In the wake of the rising tide of allegations claiming that U.S. forces executed a sort of vigilante justice by staging murderous attacks on Iraqi civilians, General Chiarelli, second in command in Iraq, stated his belief that it’s important for troops to “take time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies.” The Marines who were reportedly involved in the Haditha rampage were on their third deployment. Some soldiers are on their sixth tour of duty. Many have spent more time in Iraq than they have at home in the past few years, scooping up body parts of friends and “friendlies.” When, precisely, does the general think our soldiers will have a little down time to reflect?

More importantly, why haven’t our elected leaders taken the time to reflect, discuss and decide on a clear exit strategy that would prevent more empty boots and baby shoes from being added to the growing pile of casualties in Iraq every day?

It has been more than a month since leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives declared that they would convene a “full and lengthy” debate on the war. Theoretically, that debate would address questions pertaining to the legality of a confrontation that was initiated on false information and in violation of virtually all modern conventions and standards of warfare.

Presumably, that conversation would explore the morality of a conflict that has become a civil war in which 90 percent of the casualties are unarmed civilians, and the short- and long-term impacts of multiple deployments on troops already stretched to the breaking point.

One might suppose the discussion would address what the “noble cause” is, and whether or not it is within the purview of the United States Armed Forces to build a democracy (which is not what Congress or the American public were told they were paying for). One might also surmise that a dialogue would take place about whether that might be something better left to a regional, if not international, coalition of statesmen and diplomats. It may be difficult to appeal to the United Nations for assistance, but, as the wife of a National Guardsman who has already served a year in Iraq, I assure you, it would be no trickier than having your loved one sent off to fight in a war based on lies.

Which begs the question: If you support the troops, can you name one? If not, why aren’t you signing up to become one? With an increasing number of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq, why aren’t we doing anything about it? Why aren’t our representatives? It smacks of hypocrisy to ask our soldiers to do what we, from the comfort of our couches or the halls of Congress, won’t. Namely, to align our morals with our actions.

If Congress waits until November to act, it is likely that 350 or more U.S. soldiers will die, along with countless Iraqi children, women and men. Since March 2003, on average, over two service men and women and nearly 20 Iraqi citizens have been killed in each day of the war.

Perhaps when what’s left of the troops on the ground in Iraq are done with their values training, they can all come home and teach us. Until then, I suspect that the poem I wrote while participating in the Bring Them Home Now Tour (September 2005) as a member of Military Families Speak Out will continue to be relevant:

Empty Boots and Baby Shoes

I am so tired of standing at

memorials for soldiers; tired

of weeping for the victims of

this war.

I am tired of watching parents plant crosses for their dead

children, day after day after

godforsaken day.

I am tired of placing flowers in empty boots and baby shoes; of the way my body shakes at the first readings of the names that were added to the casualty count this week.

What’s wearing me out is

bearing witness to this war.

This foreverness of death, and the unrelenting loss.

It drains my spirit to meet the

widow’s eyes; to watch the fathers falter, falling to their knees. Christ, that makes me weak.

To stand at the lip of the mouth of a grave that will never get enough

Catching mothers tears, a

nation driving by the dead, is

exhausting to my soul.

I am deathly tired today.

Stacy Bannerman is on the advisory board of Military Families Speak Out. She is the author of “When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind.” Her husband deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade in March 2004 and returned home on March 11, 2005. This article is reprinted from truthout.org by permission of the author.

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