His voice rang familiar and so I listened up as Army Spc. Thomas Wilson of Chattanooga boldly stood at a televised “town hall meeting” in Kuwait Wednesday and asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the following:
"Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?"
Rumsfeld hemmed, hawed, asked Wilson to repeat the question, and so Wilson took a breath and in a steady, forthright voice, asked his boss the question again.
Even if Wilson had help from a reporter in framing the question, as has been alleged, Rumsfeld's answer won't do.
“You go to war with the Army you have,” he said, not the one you might want, and he added, “It's not a matter of money or desire.” It has more to do with physics and logistics, he suggested.
That answer won't do because it's been over twenty months now since we invaded Iraq. According to those with insider information, such as reporter Bob Woodward, Rumsfeld and his bosses began planning the invasion shortly after 9/11/01, and the general idea had been discussed for years. We're spending about $400 billion annually on defense, so why aren't all the vehicles yet properly armored?
Such questions beg a larger question.
Why does it take an East Tennessee soldier's posing a question on international TV to make the military brass and the national media perk up when it comes to protecting our soldiers? Why haven't journalists been asking Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush and other loud proponents of pre-emptive war such forthright questions all along and insisting on answers? Why are “Nightline” and Fox News and other so-called supporters of our troops, not carrying out investigations into the lack of proper armor and other problems at a time of massive military spending?
Maybe they've bought into the idea that it's unpatriotic to ask embarrassing questions. Evidently Wilson doesn't buy that notion and for very good reasons. He's headed north to Iraq at a time of great peril. It's patently absurd to suggest his questions about warfare and its methods are unpatriotic. If you don't debate such questions prior to war, then you have to ask them during war, especially if soldiers' necks are on the line.
The Defense Department recently announced soldiers would be disciplined who refused in October to take on a fuel run they deemed unsafe due to inadequate equipment. Fair enough. Other soldiers are being court-martialed for their role in prisoner abuse.
But why hold such rank and file soldiers accountable while Rumsfeld gets a pass for shoddy equipment, inadequate planning, widespread prisoner abuse and other offenses revealed on his watch?
Why does Bush get a pass when it turns out that, no, we did not know where the WMDs were located. No, there was no involvement of Saddam Hussein in the events of 9/11, Iraq had no advanced nuclear program, there were likely more connections to Al-Qaida in dozens of other countries than in Iraq, and no, the Iraqis were not clamoring for our presence in their country? Why does Bush get a pass for embracing the idea that the Geneva Accords are “rendered quaint” by this war? Why does the man who wrote that opinion for him get a promotion to U.S. attorney-general? Shouldn't our top cop believe in basic human rights?
Here's hoping Rumsfeld continues to hold town hall meetings, because other questions need asking as well.
Is it true that more than 100,000 Iraqis have died above and beyond the number that could've been expected to die had we not invaded? Is it true the Pentagon has under-reported by about 20,000 the number of Americans wounded or otherwise made ill in Iraq? Are contract security guards and others on our payroll bound by the Geneva Accords? Did we use Napalm, or something like it in Falluja, as many in the international media are reporting? How many American and Iraqi casualties resulted from that battle? Finally, I wish some brave soldier would ask a philosophical question to our secretary of defense.
“Mr. Rumsfeld, what does it really mean to support our troops?”
Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, as well as a freelance journalist, short story writer and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. His many writing awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Michigan Journalism Fellowship, a Golden Presscard Award and the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize. He is finishing a novel, ORACLE OF THE ORCHID LOUNGE, set in his native Tennessee. His book of selected journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes, the Best Writings About People by Don Williams, is now available for pre-ordering. For more information, you may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the NMW website at www.mach2.com.