Sasstoday's Blog

Shallow Graves? Shallow President?
December 17, 2009, 6:53 pm
Filed under: Political Commentary

When the Time magazine I was flipping through opened to the double page spread of one of its pictures of the year my heart dropped and brimming tears glazed my visibility; I was looking at a picture of newly, shallow dug graves in the barren Afghanistan soil with our Marines lying in them. Then a closer, clearer-eyed look revealed what a first glimpse had not. The bodies were those not of dead, but of dead-tired young Marines.  The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were photographed by David Guttenfelder in Helmand province in July. Each lay in his earthen bed, in eerily death like slumber in the rectangular fox holes they’d dug for themselves.

One Marine lay on his back, his neck bent uncomfortably sideways, his dirty, worn boots and striped wool socks atop the boots he had taken off and set close to his bed of dirt. I wondered whether those thick socks were sent by a mother or girlfriend to make the long treks through the harsh and dangerous Afghan countryside easier on his feet? It’s the seemingly little things that make life easier, appreciated, during war: something as simple as thick socks to keep your feet from blistering or freezing. The socks had been stripped off but one sat on top of one boot, one on top of the other. If they had to be put back on quickly there’d be no time wasted. Another Marine was curled on his side, his machine gun his sleeping mate, his mouth gaping slightly in the unconsciousness of sheer exhaustion. A third Marine had covered himself completely in a dark blanket or tarp, only his forehead and crew cut visible above his covering. And a fourth lay cramped in a fetal position in his hastily dug, coffin-like dirt bed. Turned up clots of earth surrounded the shallow dirt rectangle that was only about half as long as he was.

Guttenfelder, the photographer, wrote of the scene:

“We’d stopped in this farmer’s field for the night. It took me an hour to dig my own firing position in the dark, and it feels like you’re sleeping in a shallow grave. But you do feel safer—and sleep better—protected by those few inches of dirt. I got up at dawn and was able to get the guys enjoying the first full night’s sleep they’d had after marching for six days in temperatures up to 135 degrees, carrying 120 pound packs.”

The picture caught just one moment in time for one small group of Marines and it caught a rare peaceful moment, despite its initial disturbing visual impression of graves, empty boots, bodies and death which is the heart wrenching end for many of our troops wherever and whenever there is war.

Time Magazine, Dec. 21, 2009

The truth is I worship them. I look at that picture and others I see of them in magazines and on the internet: the ones of them rushing away from an explosion cradling a bleeding child, the ones of them kneeling in front of two empty boots and a rifle, heads dropped, a hand over their eyes to hide tears while paying last respects to a buddy, the pictures of the medics tending the aches and pains of old Afghani men and the scrapes or illnesses of Afghani children, the pictures of the solider dropping to his knees then garnering the strength to somehow stand again under the staggering weight of the backpack he carries in hellish heat or unbearable cold.

During this Christmas season here in America and around the world for that matter, we sleep in safety and comfort because they, our American soldiers do not. Whether the world wants us there or even likes us does not change the fact that, even if they don’t admit it, they’re safer because of the American soldier, sailor, Marine, Air Man or Coast Guard member.

As Americans we have the blessed right to speak against and protest war. Sadly, in the past and still today it is our troops who have borne the cruelty of words unfairly, and as we have learned from horrendous media inaccuracies such as the reports that wrongly assumed Marines had massacred innocents in Haditha, Iraq, there are still those too quick to indict, literally, those who stand at freedom’s door to protect the very media scum who would blithely destroy a soldier’s or Marine’s career, integrity and livelihood.

Those critics: I hope they take a good long look at that Time magazine picture. I hope they get down on their knees every night and thank God for the American soldier before they (I’m thinking here of your average liberal Congressman) slip under their designer sheets and rest their heads on fluffy pillows as visions of sugar daddy lobbyists and re-election plans and jet-setting to Copenhagen dance in their heads.

They have a right to criticize, sure. But I can’t help but think of the quote by President Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

I fear the President will not allow our military to know victory. He’ll couch it or define it in some well-turned phrases and the job will be left undone, the work and sacrifice will unravel. And the President of the United States will go down in history as one of “those cold and timid souls.”

The President finally got around to announcing his strategy, after announcing his strategy eight months earlier, for Afghanistan when he delivered his lackluster speech at West Point. Iraq may yet unravel, we don’t know. Afghanistan may not be won. If I had to bury my friends and collect the pieces of their bodies after an IED explosion, if I had to sleep in a shallow grave-like bed of dirt, if I voluntarily left this great country because I loved it and its freedoms so much I’d die for it, I think I’d want one thing more than anything else. I’d want to know my President, my Commander-in-Chief, truly admired, respected and believed in what I was doing and sacrificing for freedom at home and around the world.

Barack Obama made a big deal of our military the day of his Inauguration. I thought then with relief that maybe he really did get it, he did understand the American military fighting men and women, the kind of devotion to freedom for which they would and do lay down their lives.

 Now? Despite his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, I don’t think in his wildest dreams Barack Obama understands the love of country and devotion to duty of the American soldier. He can’t touch that. His midnight trip to Dover Air Base with the national media in tow for a photo op, oddly timed when he was under intense pressure because he couldn’t/wouldn’t make up his mind on Afghanistan turned my stomach. It was the most shameful publicity grab I’ve ever witnessed.  Our soldiers deserve so much better. Mr. President: how about showing our men and women in uniform how much you think of them, how much you admire them and mean it, really mean it, before they come home in a flag draped coffin. That might mean a little less time on the golf course and a little more time in the White House.


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