[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
This morning, I woke up in a small hotel room in Gordonsville, Tennessee. Outside my door: Taco Bell, Subway, McDonald's and Waffle House. I packed my gear and headed down to the lobby for another day of shooting 10 Things You Don't Know About. Scheduled for today was a tour of the Center Hill Dam and an interview with an engineer who is working on a massive repair project there.
I sit down outside the breakfast room, which is serving eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, death. A husband and wife walk by me. She is wearing a shirt with the Ichthys “Jesus fish” on the front. She was wearing the same shirt when we pulled in the night before. They sit down and start eating, putting it away, as if it's the end of food. The husband – who is solid and up there in age but still dark-haired – gets to talking with an elderly man. They discuss local highways and construction. Somehow they transition from estimated drive times to San Antonio to, of all things, the Vietnam War. Both are veterans of it.
Their conversational enthusiasm spikes as they start to exchange stories. The elderly man was in the Navy, served in 1965 and was near Da Nang. (I wonder if he was around for the Marines landing there that year.) They start recalling bars both had been to on R&R in the Philippines. Both remembered the same bridge they used to throw coins over and watch the local kids swim to the bottom and come back to the surface with.
The stories of alcohol-fueled nights and not always knowing exactly what they were shooting at went on for several minutes. Finally, the elderly man took his leave to get back on the road. Afterward the husband, when talking to his wife, referred to the elderly veteran as his brother.
Two men, with heavy, lower-half-of-America accents talking about a war they shared decades ago. A conflict that has allowed them to bond in the breakfast room of a cheap hotel.
These conflicts have incredibly long shelf lives. America can't seem to go too many years without a war. It's a proven revenue generator and gives all those kids something to do.
It is the most identifiable thing America exports. It doesn't matter who you voted for, or how you feel about America's exploits. When you travel abroad, you are equated by many with America's bloodiest global displays. Your scraggly beard, rancid backpack and nonstop smile don't change that. You are from the deadliest country in the world and everyone knows it.
I mention this because Iraq is back in the news. The Sunni extremist group ISIS is wreaking havoc in several parts of the country. It is not a new group but it has recently stepped up its violent attacks.
It's tragic and awful, but not all that surprising. When Saddam Hussein and his two dreadful sons were knocked off, a power vacuum was set up. You can't go into a country, wreck it, kill thousands of its citizens and – on your way out what's left of the door – tell the survivors that they now live in a democracy and wish them luck. The world just doesn't work that way. In fact, little of what the Bush administration said would happen in Iraq actually did.
But it was the right thing to do, right? Of course. The only one who fucked up was President Obama, by pulling out American soldiers.
The psychos in ISIS would have never pulled this off if Saddam Hussein were still in power. That's all behind us now.
Since America also dissolved Iraq's military, they can't bring all that much to the table to defend themselves against ISIS forces.
All of this is happening now. So, what is America supposed to do? The president said he was not going to send in soldiers. Seems that he is sending in almost 300 to defend the American Embassy there. I wonder if this is the start of something – that seemingly irresistible slide down the slippery slope.
Predictably, some politicians and pundits are baying for blood. They miss Baghdad and want to get the party started again.
The president is getting hammered by well-fed radio and television douchebags nonstop. Recently on Meet the Press, Mitt Romney was able to plant his badly kicked ass in a chair and opine about what's happening in Iraq, that it's “a result of inaction” on the president's part. Send your sons in, tough guy.
Again, what to do? Some, perhaps like John McCain, might tell you that American forces should have never left. Sure. Let's just stay forever and get picked off by the locals. If McCain wants U.S. soldiers in Iraq so badly, he should help load the body of every dead service member off the plane when they come back.
The best choice, not going to Iraq in the first place, is no longer an option. Returning is throwing everything good after everything bad. At the same time, America destroyed that place for no good reason and ISIS now is ripping it to shreds.
These people who did nothing, now fleeing for their lives, deserve better. The country that totally fucked up Iraq is not interested in helping. Never was. It was a transfer of your tax dollars into corporate coffers.
The collateral damage can be found in cemeteries, in traumatic brain injury wards, and in those affixing artificial limbs to themselves and trying to keep guns out of their mouths. The thing that makes me angry is that none of those war-peddling pussies have the guts to admit it.
There is no “right thing” to do. Whatever is done will cost billions of dollars and won't change much.
Imagine if America could keep it in its pants for a few generations. Won't happen.
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