While George W. Bush keeps saying that the United States is at war, for most of the United States, apart from the soldiers and military families, the people seem detached from the daily devastation in Iraq. Reporters and anti-war activists have made this observation repeatedly over the past months.
To be sure, the polls are showing a growing majority opposed to the war believe it was a costly mistake to invade Iraq, and 61% disapprove of how Bush is handling “the situation in Iraq.” Yet most people find their daily lives at work and play untouched by any unusual sacrifices or inconveniences that go with being at war.
There is no draft to roil through the population those anxieties that tie more people to the feeling of war. No products are being rationed or restricted because of the conflict. The grown children of the corporate oligarchs and the political rulers are not sweating it out in the Sunni Triangle, thereby lending more media notice and gravity to the fighting in Iraq.
No extra taxes are being imposed to pay nearly $2 billion a week that the war is costing Americans. Rather, the reverse is the case. Mr. Bush, unlike all previous “wartime” Presidents, has cut the taxes on the wealthy twice, including himself, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and is financing the war on the backs of children who will have to pay off this huge debt later.
Granted, there are economic impacts, such as reductions in funding for many health, safety and economic necessities of those Americans in dire need, but they are not attributed to the war. Cuts in housing assistance are not accompanied by the message to poor tenants saying — “sorry, nation at war”.
Still the times may be changing on this score. The galvanizing effect of the fallen Casey Sheehan’s mother Cindy down in Crawford, Texas has been a rallying point which is spreading around the country. Cindy Sheehan has made her grief a personal appeal to see the President, thus sweeping aside his flacks, handlers and PR buffers and leaving him exposed to judgments of his character day after day.
Mother Cindy has personalized this automated war and its scripted Presidential promoter who lowballs U.S. casualties and prevents families and reporters from going to Dover, Delaware, where the deceased are returned from Iraq.
It is the nature of civic movements that sparks tend to make what is simmering erupt. For the civil rights drive, it was Rosa Parks’ refusal to go to the rear of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Cindy Sheehan is performing this role of arousing people, if not to act, at least to start conversing and arguing about the war-occupation — its purpose, its impact on our country and how to end it.
We need additional sparks so that, in the words of one military mother, “the architects of this war, who have no children at risk, start listening to those families who do.”
There are hundreds of pastors who are opposed to this violent quagmire in which our country has been plunged. Every morning their churches could toll their bells for each U.S. soldier lost the previous day — one bell for each ultimate sacrifice. And one long bell for the Iraqis who lost their lives that day.
On Sunday, the bells could be rung at the same time everywhere in the memory of the weeks’ total casualties. The National Council of Churches, outspoken before the war with compassionate prescience, can lead this effort with rapid effectiveness.
These bells of sorrow and reminder will get millions of Americans thinking and talking with one another where it counts — in communities North, South, East and West.
People would transcend the bromides and slogans that the Bush people trumpet daily over the television and radio and give themselves a daily opportunity to ask and contemplate the fundamental question — for whom does the bell toll?
Asking this question puts our society on the road to finding the answers, as if people matter here and in Iraq first and foremost.