For far too long, too many good people have been biting their tongues, unwilling to speak out about how they really feel about President George W. Bush and his war in Iraq.
As business people, for too long, we’ve dodged the issue of this war when conversing at the copy machine. We don’t dare bring it up across the boardroom table or at the coffee shop. We wouldn’t dream of addressing the topic during a presentation with a new customer.
I have been among those who have publicly steered clear of this subject, while privately stewing at home as I watch and read the news at the end of each workday.
After all, the Bush administration and its conservative talk show cabal did an effective job of playing the patriotic card. They told us it was not patriotic to speak out against the war or the president. They told us that to do so was to be unsupportive of our troops.
It is time for this nation to finally have a loud and honest debate about this war. We are living in a democracy, and we must speak from our hearts -- for or against this war.
Nothing could be more patriotic than to speak out against a war that you believe was concocted and initiated on false pretenses. Nothing could be more patriotic than to speak out against a war that you believe has no possible victorious outcome. And nothing could be more patriotic than to demand that our nation begin bringing our troops home, if that’s what you believe.
For too long, this country has avoided any honest debate about this war, because too many people have feared they will be ostracized if they dare speak out against it.
For too long, too many good people looked the other way when this president declared, “Mission accomplished.”
For too long, too many good people passively rolled their eyes when this president smirked and said, “Bring ‘em on” after he was asked if he was concerned about terrorists.
For too long, too many good people bit their tongues when this president declared that we would be welcomed as heroes in Iraq.
For too long, too many good people were hushed when this president predicted that democracy would flourish in a land that is torn between tribes and does not embrace the concept.
However, one thing is certain. Far too many people are paying too steep a price for this war. One of them is my good friend, Chris Cook. By day, Chris is a nurse and the emergency medical services coordinator at Waukesha Memorial Hospital.
But in my heart, Chris is a hero. In fact, I was proud to honor him as the Small Business Times Ultimate Health Care Hero in December 2004, shortly after he had returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Wisconsin Army National Guard Company B of the 118th Medical Battalion of Waukesha.
While serving in Iraq, Chris actually provided personal medical attention to Saddam Hussein.
Later during his tour, Chris saved the lives of many other people in his battalion when he bravely fired his rifle at an approaching suicide bomber. The vehicle, which was loaded with explosives, blew up. Chris suffered multiple severe injuries. He almost lost his left leg. Heck, he almost lost his life.
Chris, who received a Purple Heart, has since undergone more than 18 surgeries. When I saw him a few weeks ago, I was heartened to see that he had returned to work and was putting his life back together.
But this week, I received the following e-mail from Chris:
“Dear Friends and Colleagues: It's with a degree of fear and trepidation that I am letting you all know that on Thursday, March 1st, I am undergoing another surgery for my left leg. It appears that this time around my hardware has become infected. I will undergo a removal of the rod in my left leg, PICC line placement and another round of long-term antibiotic therapy … Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers. I value all of you greatly. I am looking at a short time away from work and then back on crutches for a period of time ... Thanks very much for all of your continued support ... Chris.”
That e-mail took my breath away. I am sickened at the prospect of my friend beginning his recovery all over again. He has been through so much already.
More than 3,100 American soldiers have died in the war in Iraq. More than 23,000 American soldiers have been injured in the war in Iraq. This war has dragged on longer than World War II. We will be paying the price for the wounds, the emotional trauma and the foreign policy implications of this war for generations.
Let us be clear. Soldiers such as my good friend Chris Cook did not fail in this mission. On the contrary, we are forever indebted to their bravery and valor.
However, it is now our duty to finally speak out against a reckless president who has been far too brave with lives of other people’s children. If Americans cannot speak from their hearts about such fundamentally important issues of our time without reprisal, then the democracy our heroes are fighting for is not worth preserving.
My late father, a proud U.S. Marine, always taught me to do the right thing, even if it may not be the popular thing. His father told him, “I may not always agree with you, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to speak it.”
It is time to call things as they are. The first Gulf War, launched by George H.W. Bush, was justified, as it defended a sovereign nation against an Iraqi invasion. The elder Bush compiled an impressive international coalition with a clear and concise mission. By contrast, his son’s war is a disaster by any measure, and no troop surge can repair it. We can no longer “stay the course.” This course doesn’t work.
This war not a political issue. In fact, many prominent conservatives, ranging from William F. Buckley to Pat Buchanan, have criticized this war. George Will has labeled it a “civil war.” This war is a moral issue. This war is a diplomatic issue. This war is a survival issue.
And in this democracy, no one should put their king before their country. To do so would be unpatriotic.
If you have a message or a prayer for me to pass along to Chris Cook, please leave it here or contact me directly. And if you have a message about this war or a prayer to pass along to the rest of this country, by all means, please do so. It’s your patriotic duty.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.