As Condoleezza Rice, the smart, articulate, bureaucratic, academic in charge of monitoring the menace around us, spoke in Washington the other morning, David McPhillips made plans to drive from Boston to Westchester today to join Carmen Thompkins at a memorial for her son, Cpl. Bernard Gooden. He was 22 when he was killed in Iraq a year ago on April 4.
McPhillips came to know Thompkins after discovering Gooden had served alongside his son, 1st Lt. Brian McPhillips, in the 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marines when George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz decided they simply could not wait to go to war, had to do it right away. "She has the same haunting memory," McPhillips said of Thompkins.
He was talking about when casualty officers knock on doors to tell families that brave young people like Gooden and Brian McPhillips are dead. McPhillips was 25.
There are many others who have sacrificed everything. Each day, America wakes to a rising body count from places like Fallujah and Baghdad. Still, nobody powerful seems either humbled or accountable for a miscalculation that has too few of us fighting a religious war on foreign soil while the guy who started it, Osama Bin Laden, remains at large far from Iraq. We invaded a nation when the real enemy is insane fundamentalists who wear no uniform and need no border to hide.
Of course, many others besides the dead have sacrificed, and still suffer. Some are hospitalized. Some are tossed aside by the government they served, like the soldiers brought to our attention last week by the Daily News' Juan Gonzalez, who wrote about the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard. Last June, they shipped out to Iraq, where some were exposed to uranium contamination. Now, the Army appears to think any symptoms the soldiers exhibit from uranium after returning home must either be fake or something they contracted while riding the subway.
Still, it's an interesting word - sacrifice - and worth considering in relation to our involvement in Iraq. In the months after 9/11, Americans would have made any sacrifice if called upon by the President. Nothing was asked. And nothing was given, except by the military, the cops, the firefighters, the hospitals and those silent services doing so much around the world to protect us.
It appears President Bush rarely uses the word in public. We do know he employs it in letters to folks like Carmen Thompkins and David McPhillips. "Our Nation will not forget Brian's sacrifice and unselfish dedication in our efforts to make the world more peaceful and free," he wrote one year ago.
It's logical to assume that signing letter after letter like this takes its toll on the guy, since it was his orders that resulted in people like Bernard Gooden and Brian McPhillips making the ultimate sacrifice. They did it for a country where people's lives remain unaltered by this war, unless, of course, it is their son or spouse who is dead in Iraq, and it is their door being knocked on.