Dear Mr. President,
The last two days I've been completely taken in by a work of fiction in that all-consuming way that still manges to surprise me when it comes in the form of a young adult novel. The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins has had me reading by lamplight far past my bedtime and trying to shut out any nonfictional news of the real world. I had been mostly successful but, alas, enough reality has crept in that I'm aware something terrible must have happened to my college football team. (Thanks, Facebook.) Once my joyful shelter of fiction had been cracked I gave in and read the news.
Frank Rich's column on Iraq was maybe the wrong thing to read after nearly two full days engulfed in a world where the class divide is so extreme the rich and powerful force the poor to offer up their children to fight each other to the death to keep the rest of the population entertained or afraid. Several days ago I wrote to you about the end of the war in Iraq and an old friend responded angrily. He told me something that I had not known; a mutual friend who served in Iraq during the wars early years was in fact being redeployed there. The war, he was saying, is not over. Our friends are still being taken from us. I feel like Frank Rich was sending you a similar message.
I'll own that at first I was stung, stunned, unsure what to call what I felt. Was I angry? At myself for being naive? At you for being misleading? At my friend for pointing it out? I felt something close to guilt, as well, as though my eagerness to take you at your word was the reason that our friend was being sent back. Both friends are, for various and complicated reasons, people I have valued and cared for from afar, keeping their generous natures as far from me as my arms can manage. Perhaps my guilty conscience had more to do with the distance I have forced us to maintain, then, and not related to the war at all. I haven't been particularly close to any other soldiers; perhaps it is the personal cost I manage to keep abstract most of the time. I don't have to be particularly close to any of the men and women serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to feel like I know them. They could be my sisters or my nephew, my cousins or my friends and neighbors. They're someone's children, and they're sent off to kill or to be killed by someone else's children. What do we have to show for it? Two countries full of grieving parents and a number of very wealthy military contractors. I think, Mr. President, that my earlier letter to you was wrong.
Frank Rich and my friend from long ago got it right while I missed the point. You haven't ended the war, you have changed the name. The war will end when the mentality and values system that sent us to war in the first place change. I don't blame you, Sir. You were one of the earliest and most eloquent opponents of the war. When its command passed to you I am sure that necessity required you to compromise some of your more abstract positions. But the war was never an abstraction or a policy position to the people suffering in it. The half of me that feels angry would like to personally track down Cheney and Rumsfeld and John Bolton and all the other neocon architects of this conflict and ask them if they've had their fill of entertainment. The half of me that feels guilty wonders how much my own fear and its resulting inaction is to blame and how much yours is. Tonight, as I think of all the lives we've lost, all that we have irreparably destroyed, I know that there can be no escaping it with a new name or even a convincing work of fiction.