Last week, as Congressman Jack Murtha prepared to end his press conference calling for withdrawal from Iraq, a reporter eager to squeeze in one last quote blurted, "[Senators Warner and Stevens] said they have yet to meet a single soldier in Iraq, or at the hospitals here, who thought it was time to pull out of Iraq." Murtha replied "What do you think they’re going to tell you? We’re here to talk for them! We’re here to measure the success. The soldiers aren’t going to tell you that! I told you what the soldiers say. They’re proud of their service! They’re looking at their friends!" He paused before exclaiming "We are here—we have an obligation to speak for them."
I don't necessarily agree with Congressman Murtha on a withdrawal. But I respect his opinions. Unlike the young reporter (and our President and Vice-President), Murtha is a decorated former Marine who served in the military during two wars, volunteering to fight in Vietnam. A frequent visitor to wounded troops and an advocate for veteran’s rights, he is considered the military’s closest friend in Congress. His experience losing friends on the battlefield inoculates him to the administration’s worn-out refrain that we cannot let those who have been killed die in vain. Going by that perverse logic, the bigger the military blunder, the less we would be able to extricate ourselves.
Despite the grandstanding of the politically-engineered vote on withdrawal last Friday, I second the hope of this newspaper’s editors that Murtha's statements will stimulate what needs to be an ongoing debate about the nature of our involvement in Iraq. Our troops ought to know that we will support them regardless of what we decide to do. But it is up to us, the citizens of this country (most of who are not soldiers) to decide what to do. Born in authoritarian China, I have only been a citizen of this country for a few years, but I understand all too well the seriousness of this responsibility.
The best way to support our troops is not with token displays of yellow stickers, but by being educated and vigilant against not only our foreign foes, but those within our government with the authority to send them off to war. It is our obligation.
Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote that it is the paramount duty of the free press to "to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell." That is true of us, the readers, as well.