Sunday September 2, 2012

RICHMOND

When we were on Cape Cod for our annual two-week, full family (we are now 14 in total) vacation, I gashed the calf on my left leg rather badly. Since I am on Coumadin, the blood gush was rather garish and the first aid supplies were rather bearish, so they wrapped me in various cloths as a pressure pad.

On the second day of my wound, my wife decided that professional skills were necessary, and I was whisked to a walk-in-medical center in Harwich.

The nurse did the preliminary unveiling of the gash, plus blood pressure and temperature. When the hole was uncovered, she was quite sanguine. "You did a good job," she said. "We'll let the doctor decide what's next." A couple of minutes after the nurse left, the door opened to admit a middle-aged woman. She inspected the gash, clucked her approval, cleaned it carefully and applied a gel bandage plus a second one.

"The bottom one will help it heal," she said, "so leave it on until it falls off by itself." Done and done. We returned to our house, spread the good news and ate lunch. I have given up traipsing to the beach, despite the urging of one and all, so the family has been greatly concerned about my entertainment. Each morning they would bring me The New York Times and The Boston Globe, which I read in their entirety while the rest of them gamboled in the waves.

On one particular day, The Times had a lead story on how the war in Afghanistan, now in its 11th year, had changed in that the fighting of the Taliban forces was at its most dangerous ever. A thousand of our soldiers had been killed in the first 10 years and another thousand had died in the past 18 months. The Times then took three pages to show the names, pictures and ages of the men and women, and I spent the next hour inspecting every one of them. The average age was 26, and the majority of those killed were Marines.

There was then another big story about the parents who were burying their sons and daughters and the permanent holes that had been made in their family lives. Now I am one of those people that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney bamboozled into thinking that if we didn't conquer Iraq, we might soon be inundated with Sad dam Hussein's nuclear and gas weapons. When I realized how mistaken they and I were, my outrage was at the least nuclear.

I personally blame Cheney, the noted deferment receiver, for our invading of Iraq and Afghanistan and our persistence in occupying those two countries. Iraq has dribbled off but Afghanistan has been showing us what it showed the Soviets when they invaded all those years ago. The people of Afghanistan will defend their impossible terrain till the last of their invaders have been killed or driven off.

Right now our problem in Afghanistan is that their security forces are killing off our soldiers a clump at a time. Dressed in police or Afghan army uniforms, they suddenly attack and kill our unsuspecting soldiers. They outnumber us three to one and we are training them to be proficient.

Our withdrawal has already begun with 232 of our smaller bases closed and 282 bases turned over the the Afghan authorities. We have started to cut back on troops but we still have $60 billion in equipment that must be brought back to our country and our remaining foreign bases. The closing of our larger bases, some of which are as large as a small American city, will also be a giant chore.

President Barack Obama has been attacked by leading Republicans for announcing when we will be entirely out of Iraq and Afghanistan. They say it's an invitation to our enemies. I also disagree on the withdrawal date.

I think it should be sooner. Like right now. We have already poured too much blood and too many billions of dollars into those bottomless pits. And each funeral of a war casualty now has the impact of a horror as well as a loss. As Sen. John Kerry asked a committee judging the Vietnam War: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle contributor.