On June 16, 2010, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine, who, unlike most of her colleagues, was listening to her constituents and opposing further funding of the wars, questioned General David Petraeus in a House Armed Services Committee hearing as follows:
“Thank you . . . General Petraeus for being with us today and for your great service to this country. We greatly appreciate that, and I want to say at the offset (sic) how much I appreciate the hard work and sacrifice of our troops, particularly representing the state of Maine where we have a high proportion of people who have served in the military, um, we’re grateful for their work and their sacrifice and, uh, the sacrifice of their families. . . .
“I disagree with you basically on the premise that our continued military presence in Afghanistan actually strengthens our national security. Since the surge of troops in southern and eastern Afghanistan started, we have seen only increased levels of violence, coupled with an incompetent and corrupt Afghan government. I am of the belief that continuing with this surge and increasing the level of American forces will have the same result: more American lives lost, and we will be no closer to success. In my opinion the American people remain skeptical that continuing to put their sons and daughters in harm’s way in Afghanistan is worth the price being paid, and I think they have good reason to feel that way. It seems that increased military operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan have resulted in increased instability, increased violence, and more civilian casualties . . . . “
This and more was all part of the congresswoman’s opening question, congressional questioning often being more about speaking for one’s allotted five minutes than allowing the witness to speak. Pingree went on to recount evidence that when U.S. forces pull out of areas in Afghanistan, local leaders can be better able to oppose the Taliban — its chief recruiting tool having been the U.S. occupation. She quoted the Russian ambassador who was familiar with the Soviet Union’s earlier occupation of Afghanistan as saying that the United States had by now made all the same mistakes and was moving on to making new ones. After Petraeus expressed his complete disagreement, without actually providing any new information, Pingree interrupted:
“In the interest of time, and I know I’m going to run out here, I’ll just say I appreciate and I appreciated from the start that you and I disagree. I wanted to put the sentiment out there that I do think increasingly the American public is concerned about the expense, the loss of lives, and I think all of us are concerned with our lack of success, but thank you very much for your service.”
At that point, Petraeus jumped in to explain that he wanted to get out of Afghanistan, that he shared all of Pingree’s concerns, but that he believed what he was doing actually was improving national security. The reason we were in Afghanistan was “very clear,” he said, without explaining what it was. Pingree said: “I’ll just say again: I appreciate your service. We have a strategic disagreement here.”
Pingree’s “questioning” was the closest thing we ever see in Congress — and it’s very rare — to an articulation of the view of the majority of the public. And it wasn’t just talk. Pingree followed up by voting against the funding of an escalation in Afghanistan. But I’ve quoted this exchange in order to point out something else. While accusing General Petraeus of causing young American men and women to be killed for no good reason, causing Afghan civilians to be killed for no good reason, destabilizing Afghanistan and making us less rather than more secure, Congresswoman Pingree managed to thank the general three times for this “service.” Huh?
Let’s correct a deep misunderstanding. War is not a service. Taking my tax dollars, and in return killing innocent people and endangering my family with the possible blowback is just not a service. I don’t feel served by such action. I don’t ask for it. I’m not mailing an extra check to Washington as a tip to express my gratitude. If you want to serve humanity, there are many wiser career moves than joining the death machine — and as a bonus you get to stay alive and have your services appreciated. Therefore I will not call what the Department of War does “service” or the people who do it “service men and women” or the committees that purport to oversee what actually they rubberstamp “armed services” committees. What we need are unarmed services committees, and we need them with the reputation and prestige that Kennedy wrote about. A Department of Defense limited to actual defense would be a different story.Sapere Aude!