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John Cory: The Ghosts of War

The Ghosts of War

By John Cory
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 12 August 2004

"They say, the first casualty of war is truth. They are wrong. The first casualty of war is reality. In war, the unreal becomes real, and truth becomes a lie."
- 'The Ville,' John Cory

It haunts us still. Three-and-a-half decades later, America cannot stop picking the scab of Vietnam. The wound has never healed and has now grown infected and poisoned. Plato said: ''Only the dead have seen the end of war.''

The White House could stop this Swift Boat slander, but won't. George Bush needs the venomous attacks on John Kerry to distract the media and public from the failures of his leadership, and from the growing stench of Iraq.

There are veterans of all conflicts, who fall in love with the terrible sweet beauty of war. Men who polish their armor long after the parades have faded. Their glory is not in duty, honor, and country; but in the carnival mirrors of their own warped reflections. These are veterans who march with swagger and blaring brass, like small boys struggling to be seen and heard.

There are veterans who have paid passage through the heart of darkness; who dedicate their lives to eliminating the horrors that hide behind their eyes at night, when they dream. These veterans testify to the unreal and repulsive acts of war that forever wound the soul.

And there are veterans who let it go and never look back again. Not that they forget, they simply choose not to dwell in those memories. They seek peace of mind and hope.

But war is a ghost that haunts the living. Like guilt, war is the gift that keeps on giving, to paraphrase a song.

This GOP-funded anti-Kerry veterans group is getting lots of free publicity by major networks and cable shows, and lots of discussion about "truth" and "facts" and all the focus-group tested words. This is a group that prefers to tongue-polish the buttons of a war dodger and champagne National Guard frat boy in an effort to restore their battle honor by tarnishing a fellow veteran.

There were stories of Vietnam veterans returning to America, only to be spat upon by people who viewed them as an evil extension of a dishonest and war-mongering government.

Now fellow veterans spit upon one another.

America, love it or leave it-is back with a vengeance. Body counts are once again the measurement of successful warfare. Restricted VA benefits for the wounded, bodies returned in the dead of night and shielded from American eyes, a false and misleading premise for war, that daily, kills America's youth; John Wayne-patriotism is glorified and peaceniks are vilified: all of the old ghosts are back.

If Swift Boat veterans are truly concerned with truth and honor, perhaps they should focus on the numerous articles about Iraq veterans being billed for their hospital stays and having their disabilities downgraded so the government won't have to pay as much as they should; of veterans having to fight the VA system for benefits; of troops being short of bullets; of families having to take up collections for the purchase of body armor for their loved-ones, because the government fails to supply them; of Humvees poorly armored to protect our soldiers; and of course, the stories of high ranking officers who live well and distant from the grunts who bleed and die in America's name.

No, these men care not for the present, only their past. They have no concern for the living, only the fading of their glory days. They remember Vietnam through the prism of their own partisan patriotism, not the painful lessons learned by all who served.

My Lai was the result of a few bad apples. Abu Ghraib is not the same. Zippo raids are not the same as Iraqi civilians watching their homes destroyed by American forces. Innocent Iraqi civilian deaths are not the same as innocent Vietnamese deaths. The dishonest and misleading policies of LBJ and McNamara are not the same as Bush and Cheney and Wolfowitz.

Nothing is the same, even as nothing changes.

The ghosts of war are chained to America's ankles, as it marches onward.

I have a poster from the days of Vietnam. I have kept it all these years as a reminder of the politics behind war. It is a photograph of Arlington Cemetery, neat orderly rows of white headstones, on green grass, below a sunny sky. The caption reads: "We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to do the unnecessary, for the ungrateful."

We were a divided military, in Vietnam-lifers and draftees. We chewed the mud together when mortars fell, and clawed our way to each other through bullets and bullshit. No one questioned the other's patriotism. We were grunts, doing our duty, and politics be-damned on the battlefield.

The ghosts of war never need resurrection because they never die.

The poison of this Swift Boat organization does not hide the political puppetry behind their appalling deeds. Nor does it hide the sad and shameful embrace they and the White House have chosen.

As I said, the first casualty of war is not truth-it is reality. The unreal becomes real, and the truth becomes a lie.


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