Last Sunday, I watched the HBO documentary Baghdad, E.R., filmed on location at the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq.
I watched it for about twenty minutes, that is. And I wish I hadn't.
Director Matt O'Neil said he wanted to show the "true cost of war."
And co-director Jon Alpert added:
"I've seen a lot of people die, I've seen a lot of suffering, but I never saw anybody get their arm cut off before. And in the first two days we were there we probably witnessed four or five amputations. You've got to be made out of bricks and cement not to be effected when you see them taking out a saw and hacking somebody's just-smithereened arm up like they're cutting the limb off of a tree." [HBO: Baghdad ER - Interviews]
Memorial Day 2006 is a sad day for me. I think back to that painful period during the early-1970s when the nation knew that the futile Vietnam War would grind on for several more years.
Only one thing is clear about Iraq. George W. Bush will keep troops there until he leaves office. And depending on who the next president is and just how bad things are in Iraq in January 2009, U.S. soldiers may stay well into the next decade.
The British government, more honest than its American equivalent, admitted that troops will be in Iraq until 2010, at least.
The United Kingdom's daily Telegraph reporter Thomas Harding notes that by 2010 British soldiers will have "almost double the amount of time their forefathers stayed in the trenches of the Western Front." [Home By Christmas? Make That 2010, At Least, Thomas Harding, Telegraph, May 23, 2006]
And if the British are in Iraq until the next decade, you can be sure the U.S. will be there too.
And for what reason other than to satisfy the whim of the arrogant and misguided Bush?
On May 20, the Baghdad parliament approved Iraq's new unity government.
Underlining how far security has declined since the Iraqi parliament was elected five months ago, a series of attacks earlier this week killed 38 people and wounded dozens. Police also found the bodies of 21 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured by death squads in and around Baghdad.
Total U.S. dead and wounded as of May 25th are 2,459 and 17,867 respectively
Iraq's new Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said his priority is to establish "stability and security." That will be quite a trick if he can pull it off—especially without ministers of defense and interior, two of Iraq's most important, yet unfilled, positions.
Bush presses on against all logic. In an address to the National Restaurant Association convention in Chicago earlier this week, Bush again predicted victory.
And as for the new Iraqi government, Bush said, "Its formation marks a victory for the cause of freedom in the Middle East."
Despite huge differences between Iraq and Vietnam, eerie similarities exist.
When Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the Iraqi insurgents are in their "last gasp," "on the ropes," and "breathing their last breaths," I heard the echo of General William Westmoreland who boasted as early as 1968 that he saw the "light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam.
The war continued for seven years.
Even more frightening are the parallels in the staggering incompetence of the two administrations: compare the bull-headedness of President Lyndon Johnson and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to Bush and Rumsfeld.
But Iraq is not Vietnam…we are fighting with an all-volunteer army and the casualty rate, so far, is lower.
I have written critically about Bush and the Iraq War since it began in 2003.
During those three years, I have made two central points: wars against insurgents cannot be won and it is not possible to restructure political, social and economic institutions in non-democratic countries.
We didn't do it in Vietnam and we will not do it in Iraq.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.