I suppose we could praise Lance Cpl. John Holmason for dying in the service of his country and leave it at that. We might honor the 20-year-old Marine for laying down his life in the line of duty and tell ourselves we're supporting our troops without supporting the Iraq war. But I'm not sure that would do full justice to the life and death of the Scappoose High School grad who was one of 10 Marines killed in an ambush near Fallujah last Thursday.
Holmason, you see, "believed 100 percent in what he was fighting for," according to his stepmom, Paula Holmason. He wasn't in Iraq because he was just following orders or doing his job. "He joined the Marines because he believed in what was going on," his grandfather, Dick Holmason, told The Oregonian.
What was going in the fall of 2004 when young Holmason enlisted was the war on terror and the Iraq war. He believed then. He believed to the end.
Yes, it may be theoretically possible to support our troops and honor the ultimate sacrifice of too many without supporting the war, but what is the practical impact of the anti-war chatter on our troops?
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" was John Kerry's famous question to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.
Thirty-five years later, how do you ask a man or woman to be the last man or woman to die for what you proclaim a "mistake" or even a "lie"? How do you ask an American soldier to be the last American soldier to die for an "unwinnable" war from which we need to withdraw or "another Vietnam"? In brief, how do embrace the Democratic defeatism du jour and not tell the family of a dead soldier that their loved one has died in vain?
It would be good to hear from more Democrats like Sen. Joe Lieberman. Having visited Iraq four times in 17 months, the "encouraged" Connecticut senator thinks Iraqis "are in reach of a watershed transformation . . . to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood -- unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn."
On Lieberman's latest recent visit he found that "progress is visible and practical" with "remarkable" changes across Iraq and the Middle East. Almost all this would be lost, said Lieberman, if our forces are withdrawn before the Iraqi military is able to secure the country. "I cannot say enough about the U.S. Army and Marines who are carrying most of the fight for us in Iraq," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "They are courageous, smart, effective, innovative, very honorable and very proud."
And like John Holmason, they believe in themselves and the cause, according to Lieberman.
Contrast this to the dominant Democratic message. Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Rep. John Murtha in championing immediate withdrawal. This week, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."
And you thought it was Dr. Dean, not Gen. Dean.
Dean may echo the relentless pessimism of our intelligensia, but it's not shared by Lieberman or military leaders and the U.S. public, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Or even the Iraqi public, according to last month's right-track, wrong-track poll results for the International Republican Institute.
Dean, of course, somehow knows better, and for one intractable reason. "I've seen this before in my life," he said on San Antonio's WOAI radio. "This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, 'Just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn. . . ."
The American soldiers who are fighting and dying in Iraq -- alas, not Vietnam -- deserve more than defeatism and hackneyed historical allusions from aging baby boomers who are truly the ones stuck hip deep in the Big Muddy. They deserve more than an almost-indecent preoccupation with bad news to the exclusion of manifest good news and more than home-front surrender declarations. I'm sorry, I think Marine Lance Cpl. John Holmason and other Americans who have died did so in a noble and winnable cause. And they deserve so much more.