How did this happen?

How on earth did this happen?

Lots of smart people (and even notso- smart ones, such as myself) saw it coming and spoke out against it. Right from the first – not after it became politically safe and – possibly even more contemptible – expedient to do so.

They were branded unpatriotic, terrorist- loving cretins who actually wanted things to come to this.

They did not, after all, display the proper red-white-and-blue magnets “supporting the troops” on their Hummer-like gas-hogging SUVs, or wear American flag-pins in their lapels, or loudly pledge their allegiance at every public opportunity, or declare how much they wished they were young enough to go over there and waste a few towel-heads, or do any of those obvious things to clearly identify themselves as passionate defenders of the homeland, fair-weather jingoists who were eager to send more naïve and braver folks to their deaths for ends that now become more convoluted with each telling.

Success has a thousand mothers, the old saying goes, while failure is an orphan. But in this case, failure has a thousand fathers, one wag pointed out, with these testosteronal dads running for political cover while pointing fingers at one another:

“The press is to blame” is the most popular refrain from the right, of course, led by such lying luminaries as Donald Rumsfeld. At his farewell Pentagon bash, Rummy went so far as to play down the daily slaughter in Baghdad, telling his admiring audience that to read the newspapers, one would get the impression that the whole county was “aflame” every time a car bomb went off in Baghdad, when in fact from the air you could see that most of the country was still intact. After all, what are 50 to 100 deaths on pretty much a daily basis? (Strange that this attitude wasn’t encouraged after 9/11, assuring American citizens that even though the twin towers had been destroyed and thousands killed, there still were plenty of places in the U.S. that hadn’t been savaged by violence.)

It may be tempting, now that Saddam Hussein has been executed, to look upon his removal as some slim straw of victory – look, at least this evil-doer has paid the ultimate penalty! Now the people of Iraq can breathe free!

But let’s not forget that Saddam was our stooge, our own Frankenstein’s monster, helped and supported by the United States in his early years in power. Some of the ghastly crimes he committed against the Kurds even took place under the indifferent eye of the much-vaunted Reagan administration.

And what has Saddam’s removal from power accomplished, really? The true mastermind behind 9/11 remains alive today, as far as we know, and will probably die of natural causes Meanwhile , uncounted thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, crippled and maimed – first by American bombs from on high and then by American bullets from on the ground. (Not to forget those who died after being tortured.)

Thousands (three, so far) of American soldiers have been killed, many thousands more crippled and maimed. (Not to forget those who also were tortured and beheaded.)

Hundreds of billions (three, so far) of dollars have been stolen from our children and grandchildren to finance this Holy War, and it’s not nearly over.

It isn’t as if we didn’t have fair warning about the costs of blundering into a war in a faraway land, a war with nebulous goals and no clear exit strategy. We had that experience just a few decades back, within the lifetimes of most of the neo-cons who successfully pushed their agenda on a cobwebbrained president dimly seeking absolution for avoiding combat in that very same war of futility. (He was just one of many of these war-mongers who avoided risking life and limb, explaining, as Dick Cheney did, that they had “other priorities.”)

We saw everything that happened in Vietnam — the thousands of young soldiers slaughtered, wounded and otherwise traumatized, the countryside poisoned with chemicals, the civilians massacred, the resentment against the United States fueled. We heard the familiar cries of “America – love it or leave it!” and the calls for patriotism above all. We w i t n e s s e d our ultimate loss in that disgraceful war – and yet, too soon, many of us were ready to do it all again. This time we’d get it right, by golly. After all, as our ersatz president said recently, our real mistake in Vietnam was pulling out too soon!

So how did this happen? I guess the answer to that question isn’t as important as the answer to another: Will we let it happen again? Will we learn from the Iraq debacle that supporting our troops does not mean supporting an idiotic war, or will we, in a few more years, rise eagerly again to the beat of the war drums?

Unfortunately, the answer to that critical question may well be “yes” unless we refuse to let revisionist historians and right-wing political cowards fictionalize this latest chapter of American imperialism.

David Grant Long writes from Cortez, Colo.

From -January 2007, David Long.