Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Powerful Stuff: a Marine's Father Speaks Up

I don't normally like to post whole articles verbatim like this, but I'm sure Mr. Schroeder and WaPo won't mind.

A Life, Wasted
Let's Stop This War Before More Heroes Are Killed
By Paul E. Schroeder
Tuesday, January 3, 2006; A17

Early on Aug. 3, 2005, we heard that 14 Marines had been killed in Haditha, Iraq. Our son, Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder II, was stationed there. At 10:45 a.m. two Marines showed up at our door. After collecting himself for what was clearly painful duty, the lieutenant colonel said, "Your son is a true American hero."

Since then, two reactions to Augie's death have compounded the sadness.

At times like this, people say, "He died a hero." I know this is meant with great sincerity. We appreciate the many condolences we have received and how helpful they have been. But when heard repeatedly, the phrases "he died a hero" or "he died a patriot" or "he died for his country" rub raw.

"People think that if they say that, somehow it makes it okay that he died," our daughter, Amanda, has said. "He was a hero before he died, not just because he went to Iraq. I was proud of him before, and being a patriot doesn't make his death okay. I'm glad he got so much respect at his funeral, but that didn't make it okay either."

The words "hero" and "patriot" focus on the death, not the life. They are a flag-draped mask covering the truth that few want to acknowledge openly: Death in battle is tragic no matter what the reasons for the war. The tragedy is the life that was lost, not the manner of death. Families of dead soldiers on both sides of the battle line know this. Those without family in the war don't appreciate the difference.

This leads to the second reaction. Since August we have witnessed growing opposition to the Iraq war, but it is often whispered, hands covering mouths, as if it is dangerous to speak too loudly. Others discuss the never-ending cycle of death in places such as Haditha in academic and sometimes clinical fashion, as in "the increasing lethality of improvised explosive devices."

Listen to the kinds of things that most Americans don't have to experience: The day Augie's unit returned from Iraq to Camp Lejeune, we received a box with his notebooks, DVDs and clothes from his locker in Iraq. The day his unit returned home to waiting families, we received the second urn of ashes. This lad of promise, of easy charm and readiness to help, whose highest high was saving someone using CPR as a first aid squad volunteer, came home in one coffin and two urns. We buried him in three places that he loved, a fitting irony, I suppose, but just as rough each time.

I am outraged at what I see as the cause of his death. For nearly three years, the Bush administration has pursued a policy that makes our troops sitting ducks. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that our policy is to "clear, hold and build" Iraqi towns, there aren't enough troops to do that.

In our last conversation, Augie complained that the cost in lives to clear insurgents was "less and less worth it," because Marines have to keep coming back to clear the same places. Marine commanders in the field say the same thing. Without sufficient troops, they can't hold the towns. Augie was killed on his fifth mission to clear Haditha.

At Augie's grave, the lieutenant colonel knelt in front of my wife and, with tears in his eyes, handed her the folded flag. He said the only thing he could say openly: "Your son was a true American hero." Perhaps. But I felt no glory, no honor. Doing your duty when you don't know whether you will see the end of the day is certainly heroic. But even more, being a hero comes from respecting your parents and all others, from helping your neighbors and strangers, from loving your spouse, your children, your neighbors and your enemies, from honesty and integrity, from knowing when to fight and when to walk away, and from understanding and respecting the differences among the people of the world.

Two painful questions remain for all of us. Are the lives of Americans being killed in Iraq wasted? Are they dying in vain? President Bush says those who criticize staying the course are not honoring the dead. That is twisted logic: honor the fallen by killing another 2,000 troops in a broken policy?

I choose to honor our fallen hero by remembering who he was in life, not how he died. A picture of a smiling Augie in Iraq, sunglasses turned upside down, shows his essence -- a joyous kid who could use any prop to make others feel the same way.

Though it hurts, I believe that his death -- and that of the other Americans who have died in Iraq -- was a waste. They were wasted in a belief that democracy would grow simply by removing a dictator -- a careless misunderstanding of what democracy requires. They were wasted by not sending enough troops to do the job needed in the resulting occupation -- a careless disregard for professional military counsel.

But their deaths will not be in vain if Americans stop hiding behind flag-draped hero masks and stop whispering their opposition to this war. Until then, the lives of other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers may be wasted as well.

This is very painful to acknowledge, and I have to live with it. So does President Bush.

The writer is managing director of a trade development firm in Cleveland.


  1. This is a well-written piece. I can appreciate it even though I can't claim to relate to what the man is feeling (not having lost a child).

    Two things come to mind:

    1) Not directed specifically to this man, but it seems to me much of the anti-war sentiment is rooted in 2003. Basically, what I hear is "we shouldn't have gone to war." Ok, let's assume for a moment I accept that. How does that help us now? What the opposition needs is a really well-thought out plan for what to do NOW, rather than more of what we should have done THEN.

    2. Jeff - you're career military. What would you say to someone thinking of going in right now? Does your opposition to this war change your view on the desirability of service? I ask, in part, because my son, who is 15, has been talking lately about wanting to go in when he's 18. I'm not planning on talking him out of it, though we'll certainly talk about the pros and cons and the whole range of options available to him. Your thoughts?

  2. William Bollinger3:52 PM

    Unfortunately, well thought out plans that don't involve "stay the course" are met with attacks.

    In April 2003, Howard Dean was suggesting a seven part plan to assure the Iraqi people and the rest of the world that we were not going to use the war as an excuse to build permanent military bases and secure the Iraqi oil for ourselves, and would have tried to restore the alliances necessary to solve the Iraq war. His plan wasn't even heard because he was demonized as a "crazy, anti-war liberal".

    Recently, John Murtha called for a plan "To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces. To create a quick reaction force in the region. To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines. To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq". This became cut-and-run, and Murtha was attacked for "endorsing the policies of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party".

    One part of that "what to do NOW", is to admit that what we are doing now (stay the course) isn't working. Until discussion can get past that point, the Democrats plan will continue to be attacked as "supporting the terrorists through cut and run".

    On your son, if you want the advice of a diabled vet instead of a career man, tell him "Do it, if it's something you're seriously willing to die for".

  3. William,

    Hear, hear!

    I just posted above why I think we're really in Iraq, and in the ME in general.

  4. I read this editorial with a heavy heart. I thank whatever deity might actually exist that I have no children of draft/enlistment age. I'd give all I have, up to and including my left whatchamacallit to stop their involvement in this dishonorble war.

    None hate war more than those who have fought, because we are the ones who understand it is not bugles, flashing banners and flags, quick, clean, noble deaths and glorious victory.

    Death is never noble in combat. It is messy as torn limbs ooze blood, or arteries spurt spasmodically from traumatic amputations, and you watch helplessly as your friend's life darkens the soil. You watch his eyes as he goes through the last realization, until they turn glassy, and he is only a memory.

    Victory is surviving, and hopefully feeling then joy that your squadmates also survived. There is no nobilty in dying for an abstract reason like "democracy" or "Der Fuehrer" or even "home." Men fight and die for various reasons, and when all the data are compiled and extrapolated, such as John Keegan has so aptly shown, they seem to die for their fellow soldiers.

    I reserve a major piece of my disdain and contempt for the cowardly warbloggers like Jonah Goldberg, Glen Reynolds, Cliff May, Victor Hanson and the like who know so little and demand so much of others while giving so little of themselves.

    I think Paul Schroeder got it just right. I grieve that his son has joined the coutless thousands of others who have been slaughtered in this meaningless combat in Iraq.

    I'll be godamned if my children or grandchildren will die to make Halliburton richer, or to prove to Barbara Bush that son George is as much of a he-man as his Daddy.

  5. Same here, Lurch. Same here.

    The local NPR progressive music program just played the recently live recorded of Cream's "Politician."

    Some songs just get better and truer with time, don't they?

    Hey, now, baby, get into my big black car...