Today's Washington Post:
President Bush heads into his second term amid deep and growing public skepticism about the Iraq war, with a solid majority saying for the first time that the war was a mistake [...] according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
While a slight majority believe the Iraq war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, 70 percent of Americans think these gains have come at an "unacceptable" cost in military casualties. This led 56 percent to conclude that, given the cost, the conflict there was "not worth fighting" -- an eight-point increase from when the same question was asked this summer, and the first time a decisive majority of people have reached this conclusion.
My question is, what happened in the last few months that changed people's minds? The number of US casualties each month has fluctuated up and down, and though November marked the highest total of any month so far, it was but one more than the number killed back in April. The grim mark set in September of 1,000 US soldiers killed in operation Iraqi Freedom has been increased by another 309. And suddenly a majority of Americans have now decided that the war has come to an "unacceptable cost" in lives? What was the turning point? The 1,308th soldier?
Meanwhile there are estimates of over 30,000 Iraqi troops and insurgents dead, as well as 15,000 civilians killed. These numbers are such a callous way to describe death on either side of this conflict, not to mention the innocents trapped in its midst. Can cold, uncaring numbers change American sentiment about this conflict all of a sudden?
As I've mentioned before, it's nearly impossible to go for a walk through Boston without spying a car bearing a yellow "support the troops" ribbon. Aside from the fact that I highly doubt the gas stations and convenience stores selling them -- or the mysterious manufacturers making them -- are donating the proceeds to our soldiers and their families, what does such a small and relatively meaningless act by consumers signify?
In the past, I believed it possible to "support the troops" without necessarily supporting the action in which they are being deployed. I felt by buying calling cards to be sent to soldiers away from their families, or by donating money for care packages to be mailed to them, one could give support without necessarily agreeing with the mission those in combat have been ordered to execute. Judging by the innumerable yellow ribbons on the street, and taking into consideration this recent poll, do a majority of Americans agree with this? Can you be supportive of the men and women fighting and dying without expressly believing in their purpose?
I have lost contact with any peers I knew in high school or college that are now in the military. Not due to this war, but simply because whatever relationships we had in the past have been dissolved by time. If I still talked to them, I would want to know their thoughts on the matter.
I imagine when, with every day in Iraq you and your friends risk injury and death, when every day you are sent to quell an underestimated force that can strike at any time, when every corner you turn means danger, you have to believe in your mission. I imagine that for many in combat it must be impossible to risk such horrors while disagreeing with the cause of them. How can you face death over something you aren't sure is right?
Is it possible to support the troops, to hope that they remain safe overseas and to wish them a speedy return home to their families, without agreeing with their mission? I used to believe so. When, however, I try to ask that same question from the point of view of the those who are fighting this war, I just can't believe that it is.
I don't know what that makes me. When I see soldiers returning home alive I feel happy for them, and extremely thankful for the gift they give our country. If I disagree with the actions of our President, does that trump my feelings of gratitude and awe for the men and women who are fighting and dying in Iraq? I just don't know anymore. I can't imagine the fighting men and women in Iraq ever coming home to the same public displays of anger their predecessors met after Vietnam. I think that a vast number of Americans hope and pray for our soldiers' safety.
What, then, does this poll mean for the question of supporting the troops?
Labels: News Commentary, Politics, US Policy