A soulless war

Debate raged across the country last week over the wisdom of sending still more Americans to fight in Iraq. As SN&R went to press on Tuesday, however, it appeared likely that President Bush on Wednesday evening would ask to send at least 20,000 more soldiers to bolster the 140,000 currently serving in Iraq.

To say that support for the war is low is an understatement. And Americans now are demanding answers to questions they have about the proposed troop buildup in Iraq, not the least of which is: Where will these soldiers come from?

The Army recently bumped up incentives after failing to meet its recruitment goals. Recruits are now older (42 is the maximum age), fatter (allowable body fat rose to 30 percent) and less educated (19 percent are high-school dropouts) than in the past. Visible tattoos are now OK. Sign-up bonuses today top out at $40,000. And eligibility for citizenship comes on day one of enlistment, instead of three years down the line.

Still, recruitment lags.

Weeks before the phrase “troop surge” began circulating in the media, R.V. Scheide was already on the story. In “Tug of war,” Scheide weaves a compellingly human picture of a 17-year-old’s decision to sign up. We listen in as Veterans for Peace try to talk the Placer High School student out of enlisting under the Army’s delayed-recruitment program, and we hear the Army recruiter’s pitch.

The young enlistee doesn’t support the war in Iraq. But he’s certain he won’t be sent to fight there, despite statements in the Army’s recruitment brochure that say, “Deployment to Iraq or to any operational mission is always a possibility.”

One anti-recruiter—a Vietnam vet who four decades after that war still suffers from post-traumatic stress—spins scary tales of combat to bring home the hell of war to the young recruit. He warns him that even if he’s lucky enough to get out alive, he’ll have left part of his soul in that faraway country.

Maybe there’s a message from that vet’s story for Americans to take a hard stance against this soulless war before any more young men and women leave pieces of their souls in Iraq.