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A Debt Paid

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As the year wound down with the recent fracas over the payroll tax extension, America saw the sloppy back and forth of what passes for political dialogue these days. At the end of the dust-up, Obama preened, though his demand to tax those evil millionaires and billionaires to pay for his tax cut vanished. His pals in the press declared him the “winner” and off he jetted to Hawaii.

In the course of this mudslinging, there was one interesting point when Obama called on the congress to pass his tax plan to, in effect, live up to the standard set by veterans returning from the Iraq War. While this might seem an uncomfortable reversal of the maxim that domestic politics stops at the water’s edge, remember this is a president who wages wars according to his domestic reelection schedule. Using live troops as a political cudgel to smack Republicans in the middle of some relatively minor tax spat is simply business as usual. However, something seemed more askew in this reference. Barack Obama loves to soak up the adulation of the crowds and then use them, but what of those who can’t be in the crowds? What of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan? What does their loss mean? What did they die for? With the U.S. headed for the exits in both wars, don’t we owe the dead at least that much?

With Iraq blanketed by bombings mere days after Obama met with prime minister Maliki, the war that ended seemingly goes on. With Maliki issuing an arrest warrant for a governing coalition partner, a Sunni vice president, the newly hailed stable democratic government appears unstable and rather undemocratic. In Afghanistan, due to a friendly fire incident, (or maybe not so friendly) Pakistan refuses to let shipments of fuel and supplies through to the United States and its allies in Afghanistan. Though the U.S. has been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2002, in fact the United States overthrew them, we now hear from Vice President Joe Biden that the Taliban is not our “enemy per se.” Rather than try to figure out what Biden means, (which may well be impossible) I’ll let that statement stand. Asked to describe the future of Afghanistan recently, a Marine general replied, “I don’t know.” Who can blame him for that response, since Obama has insisted on his own political strategy independent of the soldiers and their military strategy. What was the point of a surge in Afghanistan anyway if the end game was simply to declare victory and get out? This starts to have that old Vietnam flavor which is where the phrase declare victory and get out came from originally. We all know how that war ended. We can go on about the ramifications of this current chaotic war effort like bases lost, geopolitical threats and countries falling like dominoes and perhaps this applies to Iraq and Afghanistan as well, but who pays the cost of all this? Who pays the debt? In this case, it’s Steven Gutowski.

I never knew Steven Gutowski. I don’t know his family. Nor would I ever write about his loss in a public forum except for one fact: he wanted you to know about his death. If he died, his instructions were “Talk to the media, bury him in Bourne and throw the biggest party Plymouth has ever seen.”

On September 29th, Gutowski was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The bomb exploded under a truck Gutowski was in with two other soldiers, who were also killed. His job in this war was one even those far from the fighting have heard of. He was “tasked with finding improvised explosive devices [and] had already survived two explosions.” His was the deadliest job. “He grew up very quickly.” his mother said. He also recovered “the bodies of 30 Navy SEALs killed in an August 6th helicopter crash in Afghanistan.” Death became his constant companion. This was taken from a piece in the Boston Herald by Natalie Sherman.

Gutowski didn’t like his job. “I hate it.” he wrote, but he kept doing it. Call that strength. Call it courage. Call it simply devotion. To have the fierce devotion to do this extremely hazardous job and not quit; this is a strength far greater than any physical kind. On a larger scale, his strength and that of others like him gave the United States a chance to stop the Taliban from harboring Al Quaeda. His strength gave the United States a chance to help Afghans establish a government free from the brutal elements that enslave, beat and maim half their population. His strength stopped Al Quaeda from using Afghanistan as a base to strike at places like New York, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. His strength meant that no more children were ever going to ask why their mother or father had gone to work on a fine September morning and were slaughtered. And his strength gave the United States a base to strike and kill Osama Bin Laden, so that there will never be another 9-11 from that source.

However true all this may be, the final and more succinct words of his strength belong to someone much closer to Steven Gutowski: his mother. She said, “My son wanted to make sure the country and the state of Massachusetts and this town realize that they just lost a proud soldier and a hero who was over there fighting for them, for their freedom.” In Greek myths, fallen heroes are placed in the night sky as constellations to commemorate their deeds. Steven Gutowski saw that same night sky in Afghanistan. “1 cool thing about this place, on a clear night in some places u can see the arm of the Milky Way.” He and the more than 4,400 men and women who died belong in that night sky. Also, the troops, live or dead, deserve a president who will not use them as a dodge, a hustle or a prop to smack rival politicians.

By the way, all the sentiments expressed here about the moronic politicians running these wars are entirely my own. The debt paid by Steven Gutowski and those who fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan is entirely their own. To them, under the free night sky, I say, thank you.

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About Mr Dock Ellis

  • Igor

    Ellis: I resent your flagrant use of soldiers and their sacrifices for partisan political propaganda.

  • Clavos

    Obama:
    I resent your flagrant use of Americans and their sacrifices for partisan political wars.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    From one Doc(k) to another: nicely done piece, Mr Ellis.

    I don’t think Obama’s rhetoric in this instance is anything he invented: using troops to win your argument for you has supplanted baseball as America’s new national sport.

    But I do know and appreciate good writing when I see it.

  • Zingzing

    Clavos, it’s people like you that started it. Remember, Muslims want to take over the world. We have to fight them there, right? Or have you changed your tune on that? You can’t have it both ways.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    What wars has Obama waged according to his domestic reelection schedule?

  • mrdockellis

    To El Bicho

    Iraq – Troops arrive home two weeks before the first Republican primaries.

    Afghanistan – Troops come out this summer right before the conventions when the campaign really heats up.

    Thanks for the question to allow me to get more specific.

  • Cannonshop

    1. It’s an old trick-Nixon used it first, Igor, so you can can the feigned horror. The potential for another “Vietnam Solution” (aka 1975 outcome) is pretty high, regardless of which party is running D.C. at the time. The amusing part being only whether or not the UH-60’s got enough gas-tank to make it out from the Embassy-Saigon was easy, it was near the coast…

    The more likely outcome in Iraq, is a 1979 outcome, you remember-Iranian Students stormed the Embassy, and diplomatic staff were held hostage for over a year. Of course that was before internet streaming video, (reply 4) where we got to watch Iraqi militants chanting “Allahu Akhbar!!” while sawing a man’s head off with a rusty knife.
    (Which, apparently, doesn’t bother Zing much…but then, y’know, guy probably ‘deserved it’ for being part of some military-industrial-complex-conspiracy of some sort…)

    But yeah, pulling the troops out right at election time, is “Not unheard of” in American Politics, and it’s a pretty good trick, assuming nothing goes catastrophically wrong before November of an Election Year. AFTER, of course, is a totally different matter-at that point, the votes have been cast, so there’s no need to placate the voters.

  • Costello

    The troops left Iraq because we couldn’t get immunity for them any longer. So either the Iraqi govt is involved in Obama’s re-election plan or Doc doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’ll go with the latter as the news about the loss of immunity was everywhere

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I happen to think it’s more complex, Costello. You know that some “news” is let out at the most opportune moment, not always “as it happens.” So on general principle at least, I wouldn’t put it above government the practice of maximizing its chances to stay in power.

    I think Cannon is right, and neither he nor I are Obama haters. I would have mentioned Jimmy Carter as well — I mean to timing re: the release of the hostages, way too convenient to my taste. Not that I cared that much about Reagan — I wasn’t as politicized then as I am today — but it surely turned me against Carter.

    I can’t speak to Mr. Ellis’s motivation here, but there is a saying in the book, “avoid all appearances of evil,” a paraphrase of course.
    Well, it should apply to politics and politicians as well if they truly desire to be perceived as being free of all unsavory motives.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    The point on which I do disagree, however, with Ellis’s thesis is that “wars” such as in Iraq or Afghanistan could be “won.” And that’s regardless whether it would be Obama or Julius Caesar himself who would be in charge.

  • http://cinemasentries.com El Bicho

    Dock, if you want to get more specific, why not deal with the giant hole in your theory?

    The U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement that Bush Admin agreed to ended on 12/31/11 so Obama had no choice with Iraqis refusing to extended immunity to U.S. troops. Please explain how that’s a calculated political move on Obama’s part related to his re-election when he had nothing to with setting the timetable.

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    Still waiting, Dock