Steve Duin of "The Oregonian" Gets an Earful on Iraq

Last week, Oregonian columnist Steve Duin published this piece, charmingly titled Mutilated Beyond Recognition:
Another lowered flag, another bale of yellow ribbon, another moment -- or two -- of silence. That just about covers it. Except for the lonely, angry prayer, that's the depth of our response to the deaths of two more local boys, Army Pfc. Tom Tucker of Madras and Spc. Robert Jones of Milwaukie, in Iraq.

The moments of silence tend to blend together, don't they? And almost three years -- and more than 2,300 U.S. military fatalities -- after President challenged insurgents and terrorists who might attack American troops by saying, "Bring them on," the silence is eerie.

Hush, now. Close your eyes. Be still. Never you mind. Move along.

Three days after Tucker and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca of Houston were overpowered and kidnapped at a remote checkpoint near Yusufiya, their bodies were discovered inside a circle of booby traps and bombs, scarred by torture, mutilated beyond recognition.

Mutilated beyond recognition: That sums up this country's ongoing mission in Iraq. ...

And on and on with more of this drivel. Steve Duin is obviously a big fan of John Murtha and devotes several paragraphs to the Pennsylvania Democrat.

One person on an e-mail list penned the following response:
Mr. Duin:

The title of your piece yesterday in the Oregonian [Mutilated Beyond
Recognition] could also be said to describe your powers of logic.

You dishonor these two fallen soldiers by using their demise as fodder for
your ridiculous idea of leaving an important job unfinished as its chances
for success continually increase. If within a couple of years, Iraq is a
reasonably functioning democratic society, and the other Arab/Muslim nations
that have started their march (yes, sometimes crawl) to democracy have
continued on that path (including Kuwait...or did you not notice they're
having first-ever elections that include women both on the ballot and in the
booth?), will you ever concede that the war and sacrifice were worth it? If
you don't think that the progress in the other non-democratic nations of the
region are due in large part to the aggressive approach taken by the U.S. in
Iraq, then I refer you, again to the first sentence above. Or invite you to
explain why not.

Perhaps you just think this whole Muslim extremist/terroist thing will go
away by a combination of appeasement and wishful thinking? Remember
Chamberlain. There is no peace to be made with this enemy; and you should
be thankful that someone at the helm had the guts to realize that and take
the fight to them.

Every killed soldier is a tragedy that permanently scars many lives, but if
in the end 4000 forces are lost, never in the history of warfare will have
so few been lost for the freedom of so many.

A fellow veteran of my old unit had this to say:
Mr. Duin,
I am writing to you and your editors to express my displeasure and offense to the premises espoused in your June 22, 2006, column.

Let’s begin with the constant promotion by the main stream media of how many Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Guardsmen have died in combat operations over the past three years. In the past three years of major and light combat in hostile theaters of operation we have only lost just over 2,500 service members. That may seem like a lot to the average Joe on the street, but that is an amazingly low number of casualties. Not bad considering that in the battles for the south Pacific in the early forties there are several battles where twice that number of Marines was lost in just a matter of hours.

The other issue overlooked by you media types is every one of the 2,500 plus KIA in both Afghanistan and Iraq are volunteers. Must of whom have either enlisted or reenlisted at some point in the past three years. What that really means is that they had a choice not to participate in any combat operations, but, chose to fight for your country as well as his or hers.

You bring up John Murtha and spew his political opinions as if they were written in the gospel. Yes, Rep. Murtha served in the Marine Corps, and I assume he was even Honorably Discharged. Today he is not speaking as a retired Marine officer, but as a politician seeking to keep his job. That very plainly means that he is going to do whatever it takes to cover his own “6” (Marine speak for your backside), and not his buddies.

You also attempt to discredit the opinions of Karl Rove because he never put on a uniform and John Murtha has. Well, what about guys like Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid? Does it mean that the country should not listen to these politicians because they never served in the military? Or is it more that you are going to take up the battle to promote their thoughts because they agree with your own?

Oh, and by the way, did you ever put on a uniform and spend any time in a fighting hole? If not why should your voice be heard? What gives you the right to criticize anything to with the military or the missions the undertake?

Most importantly, and more to the point, the media and those who lean politically to the left express more outrage, by the way a right protected by the military, toward our Commander-in-Chief than towards those who deserve it most, the terrorist we are fighting. You don’t see any protesting at the local Mosques, because of the way those two young, brave, honorable soldiers were tortured before they were killed. Where is the call to stamp out fanatic Islamist in our own country? Oh, wait we cannot paint Muslims with such a broad brush. We can however paint our military with one.

Steve Duin's follow-up column reveals that he got a strong response to his column:
The return fire on Thursday's column concerning the death of two Oregon soldiers and the war in Iraq was predictably intense. And before the next day had passed, intensely unpredictable.

Some of the feedback was wistful; much of it was partisan and bitter. I'd received numerous suggestions that Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., is a traitor and that I am conspiring with al-Qaida when this e-mail arrived:

I have a son in the Marines and I served in the Marines in Vietnam. So tell me, what do you really think?

You are no different than Kerry or Fonda of my day, and that probably makes you proud. ...

The author of the message, one Darrell Smith, eventually ended up in a 45-minute heart-to-heart phone conversation with Duin, and wrote passionately of his mixed feelings about his son's service:
As you can imagine, in my family saying I love you was a non-thing to do when I was growing up. You know, saying you love your son and knowing he may be going into harm's way is tearful. I tried not to miss a day without telling my children that I love them. It has made a remarkable difference in my life.

I wanted to be with him for one more summer before he left but it was not to be. . . . I wanted to go hiking, tubing and just sit and BS with him. He has taken a road that few have followed, and there will be this huge change, especially if he takes another person's life, be it in defense of his brethren or for other reasons. My son will never be the same. . . . My experience says that life will never be the same for him. It will either make him stronger or it will not. . . .

All I was hoping for was a little more time before he truly loses his innocence.

I appreciate Steve Duin's conciliatory attitude, and his willingness to speak openly with a military family member. And I am especially pleased that he took the time to let that father speak to Duin's readers in his own words.

But this doesn't fix the larger problem, which is that Steve Duin, like the overwhelming majority of the establishment, does not want to admit that our campaign in the Middle East may succeed, and for that reason does not want it to succeed. Here is my response to Duin's first column and its follow-up:
Steve, thank you for today's column.

I am 43 years old, a Portland resident since 2000, and a combat veteran of Desert Storm. I served with the 1st Light Armored Infantry Battalion, 1st Marine Division, from 1989 to 1993. We were among the first to cross the border from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait, and we took the first combat casualties of the ground war. (It was a double fratricide incident near Khafji on the night of January 29, 1991; two of our vehicles were destroyed by friendly missiles. We lost seven men.)

Whatever the stereotype of the "typical Marine" may be, it's probably safe to say I'm not it. (In truth, very few Marines are.) I was raised in an intellectual, liberal, Democratic family, and to this day I consider myself a "liberal" although I vote Republican now. I was among the 52% who voted for President Bush in 2004, and I guess I am among the 29%, or whatever figure the polls are giving, who still support him now. I was poised to write a poison-pixel email in response to your last column, but instead followed my better instincts as a blogger and waited until some of the anger had subsided and I could write a little more calmly.

Your column from last Thursday, concerning the brutal killings of Tucker and Menchaca, at least implicitly acknowledges some value in the "military objective in toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein", which is more than can be said for many of your journalistic colleagues; this, however, is all that can be said in its defense.

First, there is the general premise of your column, summed up in your lurid conclusion that "the weight of the coffins and the gravestones and the dead flowers would crush the cynical and sentimental notion that this war will end well." By this logic, every war that ever brought with it coffins and gravestones and dead flowers, which is to say every war ever fought, must end badly. Do you really believe this? If so, then you must believe that the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Second World War all ended badly. Are you prepared to justify that conclusion? If you are a strict pacifist, that's your business, but please be plain about it.

Your emotional reasoning depends for its impact upon treating our soldiers as objects - objects of pity, objects of speculation, but in any event, objects. No serious attempt is made to understand why the soldiers do what they do, or why (as is so often the case) they truly believe in what they are doing. This is typical of the condescension that we servicemen and veterans often receive from the so-called "educated", so-called "liberal" parts of society. I myself have experienced this more times than I care to recall. And yet, suddenly there's this outpouring of respect for a "Vietnam vet and a career officer in the Marines" named John Murtha.

Notice, too, that the bereaved families are also treated as objects. Only when they express anti-war sentiments ("Wes Tucker wondered aloud Wednesday if his son's gruesome death was retaliation for the U.S. military's conduct at such places as Abu Ghraib and Haditha") are they worthy of being treated as individuals with thoughts of their own. Cindy Sheehan gets incessant coverage and adulation from the press.

But if (as you media folks are forever reminding us) there have been 2,500+ American deaths in Iraq, then where are all the other grieving mothers? Could it be that, even for all of their own personal anguish, they are not protesting the war because they understand that their sons and daughters died in the service of a noble cause? It could be - but we'll never hear that from the press. Nor will we get to hear from Stephen Vincent's widow, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, who continues to champion the cause her husband gave his life for. (I had the honor of meeting Lisa at a bloggers' convention last November.)

My mother could easily have been among those who lost a child in a war with Iraq. Only fate spared me from being in the wrong place at the wrong time on the eve of my twenty-eighth birthday. Do you know what a TOW missile is? One of them will destroy a main battle tank. The Light Armored Vehicle is not a main battle tank, but basically a thick-skinned Winnebago. And one of them can carry fourteen TOW missiles. Can you guess what happens to the crew when one of these vehicles is hit by a missile? "Mutilated beyond recognition" doesn't even begin to describe it. There was nothing left of the bodies to recognize; the biggest piece of the vehicle they found was a strut from the undercarriage about the size of a man's forearm.

But Mom stood behind me. In the tortured cliché, she "supported" me. How? By respecting my ability to make my own choices and take my own risks; by taking the effort to understand the value of what we were doing in Kuwait; and most of all, by recognizing that my sacrifices - even the risk of my life - were for a worthwhile cause.

I knew enough about Iraq to know that Saddam was an evil sadist who had to be stopped, and, if possible, removed. As we all know, Saddam was not deposed, and the Iraqi people's uprising was cruelly betrayed in the spring of 1991. I won't dwell on it here, but the humiliating end of that war left a bad taste in my mouth for twelve years.

In the early weeks after 9/11, I was skeptical of the junior President Bush's motives in the Middle East. (I was involved in the Green Party at the time, so it wasn't like I was exactly being deluged with pro-Bush propaganda.) But it soon became clear that Bush was determined to succeed - strategically and morally - where his father had failed. When he declared that "we will not simply replace one dictatorship with another", I was won over.

George H. W. Bush must have believed, as you still do, that "shoving democracy down the throats of rival religious factions is a fool's errand." This odious statement sums up all that was wrong with American policy in the past, a cynical and degrading dogma that was rightly rejected by the Government only to be embraced by the left.

Some forty-two years ago, three pro-democracy activists named James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwermer, and Andrew Goodman were shot dead in Mississippi by a domestic terrorist group known as the Ku Klux Klan. If they met their deaths quickly, perhaps they were luckier than many activists who were lynched or otherwise tortured to death under the Jim Crow regime. Were they on a "fool's errand"? Was it madness to "shove democracy down the throats" of southern Blacks?

I don't believe democracy in Iraq is a "fool's errand". Nor do I believe America is losing the war in Iraq. I read Iraqi websites daily, and I read reports from the soldiers who are actually over there. I read analysis by people who actually know what is going on, and I find it both more credible and more informative than the media's propaganda.

We will not win this war quickly or easily, but we will win. I thank you for taking the time to get to know the real live military people who are fighting this war, and the real live families who are sharing its sacrifices - even the ones who aren't John Murthas or Cindy Sheehans. And yes, I believe you and I would probably find we share a lot in terms of basic beliefs.

If you are interested, you may read the short essay I wrote on Iraq.

Another commenter on the list was less forgiving:
Isn't it precious that Duin thinks that all this exchange with an emotional serviceman's parent exonerates him? That his cartoon was less hateful and less hurtful? It is at least disingenuous that he exploits this father's distress to find justification for what he did.

Steve Duin has lots of noble sentiments on Iraq. Too bad those sentiments don't include respect for the Iraqi people, or respect for the Americans who risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives to protect us and the freedom we hold dear.