This morning I hugged Josh, a young Marine that got his finger blown off in Iraq. Josh was one of the Marines that were in a Humvee that hit a land mine on April 20th, 2004. His father introduced me to him at Camp Lejeune. It was his son's first day out of the hospital.
My son--also a Marine--was recently deployed to the Middle East for eleven months. Unlike the young wounded Marine my son got home in one piece. Having a child at war has made me part of a wider military family that suffers together through each moment of our children's deployments. This fact made it possible for me to hug the young injured Marine and thank him, though we'd never met before. I was not embarrassed that there were tears in my eyes. We were strangers yet he was also a "son" of mine.
There is a debate raging about how to appropriately deal with the "issue" of the deaths of our men and women in uniform. For instance some people objected to Ted Koppel reading the names of our war dead on Nightline. But as a Marine's father I have a different perspective. To me the issue is not political but personal.
What I object to is not pictures of our dead soldiers and Marines but the fact that the Republicans and Democrats seem eager to politicize the issue of our war dead for short term political gain. The President seems to want to minimize the suffering of our military family to help his election chances in the fall. He chooses his photo ops carefully. And his opponents seem eager to exploit every dead and wounded soldier to defeat the President.
Neither side seems genuinely interested in the human cost, and sacrifice. Maybe this is because the class of persons who run for national office these days, and the class of persons who manage their campaigns, are generally not the sort who have a beloved child deployed into harms way.
I find the whole debate about how to treat the subject of our war dead and injured is mostly being carried on by people with no skin in the game. This is hypocritical. Each side wants to use the war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for political ends. They should earn the right in lost sleep over a child sent to war before they speak to the issue. And they should stop trying to find military parents or personnel to quote to support their political agendas.
Right now I don't care about politics as much as I care about the dazed look on that young Marine's face. Josh's eyes were still bloodshot from the explosion. To me they were the most beautiful eyes in the world. Josh came home damaged but alive. His buddy lies in a coma in a German hospital at death's door.
Josh may be sent back to Iraq in about thirty days. He wants to return. He's worried about his buddies. "I only lost a finger," he said. By the time he is in harms way again our political leaders will be on to the next wartime event they are spinning into a political web of "issues" with which to catch out their ideological opponents. The young Marine will be facing danger again. His parents will be sleepwalking through another day feeling as if they have just been kicked in the stomach, as if time has stopped, as if their lives are over. I know.
It is time that the Republican's and Democrat's leaders remember that there are whole families who have viscerally gone to war with our sons and daughters. We who have children in harms way feel powerless to help them. Our lives have been changed forever. And right now we care about something a lot more immediate than election results or how the sacrifice of our flesh and blood affects this or that opinion poll or candidate's chances. To us our children are not political canon fodder to be used to win elections with. They are all we have.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book is: "Faith Of Our Sons--A Father's Wartime Diary."