A wish for our warriors

Forty-seven percent now think Iraq was worth invading, accordingto the new CBS News/New York Poll. So, less than half of thosepolled believe in the inviolability of this war’s originalmission.

I find polls hard to believe and decidedly suspect.Nevertheless, in all the recent opinion polls it is easy toidentify that the tide is turning and the heavens are pulling atreason. Within this sea change of public opinion, the mythology ofwar begins to clear, the mist of disbelief empties and standing inthe open are soldiers of two types.

On the one hand is Pat Tillman. As everyone knows, he is theformer Arizona Cardinals football player who abandoned a $1 millioncontract with the team to join the Army Rangers and serve inAfghanistan. He is now a mythical warrior of whom no one daresdisapprove. I found myself gazing at him in the mass of Internetpictorials dedicated to him over the weekend. He was what mostyoung men (and some young women) idealize at one point or another:hulking stature, pounding strength, chiseled features, flowingbrown hair, humble, intense and radiating an almost inconsolablebelief in freedom, brotherhood and dignified servitude. In thelamentation of a nation he has been cast as a noble warrior in therobes of Jesus. And now he is lost to a war with no end and anindefinite beginning. Pat Tillman is our belief in therighteousness of our own cause and poignancy of our sacrifice.

On the other hand is the other type of soldier. “60 Minutes II”made this painfully obvious in an investigative piece, leaked tothe Internet and aired this week. It is not so dignified: U.S.soldiers accused of torturing and humiliating detained Iraqis.Evidence showing Iraqi soldiers lying naked in stacks with Englishprofanities scrawled on their bodies, men made to lay as if theywere engaged in sex acts, Iraq soldiers beaten and made to strikeeach other and a young man on a box holding wires while being toldhe would be electrocuted if he fell. All of this and moredocumented with the soldiers’ own cameras. These soldiers laugh andsmile and give the thumbs-up as if they were in a theme park ofcaricatured humanity – their gaiety a product of a despicable lackof responsibility and oversight. This is the other soldier, like ahigh school bully who delights in the torment of others, all thewhile walking the privileged path of power. This is the othersoldier of war: less noble, less righteous, more confused and moreyouthful and bewildered about their liability and their cause thanwe could ever remotely imagine.

Both warriors are our own. They serve in our name, no matterwhether we agree with the cause. Thus, we want them to be a bronzedmythical warrior, equal part strength, compassion and blamelessjustification. But as the other soldiers have shown us, they arealso young, at times misguided and fragile. Almost certainly, theyboth want to be at home away from the confusing torment of war. Iwish that much for them.