Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Shooting: A Different Perspective

Time's Joe Klein brings a less-noted perpective to the Veeps recent shooting of his "acquaintance."

"Cheney's the sort of guy who thinks in terms of black and white," former Senator Bob Kerrey, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said. "But now he's used a weapon the way a soldier often does, with unexpected results that come in shades of gray. Maybe now he'll have a better sense of what he has sent our troops out to do."

At 65, Cheney is too old to be a baby boomer, but his five draft deferments during the Vietnam War make him an honorary member of the tribe, as does his infamous explanation of why he didn't fight: "I had other priorities." The failure to serve—and the relative safety and affluence of our upbringing—has been a defining quality of so many baby boomers who have come to political power, and there have been consequences. Bill Clinton often seemed daunted and uncertain in his dealings with the military. Bush and Cheney have been the opposite. They rushed to war in Iraq without adequate cause or preparation. This is not to say that military service is a requirement for leadership in time of war; neither Abraham Lincoln nor Franklin Roosevelt was a combat veteran. But for 50 years there has been a growing cultural chasm between the military and the rest of society. Those of us who haven't served have a special responsibility to listen to and try to understand those who have. The most common complaint I've heard from troops recently returned from Iraq is that Americans are oblivious to what soldiers have to do every day over there. At the heart of that lament, inevitably, is the debilitating emotional cost of combat.

One valuable metaphor emerged last week. The New York Times described the possible legal charges that could be brought in a hunting accident. "Mr. Cheney could be charged with negligence, defined as failing to understand the dangers involved and disregarding them, or recklessness, defined as understanding the dangers and disregarding them." Which is perhaps the neatest summary I've seen of the public debate surrounding the Bush Administration's war in Iraq. Absent further evidence, the Administration seems guilty of negligence—a cavalier insensitivity to the unimaginable calamities that attend the use of lethal force. And while I have little faith that Cheney's awful experience at the Armstrong Ranch will change his views of war and peace, I do hope that it gives him pause and that he gains wisdom from the intimate knowledge that there are experiences other than "pleasure" that can attend the firing of a weapon.

Now, Klein is probably (certainly?) taking armchair psychology to a new and absurd degree, but there really is more than a kernel of truth to what he is saying here.

The President and his crew have often said that the U.S. military is fighting in Iraq in order to keep terrorists from attacking the U.S. itself. Quite apart from whether you believe that is true, valid or sufficient, doesn't that indicate a mindset about the military that is at least in the vicinity of Klein's suggestion? Doesn't that somehow presume that putting them into harms way -- regardless of the validity of the reason -- is merely to be expected as part of their job description. They volunteered for it, right?

If you believe that the administration was cavalier in its decision to open up the inferno of war, how can you help but feel that they were equally cavalier with what they were asking individual soldiers -- who are real people, after all -- to do and see and experience?

Cheney shooting a guy isn't likely to change that.


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