December 9, 2004

Dear Mr. Bush,

I read today that your war in Iraq is producing amputee soldiers at a rate twice that of previous wars. In that kind of cold-hearted irony that wars often bring, this is due to the fact that, thanks to all the new battlefield technology, less soldiers are dying when they get hit. But a kevlar vest only covers the chest, Mr. Bush, making the fatal heart shot difficult, but blasting off a foot or an arm is still fair game. In fact, the amputees are coming at such a rate that the VA hospital system "literally cannot handle the load."

How do you repay someone for a lost hand, a lost arm, a lost leg, Mr. Bush? How do you explain to a parapalegic that they served their country well? How do you look these people in the eye, and say it was worth it? Is it even possible?

It reminds me of a song I used to listen to obsessively when I was in high school by an obscure singer/songwriter named Eric Bogle. The song is called "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and is truly haunting and heartbreaking in its depiction of a nameless soldier shipped off to Gallipoli in the first world war. (A brief aside, Mr. Bush: Shane MacGowan's pained, off-key wail does the song true justice in the Pogue's rendition on the singular Rum Sodomy and the Lash.)

"In 1915, my country said, "Son, / It's time you stop ramblin', there's work to be done. / So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun, / And they marched me away to the war," the song begins.

As his platoon departs, they're sent off as heros, but things don't go well--"how well I remember that terrible day, / how our blood stained the sand and the water; / and of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay / we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter"--and the narrarator finds himself in a situation that many soldiers in Iraq are now experiencing:

"Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head / And when I woke up in me hospital bed / And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead / Never knew there was worse things than dying."

Pogue mahone,



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