back so severe he could not walk. Sometimes it hurt so bad he had trouble speaking.

Painkillers, muscle relaxers, ibuprofen and Valium offered relief, but Pete struggled with the realities of war. He saw a Marine torn apart by a rocket. He came across mutilated bodies hanging from a bridge. Then there was a ride through Baghdad in the fall of 2004. Soldiers had been handing out candy to children to celebrate the opening of a sewage treatment plant when a bomb went off. More than 40 people, mostly children, died; dismembered bodies littered the street. Pete’s convoy rolled through the aftermath.

Two weeks later, he e-mailed his sister about his nightmares: standing in city streets surrounded by body parts and blood.

“I am pretty numb and withdrawn upstairs,” he wrote.

Sinclair returned from Iraq a captain — and a man tortured in body and mind. He was at times deeply distressed, and prescription drugs became an important part of his effort to survive. In 2006 he threatened to shoot himself, and later cut his wrist with a knife.

The following year, the Army ruled that Sinclair — who had been in hospitals and under various treatments — was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He had told his Army examiners, in part: “I had a good, solid career. I was moving up. Everything was great. And now, you know, I can’t even pick up a book and read it and I’m scared. I’m afraid to go outside.”

At one point after leaving the Army the former captain expressed worry about becoming addicted to the prescribed morphine, oxycodone and Valium he was taking.

Sinclair fell in love with a schoolteacher and talked of marriage; perhaps brighter days lay ahead. But last year Peter Courtney Sinclair, a child of sunny Southern California, died in a dark cloud wrought by bodily and mental devils. The official finding: morphine intoxication, accidental.

The life that ended in 2008 had begun 40 years earlier—just months before Rusty Calley led a platoon into My Lai with murder in his heart.

* * *

More PTSD, More Suicides, More Divorces

Sinclair’s story is sad by almost any measure, but sadder still is the fact that he must be counted among thousands of U.S. military people taken down, often fatally, by post-traumatic stress disorder, sometimes in conjunction with physical medical conditions incurred in the military or aggravated by wartime service.

Veterans for Common Sense, an aid organization, has said that as of last Dec. 15 the Department of Veterans Affairs had diagnosed PTSD in 115,000 U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Last year a study by the Army surgeon general found that an appalling percentage of soldiers on their third or fourth tours had experienced emotional illnesses. USA Today, citing the Army report, wrote:

From 15% to 20% of all soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan show signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), says the study of almost 2,300 soldiers finished last fall [2007]. That rate jumps to about 30% for soldiers who have been on three or four combat deployments. …

The report underscores concerns raised by military leaders that the current year-long break soldiers receive between successive 12- to 15-month combat deployments is far too short for them to recover.

One simple but incisive insight into the problem stands out: “People aren’t designed to be exposed to the horrors of combat repeatedly, and it wears on them.” The originator of that 2008 quotation was not some timid, pacifist lefty; it was a man who well knows war’s violence and soldiers — Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff.

The increasing strain on America’s thinly stretched fighting forces and the effects of that pressure have long been evident, and much has been said about the issue. Apart from the growing incidence of PTSD, suicide among soldiers has become a source of grave concern in the Army, which in January reported that the problem was the worst it had been in 28 years of tracking. Last month, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, told the Pentagon: “We are almost certainly going to end [this] year higher [in suicides] than last year. … This is horrible. …”

And just last Friday it was disclosed that the divorce rate in Army families is up in 2009. The Associated Press wrote: “The toll for a nation long at war is evident in military homes: The divorce rate in the armed forces edged up again in the past year despite many programs to help struggling couples. …” Still another sign of the psychic damage being suffered by the men and women of America’s armed forces.

Perhaps the best judges of the condition of today’s U.S. armed services are the officers themselves. In February of 2008, a survey of officers, both current and retired, found nine in 10 saying the Iraq war had stretched the American military “dangerously thin” (although a majority maintained that morale remained high). An article on the survey stated: “Gen. Casey has warned that the military was deploying at unsustainable rates, and was in danger of crossing a ‘red line’ beyond which it would take a generation to rebuild.”

In the face of this ever-growing mound of evidence that individual soldiers and the Army overall are under dangerous tensions, it’s hard to argue that things are just fine in the U.S. military. So, we support the troops by finding ways to ease their burdens, don’t we? No, that would only be too sane. In an era with no draft, we have now chosen to support the troops by heaping upon them more responsibility, more work, more war, more physical and psychological trauma. Thirty thousand more troops for fighting in Afghanistan? Sure, why not? It’s not as though there are any human costs to be paid (and this is to say nothing of the astronomical financial costs).

Besides, it’s not as though we are fighting in Afghanistan without unstinting help from our international allies. According to a report in April by Britain’s Times, in response to “an impassioned plea” for troops for Afghanistan that President Obama made on a visit to Europe, “[British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. … Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.”

Thirty-five from Belgium? Twelve from Spain? Zero from France? Is it possible that our friends know something we don’t?

[Editor’s note: After this was written, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said he expected NATO allies to send 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year. He also said he could not report yet which countries would dispatch the troops and how many each would deploy. In another new report, NATO estimated the alliance’s coming deployment at 7,000. The articles suggested that France and some other NATO countries might decline to send personnel; some others would not commit to any deployment numbers. And, as the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 4, “The new troop commitment, announced at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, includes about 2,500 soldiers who are already in the Central Asian nation. … [M]any … put limits on their soldiers’ participation in combat, making them less valuable from the American perspective.” (Truthdig article continues on Page 5.)]

* * *

Bad Judgment, Militarism and Hubris

The lives of Lt. William Calley and Capt. Peter Sinclair — one the villain, one the victim — both were ruined by the United States’ bad judgment, militarism, hubris and imperial leanings. Add to that list a twisted notion of exceptionalism, an idea that God has ordained us to teach the world how to live.

In short, the two men, along with thousands of their comrades, were done in by national policy. Both were sent to wars that were purely elective for the U.S. The reasons for fighting the conflicts lived mainly in the minds of politicians, not in the realm of need; there were alternatives to getting militarily involved, but these were ignored in favor of exercising force of arms.

The North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong did not invade Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington or any other U.S. soil. Even the famous “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” — which opened the way for the U.S. to use military force in Southeast Asia without a declaration of war — turned out to be a half-baked justification built partly on fantasy. President Johnson said in commenting to his press secretary, Bill Moyers, about what happened between the U.S. Navy and the North Vietnamese boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”

The nation would have been better off had it heeded boxer Muhammad Ali, who, when he refused to be drafted, said in 1966, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.” U.S. leaders, of course, did have a quarrel with them Viet Cong and them North Vietnamese, and that disagreement ended up killing nearly 60,000 Americans and contributing to the deaths of millions of Asians, civilian and military — none of whom were U.S. presidents, cabinet members, top-ranking civilian advisers or members of Congress.

In our national arrogance we put weapons in the hands of Americans and sent them abroad, where more than a few of them learned that all of those strange little people were enemies fit to be killed, even the old ones, even the females, even the children, including the babies.

This article is no apology for Calley, because none can be made for him. No doubt, murderous bigotry against anyone who looked like the enemy found fertile soil in the lieutenant. But his nation’s culpability cannot be discounted. We as a people trained him and armed him and sent him across the Pacific to do violence to an imagined enemy, and he carried out that charge with almost unimaginable enthusiasm. To be sure, we did not send him there with instructions to massacre the innocent; nor did his military training call for mowing down unarmed peasants. But we did create a situation in which body count was king — a situation conducive to indiscriminate killing. And our frustration over being unable to rout the enemy engendered ever more extreme military measures, on the ground and in the air.

There is no way of knowing how many “Little Calleys” there were in Vietnam, Americans who committed lesser atrocities against innocent Vietnamese. And few higher-ups who set policy and tone ever had to answer for misdeeds. Calley was caught and he went to jail, while superiors at various levels who egged him on toward the slaughter went free. If readers want to drew any parallels between this and the crimes at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, they are given free rein to do so.

None of this is meant to indict the GIs and officers who served honorably in Vietnam. Those of Calley’s ilk were a microscopic segment, and his deeds at My Lai found infamy because such actions were so far from the norm. Few American fighting men took lasting delight in seeing fellow human beings — battlefield enemy or not — blasted to bits or burned beyond recognition. Our national store of compassion is not a false myth. The percentage of our countrymen who would repeatedly shoot at and then kill an infant must be close to zero. But some would do so, and have done so, especially after themselves being wounded physically or psychologically.

William Calley and Peter Sinclair — the brute and the brutalized — both were victims of U.S. eagerness to settle affairs by duking it out with other countries: one man thrust into a situation that called out the beast within him, the other savaged by beastly experiences.

Brutes themselves are born in traumatic events. According to USA today, the Army’s 2008 study of PTSD found that “[s]oldiers in combat suffering emotional issues and who saw friends killed were twice as likely to abuse civilians by kicking or hitting them, or destroying their property. … Half of those soldiers admitted unethical conduct compared with a quarter of all other soldiers in combat.”

* * *
Presidential Speech: The Scent of Mendacity

President Obama is, I believe, personally a decent, moral man. But he is a politician, too, and he is not being straightforward with Americans. His speech at West Point on Tuesday carried the scent of mendacity — a whiff of wartime speeches by Johnson, Nixon and (dare I say it?) George W. Bush. To argue that we must conquer a nation to prevent a handful of Muslim extremists from hatching activities that could be plotted in any apartment in any country of the world pushes against the boundaries of common sense. When we finally subdue the bad guys in Afghanistan and make Pakistan secure, will aggrieved Islamic fanatics around the globe suddenly say, “Well, that’s that. …. Now we love the Yankees”?

Obama was quick to whip out the national security card. He said: “If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow. So no—I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” One can almost hear echoes of presidential speeches from the 1960s and 1970s in which the word Vietnam fills in for Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least Obama did not tell us there was “light at the end of the tunnel,” a phrase that fell from the lips of more than one government official or military leader during the Vietnam era. And mercifully we did not hear a sentence that was popular among Vietnam hawks: “If we don’t fight them there we’ll be fighting them here.” But the old messages of “we will win if we stay the course” and “be afraid, be very afraid” were subtext.

Perhaps the reason Obama took such pains to assure us that Afghanistan is not another Vietnam was because of the pesky pile of evidence that that’s exactly what it is.

We will come out of Iraq and Afghanistan much as we came out of Vietnam, with nothing to show for it except huge bills and death lists and unknown numbers of U.S. combatants who were either turned into evildoers or wounded beyond healing in body or spirit. That’s what war produces. By subjecting participants to almost unthinkable horrors, it turns a small but disturbing percentage of them into something horrible or horribly pitiful: a Calley reviled and everlastingly racked with regret; a Sinclair deeply afflicted and then dying because of an accident with pills. All need our compassion and, when necessary, our forgiveness.

If a war is unavoidable — as was our struggle against the Axis powers in World War II — armed services personnel must be asked to pay whatever the price is for the survival of the nation. And they must bear whatever human consequences come. But the Iraq war was and is not necessary, and the Afghanistan war was and is not necessary. Pat Tillman should be on an NFL field today, not dead.

The Afghanistan surge announced Tuesday is a blow against American military men and women. Most will be worse for the experience if they are sent to a war that pits Afghans against Afghans, and Americans against whoever happens to hate them most at the moment. They deserve better from our leaders and from us. They deserve to be home.

T.L. Caswell is a former member of the Los Angeles Times editing staff and now edits and writes for Truthdig.

T.L. Caswell
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T.L. Caswell worked for many years at the Los Angeles Times and now edits for…
T.L. Caswell

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