Ken Burns’ “The War” and the Iraq War and the War on Terror

I watched a preview of Ken Burns’ “The War” on the local PBS station, WTVP, tonight. I thought of my late grandfather, Ken McCracken, who fought in the Philippines. He did not talk about it much. When he did, it was usually in a humorous way.

Like the time, he and his fellow Army soldiers had been marching quite a long distance. Their thirst seemed to grow with every step and all of the water they were finding was stagnant and unfit for drinking. Finally, they came to a stream. They drank and drank, filled their canteens, ladled it with their helmets and poured it over their heads. After quenching their thirsts, they started walking upstream and immediately rounded a bend to find a large bloated water buffalo (carabao) lying dead in the stream. He chuckled and added that nobody got sick.

One thing he pointed out was that as a soldier (and largely in life), he spoke his mind, because as he put it he knew he “wasn’t going to make a career out of it.” He did his military duties, after he vented his opinions. The chuckle would come and I would forget that he also had stories, that my grandmother would tell me years later, woke him in the middle of the night for the rest of his life. Not as often in later years, as his first years home from war. The war affected him in such a way that it made him who he was after returning home to Amboy, Illinois. His sacrifices did not stop after returning home from war.

He gave time and effort to many things and found enjoyment in most everything in life. He moved away from the family farm and into town. He worked several jobs and eventually settled into carpentry work at a local lumberyard. He also went on to become mayor of Amboy for 16 years (12 consecutive years, then not running for mayor to only have people asking him to run again four years later, then agreeing to run, but only for one term). He never hesitated to take out the trash or to shuttle an aunt to the doctor’s office or to find peace in dropping his fishing line into the Green River or a pond. He was content with the things he had, even as they grew outdated in appearance. He lived simply, justly, honestly and found it to be enough in life.

His stories passed with him. He did not like war, but he did not like draft dodgers either. He felt life presented sacrifices and you made them. He was not fond of Republicans, but knew you had to work for common ground to find solutions. Later when his son (my uncle), Jay, became the Republican mayor of Henry, Illinois, he would chuckle as he occasionally referred to Jay as his “Republican son.” As mayors of small towns, they were not far apart in their political views on the local level. But I digress.

I know he would not think much of George Bush, Dick Cheney, or the others in the Bush-Cheney administration who avoided the draft or ignored one’s military duties. He also would think that the Iraq War was wrong. It flat out is wrong and it was sold on lies to the public. It has been fought with the dictatorial idea that the Iraqis would just love us, embrace us, thank us for liberating them… or excuse me, the Iraqis would happily surrender their trumped up, but non-existent, weapons of mass destruction.

While watching the preview for Ken Burns’ “The War” series, I was struck with the realization that the U.S. had the right President guiding the nation through the sacrifices of war. Although the Great Depression had taught much of the population what sacrifice was, a leader still had to take the nation through the war.

The Cold War also saw the majority of the right President in office at the right time, although the Cold War may have also helped fuel much of the terrorism of today. The Cold War was fought ideologically and economically, too. Throughout much of the Cold War it was also fought diplomatically.

Lack of diplomacy has also contributed to the terrorism of today. Diplomacy does much more than raining down bombs in trying to bridge understanding. War does not create solution. The diplomacy afterward does. Communication works. My grandfather knew this.

The Bush-Cheney administration does not. It places deadlines and timelines for diplomatic solutions, but avoids them for military solutions or for diplomatic solutions within the Iraqi government. The U.S. is in a quagmire in Iraq. Extrication at this time would be hard. Perhaps threatening to bring soldiers home with a deadline would convince the Iraqi government that it had better work together for its greater good. But no. The administration tells the American people that it would not work.

The Bush-Cheney administration is also not the right one to fight a war on terrorist. The administration is not wise enough to fight such a war. The administration welcomes the fear terror creates and has used it to their advantage in shaping public opinion. Keep the people afraid.

But the people are beginning to see through the lies and dodges and misrepresentations spewed out by the administration. The media is beginning to wake up and find its voice again and question a few things. It still has to get out of bed with the administration and the corporations though before it does anything of significant quality.

I hope Bush and Cheney watch Ken Burns’ “The War” on public television (something they recently tried to abandon for the corporations to control). I hope that they come to understand what war is. Something they dodged understanding in their younger years. Maybe they will finally see reality.

No, the Iraq War is not our grandparents’ war. There was a purpose far nobler to their war. The Bush-Cheney Iraq War does not have one. Oil has no nobility.

Neither does greed.

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1 Comment

  1. Well, I am quite sure I am not your grandfather – but my grandfather’s name was Ken McCracken also. And while he did not fight in the Phillipines, his brother Alan McCracken was captured at Corregidor, survived the Bataan Death March, and spent the whole war in a Japanese POW camp. He wrote a book about it, called “Very Soon Now, Joe”

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