Seen, heard and remembered in Washington, DCThe following column originally ran in June of 2007. OtR will return next week. - KH
I just returned from a weekend in Washington, D.C. my first trip to our nation’s capitol and as I write this my head is swimming with the lessons learned, the visions seen, and the history displayed. Also, I’m super jet lagged and haven’t slept in a day and a half, but I can still feel the super-caffeinated buzz generated by the feeling of being near something so important.
It was a great time to be in D.C. Congress was considering a sweeping immigration compromise, and the Democrats were working to attach a timetable to President Bush’s vetoed supplementary war spending bill. I had the opportunity to talk with many of Washington State’s federal representatives, military personnel and influential business leaders. I attended a glitzy Washington State-themed once-a-year bash called Potlatch, held at the Washington Hilton where Hinckley shot Reagan. I toured the Capitol Mall on a sunny clear day and admired the monuments and memorials.
Without a clear organizational structure (as I said, I’m a little delirious), I’d like to share some moments that stuck with me the most.
• Senator Patty Murray reminding me that she was one of the few who voted against the war originally, and vowing that she would not let the administration off the hook for the thousands that have died under false pretenses.
• Congressman Rick Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, speaking to a small group off the House floor as voting began on Friday. Larsen would hustle off for a vote, and then return to earnestly field questions. He told us that while a force reduction in Iraq was absolutely vital, he felt that we stamp out the 2,000 or so professional Al-Qaida mercenaries attacking our forces in Iraq. Larsen said that he was tired of hearing that Al-Qaida didn’t have a presence in Iraq. He stipulated that Al-Qaida may have shown up after we invaded, but that it was still crucial to eliminate their resistance. He hypothesized that a much smaller ground force emphasizing mobile Special Forces units might best do the job.
• A retired Army General, reading the Washington Post, and laughing at a story about former Bush administration hawks George Tenet (CIA chief) and Douglas Feith (third in command at the Pentagon) both of whom now teach at Georgetown and have received multi-million dollar advances on their tell-all memoirs calling each other liars and requesting offices on polar ends of the campus. “How many more soldiers need to die before these arrogant ---- can admit they were wrong?” asked the General.
• A 27 year old Seattle University graduate and wounded Iraq combat veteran, speaking to a group of aspiring politicians from Washington. The soldier survived a gunshot wound to the head and is now working in the Veteran Services lobby. He was asked if, as a soldier and a veteran, if he felt it was unpatriotic to support a troop withdrawal. “And what is patriotism?” he asked rhetorically, “Does patriotism involve me getting shot in the head refereeing a thousand year battle between Shite and Sunni?” He remarked that it was very easy for politicians to use words like patriotism as a tool for heading off dissent.
When I was flying home, I picked up a copy of a Sunday paper that featured an in-depth war timeline. I couldn’t help but focus on May 1, 2003 “Mission Accomplished” - the high-water mark for the Bush administration. On the same day that Bush declared a win in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that the U.S. was pulling all military operations out of Saudi Arabia.
I couldn’t help but remember that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. I couldn’t help but remember that Bin Laden’s original beef with America centered on our military presence in his holy land Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that since May 1, 2003, thousands of American service men have died in a country that had no connection to 9/11, while Bin Laden accomplished his goal and escaped out the back door in Tora Bora.
I put down the paper and tried to go to sleep, but it was a crowded flight, and all I could really think about were the memorials World War II, the Korean War, and of course Vietnam. I thought back to the retired General, and his response when asked about a possible memorial for the current conflict.
“Our troops need to be memorialized, but honestly, it’s not even really a war. It’s an occupation. Not only is the ‘War on Terror’ not correct, it’s not grammatically correct. But neither of those things surprises me considering the current administration
Kevin Hulten is the former Managing Editor of the Lake Stevens Journal. Please send feedback or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.