Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A debt paid

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 mud-slinging, 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 waters edge, remember this is a president that 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 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 it's 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 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 to simply 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." 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 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 foul 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 realizes 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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