A few years ago I read a short story by Charles Bukowski entitled “The Gut-Wringing Machine.” It was a cynical and sharp bit of social satire, about two men whose job it was to run people through this medieval hand-cranked contraption that stripped the will and independence out of them like water from wet laundry. It seemed that a trip through the gut-wringing machine was unavoidable, that everyone had to get squeezed at least once, and the real troublemakers-the ones who just kept trying to go their own way no matter what-got treated to multiple times through. The men running the gut-wringing machine were relentless; they didn’t stop until you were wrung-out.
I wonder if John McCain ever read that story. Even if he hasn’t, I bet he can tell you what the machine feels like first-hand. He’s been through it more than once. His last time was just a few days ago, right after he went on Letterman and had the unbelievable audacity to say that the lives of American troops have been wasted in Iraq. McCain backpedaled the next day, said the word he should have used was “sacrifice.”
You had it right the first time, John. That machine must really be something.
McCain immediately got demands for an apology, from Republicans and Democrats. Why-because what he said is false? No, because what he said is hard for some of us to hear. There are hundreds of thousands of American families touched directly by this war, many of whom have lost sons and daughters, or husbands or wives, or siblings; many more of whom have seen their loved ones return deeply traumatized or suffering from serious, permanently disabling injuries.
And that’s just on our side. The injuries to the Iraqi people are even greater, their numbers of dead and wounded-military and civilians-exceeding the losses to Coalition forces by orders of magnitude.
And we think all that death, all that suffering and sacrifice can’t possibly be for nothing. We think there must be a higher purpose to all this maiming and killing and dying. But there isn’t. At least not so far, and not in the foreseeable future. Our troops were supposed to be greeted as liberators. The Iraqis were supposed to throw off the oppression of Saddam and rise up to retake their country. Iraq was supposed to be the jewel of the Middle East, the proof that a nation in that part of the world could be something other than a military dictatorship or a backwards theocracy.
Yet here we are, bodies and body parts still piling up on both sides. American troops still fight-expertly and courageously, for the most part-and still come home missing arms and legs, or eyes, or piece-of-mind; some ride home in flag-draped coffins in the cargo holds of planes. The President of the United States showers them with hollow praise, claiming to honor their service while sending thousands more off to the same fate. Members of Congress, few of whom have any personal connection whatsoever to the conflict, spend their time debating meaningless anti-war resolutions, speaking out strongly against sending in more troops but doing nothing to stop it.
No, John, you were definitely right the first time. So was Barack Obama last month when he said the exact same thing. This is a waste. The lives of over three thousand men and women in our armed forces have been wasted, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. To call it anything else is either ignorance or cowardice, either of which render one unqualified for leadership.
John McCain wasn’t always this way. He was a great man. He has suffered more than most of us could imagine, and he has survived. He had real courage once, before he decided that winning an election was more important than telling the unvarnished truth. He was a hero, before he had the guts wrung out of him.
It’s too bad, too, because that old John McCain might have made a hell of a President.