Every day during December there were reports of young Marines begin killed in Iraq. Each report brought a terrible tinge of fear: would this report be of the 20-year-old Marine Humvee driver who’s been there since mid-2006 and is part of our extended family?

Already his Humvee has been hit, but he reported that it was “nothing,” thanks to the fact that he apparently was in one of the better-armored vehicles. He’s a brave young man, proud of what he is doing in Iraq; and his father is doubly proud. The pride is, of course, personal, as it is with any parent whose child is achieving some milestone like an award or college graduation. The pride, too, is based on the unselfish role that the young man is playing in “defending his country,” in “supporting the goals of freedom” and in “serving his nation.”

If you believe the war in Iraq is a fiasco and a colossal mistake, you cannot help but feel heartsick at the sacrifice made by hundreds of thousands of young men and women who have served in Iraq. They have answered the call of their country, many with great hardship to themselves and their families. More than 3,000 as of the start of 2007 have given their lives.

Nearly all of them should be considered “heroes” to be serving in a country where every citizen can be feared as a potential enemy, in a country of terrible heat and desert winds and in a country suffering great deprivation. (Some have not acted so honorably, as we have seen, but let’s remember they’re in the midst of fighting an unpopular war in a fearful place, and those fears may translate into such unconscionable actions as the slaughter of innocents and cruelty in prisons.)

These young people are doing what the political leaders of our country have cynically decreed they do, betraying them into thinking they were fighting in Iraq to avenge 9/11, when the real agenda for this unnecessary war was a grab for control of oil.

That this war is a disgrace to our nation, that it is wrongheaded in virtually every judgment, that it has launched almost worldwide disgust toward our country and that it has caused undue misery for our troops and the people of Iraq is the fault of President Bush and his people. It is not the fault of our young men and women serving in Iraq.

This is not the first time our nation has sent young men and women into wrongheaded wars. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, criticized our involvement in the Mexican Wars of the 1840s. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was often called a colonial experiment. In 1918-1919, we sent some 6,000 troops into northern Russia in a pointless adventure that killed and maimed many of them. Of course, we had Vietnam, which turned out to be a disaster.

These wars were as pointless as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Sadly, some of us who opposed the Vietnam War “blamed” the young men and women who fought there. That was a shameful reaction; the fault again lay with our civilian leaders, the presidents and their advisers (from both political parties) who took us there, and kept us there for a tragically long time.

As the fifth year of combat in Iraq begins, we can all praise the 140,000 U.S. service people in Iraq for their dedication and loyalty to the calling of their country.

It’s time, however, to ratchet up our “get out of Iraq” actions. If President Bush truly wants to better his legacy, it’s time for him to ’fess up and admit his mistakes here. Sadly, there’s little chance he will. Yet, our nation voted clearly in November that they want “out” of Iraq. Our Democratic majorities need to get some guts and push aggressively to end the occupation there.

That means that we, as citizens, need to speak up loudly, to take to the streets or take part in other activities to convince our leaders to end this sorry involvement in Iraq.

The 20-year-old Marine is now less than three months from being rotated back to the U.S., if his superiors don’t change their minds and extend his stay. He will be brave, since he often volunteers for extra missions. Each report of a U.S. casualty will be met with fear at home while he is there, as it will among those whose stays will be extended by President Bush.

Meanwhile, we who oppose our involvement there should best adhere to the words of Sen. Carl Schurz who said in 1872: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

Ken Germanson is a retired union official and community worker in Milwaukee.