John McCain has now been forced to sort-of-apologize for saying American lives had been "wasted" in Iraq, just as Barack Obama did a few weeks ago (of course, Obama's statement got much more news coverage, given the responsiveness of the media to the right's apparatus of outrage). In truth, it was far more offensive for McCain to say than Obama - he is, after all a supporter of the war, yet he somehow thinks American lives are being wasted (and now he wants to send more).
The reason both of them had to apologize is because we've come to a place where the men and women serving in the military have become like religious icons. Any word that could possibly be interpreted as putting them or their service in anything but the most noble and heroic light is now treated as blasphemy that must be instantly condemned, disavowed, and apologized for. Or more properly, the religious icon is not those men and women as individuals, but as a collectivity, "the troops," who must be treated like fragile little children in need of a program of perpetual self-esteem building. Don't criticize the mission, or their morale might be hurt! As Chris Hayes recently asked, "Can we please, please, please stop pretending that we currently have 160,000 saints with guns patrolling the streets in Iraq? Can we please stop justifying the war in terms of it somehow being waged on the soldier’s behalf?"
But I’ll say it: the lives of those who died in Iraq were wasted. They could have grown up, had productive lives, fallen in love, raised families, held their grandchildren in their arms, seen the world evolve and change. But instead they died, for nothing other than George W. Bush’s ungodly nightmare of a war.
That doesn't mean they weren’t brave, and it doesn't mean they weren’t trying to do the right thing as best they could. They thought they'd be defending their country when they enlisted in the military. They were given orders and they followed them. But now they're dead, and unless you’re one of the deluded few who still believe this war was a good idea, you can’t come to any other conclusion but that their lives were wasted.
For some that may not be the case in a more narrow sense – some, for instance, died performing an act that saved others. But most just died, killed by a roadside bomb or a sniper. Nothing but misery and suffering came of their deaths, and it's people like John McCain – who pushed for this war as relentlessly as anyone before it began, and who has been unwavering in his belief that it was the right thing to do - who bear the responsibility.
I can barely describe the rage that wells up within me when I see Republican congressmen and administration flacks and blowhard right-wing pundits bleating on about how anyone who wants to end this madness must not be "supporting the troops." They, who sent those soldiers off to be killed and maimed, they, who unleashed the chaos that has come and will come because of this war, they, who couldn't give a rat's ass about what happens to those soldiers when they come home missing limbs and parts of their minds and racked with nightmares as they try to piece their lives back together, they, whose ignorance and stupidity and immorality brought us to the hellish place we find ourselves, they have the gall to accuse us, the majority of Americans who want to end the war and know what a terrible mistake it was, of not "supporting the troops."
I'm sure that if I was one of those parents who had lost a child in this war, I'd want to think that his or her death meant that our country was safe and democracy was saved, that it wasn't a waste in the end. Perhaps feeling that way helps to lessen the unspeakable agony of losing a child; I don't know. But it does no disservice to those troops to acknowledge that most of those lives were wasted.
In a just world, George Bush and Dick Cheney and Bill Kristol and John McCain and all the rest of them would be sentenced to spend the rest of their lives visiting one family after another who lost a son or daughter, one soldier after another who came back wounded in body or mind or spirit. They would be forced to look them in the eye, see their pain, then get down on their goddamn knees and beg for forgiveness.