I’ll never forget the morning of February 27, 1991. As a young U.S. Army tanker, near the banks of the Euphrates River, two trucks raced through our position at roughly 2 a.m. We opened fire. One truck carried fuel and splashed its burning cargo on the other, and burning men ran everywhere, only to be met by our machine gun fire. This was the clean, precise Gulf War, for me, and those images never left me.
One day my growing son or daughter will ask me what I did in the war, and I’ll tell him. And they’ll have other questions, questions that haunt me, questions we should all be asking.
Where were we, when our country allowed 1.2 million Iraqis to die of preventable diseases related to sanctions? Reaping the benefits of the “new” economy? Working for high-tech startups, trying to provide a better future for our children?
Where were we, when 130,000 disabled Gulf War fought for help from the government, and for years got lies and bureaucratic misdirection? Were we buying our first homes? Trading up to a new one? Saving for our kids’ college?
Where were we, when Congress legislated away our rights to privacy and due process? Huddled with our families, protecting them against terrorists?
What about when the President named American citizens enemy combatants and denied them the rights guaranteed in the Constitution? Were we too busy worrying about the recession? Were we too busy thinking about the next round of layoffs?
Where were we when Congress handed over its Constitutional authority to declare war? The founding fathers wisely placed that power in the whole body of Congress, yet they are too timid to insist on keeping it. Were we too scared by the propaganda and lies? What if there were terrorists in our neighborhoods?
Our children are growing up in a country no longer America: a country where the government can search your house without telling you; a country where your neighbors may be informants; a country where “Americans should watch what they say;” a country where people are “disappeared” if they look wrong, talk wrong or think wrong; a country that dominates world affairs and keeps its citizens scared; a country willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives over politics, and where the people don’t know or care the cost; a country where democracy is controlled by corporations and the rich.
You know, I’ve been pretty busy, with not a lot of time to spend on all those “issues.” I make pretty good money, I’ve got a nice house in the suburbs, a minivan, and I’m raising my children with a better standard of living than my parents had. Isn’t that the American dream? Isn’t it?
Do you think our children will thank us for their legacy?
The kill-the-Constitution coalition quips “the Constitution is not a suicide pact.” They are patently wrong. Our nation’s quest for liberty is best typified by Virginian Patrick Henry’s exhortation, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
That is the legacy I would give to my children.
Charles Sheehan-Miles, a decorated Gulf War combat veteran, is the author of “Prayer at Rumayla” (XLibris, 2001) and is a former President of the National Gulf War Resource Center. He can be contacted at //www.sheehanmiles.com
This essay was reprinted on September 19, 2001 on AlterNet and other alternative news sources.