Do you know this phrase? "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." It's Latin for, "it is sweet and glorious to die for your country," and was written circa 23 BC by Roman poet Horace in his "Odes." British poet Wilfred Owen borrowed the line in 1917 as the title for this must-read poem:
"Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
"Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
"If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori."
It is certainly not glorious to die in war. Still, last week, President Bush told American soldiers, "I must say, I'm a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines. ... It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger."
Then in response to an interviewer's comment that two-thirds of Americans don't think the Iraq war is worth fighting, Vice President Cheney replied, "So?"
On Easter Sunday, the 4,000th American soldier died in Iraq. Will Cheney again reply, "So?" Perhaps, for on Tuesday, Cheney observed the landmark death saying only that our military is made up entirely of "volunteers." So true. There is no draft, yet.
So it is easy for us here at home to simply change the channel from war coverage. We have no rationing, no war bonds, no belt-tightening. Yes, the economy is slow. Housing is slow. Jobs are leaving our nation by the thousands. It is far too easy, then, to push the horror of war from the newspaper headlines, replacing them with one or two feel-good stories of hometown heros rescuing children from the ravaged streets and bringing them here for extraordinary, life-saving surgeries. But how many little girls' hearts could be mended with the trillion dollars we will have soon spent fighting in Iraq?
But, on a daily basis, we have been asked to sacrifice almost nothing - except our children, those 18- to 21-year-olds who make up the bulk of our armed services. Most people don't know how many of our valiant children-warriors have died in this war. Far fewer know how many foreign civilians have died (some estimates exceed 100,000).
Many Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was complicit with al-Qaida on Sept. 11, 2001. That has also proven to be a lie, even though Bush repeated it just a few months ago. Sen. John McCain, equally confused by these fallacies, has promised to carry on Bush's war for 100 years.
Only a fraction of us know the measures our government has taken to conceal the truth from our eyes. Did you know that the media is forbidden from showing the thousands of flag-draped coffins thathave been flown back home? To stop photographers, it is now a federal crime to enter an airport baggage area -- that is how our dead soldiers are returned, as baggage.
We hear the repeated chant from this administration that we government critics show no support for the troops. Another lie. If we truly valued their sacrifices, we wouldn't systematically deny them veterans' health benefits for the oft-cited "pre-existing mental health condition," another pathetic lie. Walter Reed Hospital should be palatial, not rodent-infested.
The greatest thing any patriot can do is raise her voice in a constant demand for government transparency. It is the modern incarnation of the founding fathers' rallying cry. Remember these words: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds that have connected them with another ... We hold these truths to be self evident ... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to ... abolish it and establish new Government."
The Iraq/Afghanistan war is the No. 1 issue our nation must resolve. Not tax reform. Not a temporary interest rate freeze. Those things may be important, but not more important than preventing even one more American soldier from death.
It's not that we have no stomach for war. We have no stomach for lies. Demand to know the truth. Demand that this war not lead to the drafting of your own children in the coming future, and do it right now. Call your president, senators, congressmen, even your governors and state legislators, and tell them we won't tolerate the glorification of war or its promised endlessness.
Arturo Corso is a Gainesville attorney and a frequent contributor to The Times.