Peggy Noonan takes her lead from Dubya and invokes a past war to support her position.
Her position? Well, when it's all over, most Iraqis will all look back and remember the unprovoked American invasion of Iraq and the subsequent gang-splash in the deep end of a fetid swamp with fondness and sweet reminiscence. And to prove it, she takes us back - waaay back.
Once I went hot-air ballooning in Normandy. It was the summer of 1991. It was exciting to float over the beautiful French hills and the farms with crisp crops in the fields. It was dusk, and we amused ourselves calling out "Bonsoir!" to cows and people in little cars. We had been up for an hour or so when we had a problem and had to land. We looked for an open field, aimed toward it, and came down a little hard. The gondola dragged, tipped and spilled us out. A half dozen of us emerged scrambling and laughing with relief.Most of us could not relate to hot-air ballooning in Normandy, so it's good that Peggy can tell us how to amuse ourselves. Us effete, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading liberals would never have thought to call "Bonsoir!" to a cow. It's so French.
Suddenly before us stood an old man with a cracked and weathered face. He was about 80, in rough work clothes. He was like a Life magazine photo from 1938: "French farmer hoes his field." He'd seen us coming from his farmhouse and stood before us with a look of astonishment as the huge bright balloon deflated and tumbled about.Life magazine photo - check. Gesturing French farmer - check. Ancient bottle of brandy, appropriately covered in dust and dirt (just like in the movies) - check. French farmer who hasn't seen an American since the invasion - check. Clarification: The righteous invasion intended to liberate France from a German occupying army - check... (OK. She left out the part about the Germans. An inconvenient truth.)
One of us spoke French and explained our situation. The farmer said, or asked, "You are American." We nodded, and he made a gesture--I'll be back!--and ran to the house. He came back with an ancient bottle of Calvados, the local brandy. It was literally covered in dust and dry dirt, as if someone had saved it a long time.
He told us--this will seem unlikely, and it amazed us--that he had not seen an American in many, many years, and we asked when. "The invasion," he said. The Normandy invasion.
We have the picture.
Then he poured the Calvados and made a toast. I wish I had notes on what he said. Our French speaker translated it into something like, "To old times." And we raised our glasses knowing we were having a moment of unearned tenderness. Lucky Yanks, that a wind had blown us to it.Why, this is almost as good as the speech Ronald Reagan gave on the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Well, slap me silly, Peggy wrote that one!
That was 16 years ago, and I haven't seen some of the people with me since that day, but I know every one of us remembers it and keeps it in his good-memory horde.
He didn't welcome us because he knew us. He didn't treat us like royalty because we had done anything for him. He honored us because we were related to, were the sons and daughters of, the men of the Normandy Invasion. The men who had fought their way through France hedgerow by hedgerow, who'd jumped from planes in the dark and climbed the cliffs and given France back to the French. He thought we were of their sort. And he knew they were good. He'd seen them, when he was young.
I've been thinking of the old man because of Iraq and the coming debate on our future there. Whatever we do or should do, there is one fact that is going to be left on the ground there when we're gone. That is the impression made by, and the future memories left by, American troops in their dealings with the Iraqi people.Well, we should have known it couldn't last. Noonan just took a good old "front-porch-rocking-chair" story and jammed Iraq into the mix. And what's with the "coming debate"? Has she been living under a rock these past few years?
"Whatever we do or should do"? Hang on! Noonan is trying to hide under a new camouflage blanket. This is Noonan.
For the uninitiated, Peggy Noonan's spent the last six years responding to every Bush appearance by rolling over, waving her paws in the air and wetting herself in an orgy of submissiveness.So, where is this latest outing taking us?
I don't mean the impression left by the power and strength of our military. I mean the impression left by the character of our troops-- by their nature and generosity, by their kindness. By their tradition of these things.Ah! A "gallant troops" message! And then, as badly as they get kicked around, as much as they're a Cheney spittoon, they're used to it. Because Noonan, chickenhawk cheerleader and all-round Bush sycophant has spent the span of the entire Bush administration writing tawdry approvals for actions which look way too much like the side of the Normandy invasion which was wearing jackboots. Noonan is running for cover, having submissively splayed herself on the Bush/Cheney altar, and she's running in the only direction which is safe from both sides of the political field of fire - the troops.
The American troops in Iraq, our men and women, are inspiring, and we all know it. But whenever you say it, you sound like a greasy pol: "I support our valiant troops, though I oppose the war," or "If you oppose the war, you are ignoring the safety and imperiling the sacrifice of our gallant troops."
I suspect that in their sophistication--and they are sophisticated--our troops are grimly amused by this. Soldiers are used to being used. They just do their job.
We know of the broad humanitarian aspects of the occupation--the hospitals being built, the schools restored, the services administered, the kids treated by armed forces doctors. But then there are all the stories that don't quite make it to the top of the heap, and that in a way tell you more.The parting shot before her withdrawl. It's the media's fault. Then she gives us another history lesson, lest we jump in with another comparison.
Some say we're the Roman Empire, but I don't think the soldiers of Rome were known for their kindness, nor the people of Rome for their decency. Some speak of Abu Ghraib, but the humiliation of prisoners there was news because it was American troops acting in a way that was out of the order of things, and apart from tradition. It was weird. And they were busted by other American troops.Noonan takes the primer of aggressive war and adds two pigments, coming up with a shade of brown most people find unappealing. Rome? Clearly she knows nothing of Rome. And then to swirl Abu Ghraib into the same paragraph she ignores the fact that the "busted" were those at the bottom of a very long sewer-pipe being fed from the top.
You could say soldiers of every country do some good in war beyond fighting, and that is true enough. But this makes me think of the statue I saw once in Vienna, a heroic casting of a Red Army soldier. Quite stirring. The man who showed it to me pleasantly said it had a local nickname, "The Unknown Rapist." There are similar memorials in Estonia and Berlin; they all have the same nickname. My point is not to insult Russian soldiers, who had been born into a world of communism, atheism, and Stalin's institutionalization of brutish ways of being. I only mean to note the stellar reputation of American troops in the same war at the same time. They were good guys.Actually, her point was to insult Russian soldiers and she did it by suggesting that it was because of the politics, religious upbringing (or supposed lack of it) and the nature of their leader at the time. No mention is made of the 8.6 million casualties incurred by the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945, nor the fact that Soviet Russia had endured worse than the Soviets repaid. That does not excuse their behaviour but I suspect had any of the Allied armies originated from a country which experienced the swath of rape, pillage and murder at the hands of Hitler's Einsatzgruppen the "stellar" behaviour might have been different. But Noonan is happy to blame it all on the things which offend her conservative ideals. It's easier that way.
Whatever is decided in Washington I hope our soldiers know what we really think of them, and what millions in Iraq must, also. I hope some day they get some earned tenderness, and wind up over the hills of Iraq, and land, and an old guy comes out and says, "Are you an American?" And they say yes and he says, "A toast, to old times."So, is she talking about the millions of Iraqis who have no place to live? Roughly 2 million Iraqis are refugees in Syria and Jordan. Another 2 million are still in Iraq but have no home. Where does Noonan suppose they are keeping their ancient bottles of Iraqi brandy? The International Committee of the Red Cross doesn't seem to keep that kind of information on hand.
Her hearkening back to those days of World War 2, when her "boys" were pure of mind and gallant of heart is an attempt to compensate for what went wrong in Iraq from the beginning. American troops were not greeted as liberators. The Iraqis did not toss flowers and candies. The entire thing turned into a bloody mess with little more than a short break to change magazines while her "Whole American" announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
What she can't fathom, because it's all too obvious, is that her reference to Normandy and the liberation of France is fitting, not because the actions of Americans were the same then as they are now, but because the actions of the Bush administration now bear a striking similarity to those of the administration which occupied France from 1940 to 1945. When the Germans marched into Paris, they weren't greeted as liberators either.
Noonan is scrambling to find a safe place and she has chosen the "troops" as her shelter. She will ignore the shattered bodies treated as less than animals in the VA hospitals; she will not mention the artificial draft created by a policy of "stop-loss"; she will not acknowledge an increasing level of combat stress among troops whose 3rd, 4th or 5th deployments are now 15 months long; she will not tell you that US ground forces are either in theater, returning from theater or preparing to go to theater - they have no other life.
Noonan's words ring hollow because that is all she ever provides - words. And her past words help put the troops where they are - in a hellhole from which she has done nothing to aid in their extrication.
Noonan bathes in the milk and honey notions of World War Two, a time before she was born, while ignoring the realities of her lifetime. She's right. For the most part, they are good guys. And they've been treated like so much horse manure by an elitist group of self-interested cowards from the political class to the pundit class.
If Noonan wants to compare the troops of today to the troops of the past, I have some examples. She doesn't have to go back to Normandy. She can look at the debate surrounding Iraq and realize, the troops have no say. People will argue and debate and negotiate while the daily death toll among the troops continues.
Noonan needs to go ballooning in the hills again. There will be no cows to call "good evening" to in any language; no old man will come out to greet her; there will be no bottle of ancient brandy and there will be no toast "to old times".
There will, however, be the ghosts of "the troops". The troops who were killed while politicians dithered. The troops who were killed for what the living will tell you was no good reason. Because on this hill and this hill, the only thing you'll be looking for is the unexploded ordnance. You won't have to look for a comparison to Iraq - it's already there.