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No children left behind

Observer Viewpoint | Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, a great purveyor of truth and champion of humanism, died this past week. So it goes. Kurt is up in heaven now, but his stories and gruff quips about our humanity, and inhumanity, remain, as relevant now as they were forty years ago. His legendary “Slaughter-house Five” is partly a recollection of his own experiences as a POW in World War II during the firebombing of Dresden when he was 22 years old. Vonnegut’s original, and now alternate, title for the work was “The Children’s Crusade,” a commentary on the absurdity of our country’s – and other countries’ – young people being sent to kill and die.

Matthew Zeimer was eighteen years old when he died in Iraq this past month. He was only a few hours into his first combat post, and he was eighteen years old when he died. So it goes, in Iraq.

Major media attention has been brought to his specific case as his unit was one of the first to arrive in Iraq with reduced training time in order to meet the ‘surge’ personnel demands. The possibility that he was killed by friendly fire simply fuels the frustration felt by those who criticized the surge as folly to begin with.

As I’m not running for political office anytime soon, I’ll go ahead and say what every single candidate (sans savvy Baghdad market-shopping McCain) is thinking: It was a waste of his life. In addition to Matthew Zeimer, 31 other lives of just 18 years have been wasted. One hundred ninety-three 19-year-old lives have been wasted alongside three hundred fifty-four 20-year-olds and four hundred thirty-five 21-year-olds. Wasted. Additionally, over 60,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of direct military intervention, and countless more have died and will die due to an obliterated infrastructure, devoid of adequate healthcare or sanitation. All these lives, too, wasted.

I stopped my American military fatality count well short of the 3301 total U.S. military fatalities for a reason. You see, this past week I turned 22, and by doing so, I outlived another four hundred thirty-five young American men and women who will never see their 22nd birthday. They signed up to serve the country and got a raw deal. The blame game will go on, but they will never see their 22nd birthday.

The children growing up in Iraq have been robbed of their childhood just as the young Americans fighting and dying for a lost cause have been robbed of theirs. They will return with amputations, wounds and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those who have been physically and psychologically scarred by experiences in Iraq have been robbed of their youth and will likely never fully recover from the paranoia cultivated on the streets of Iraq.

As graduation quickly approaches, I’ve been doing lots of reflecting on the past four years. A lot has happened since my 18th birthday. Successes, failures, firsts, lasts, friends and love gained and lost; all have been written in this wonderful chapter of my life.

But I’m not content with my life yet and I certainly doubt that the fallen in Iraq were with theirs.

I have, we all have, lots of work left to do, and lots of life left to live. Yet, these men and women, younger than I, have no life left to give or to live. They signed up to give their lives for our country but, in the end, gave their lives for a myopic, overzealous administration – an abuse that should never be overlooked or forgotten.

Will McAuliffe is a senior Political Science major who welcomes all comments and criticisms at mcauliffe.4@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.