By Paul E. Schroeder
Let's stop this war before more heroes are killed.
Early on Aug. 3, 2005, we heard that 14 Marines had been killed in Haditha, Iraq. Our son, Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder II, was stationed there. At 10:45 a.m. two Marines showed up at our door. After collecting himself for what was clearly painful duty, the lieutenant colonel said, "Your son is a true American hero."
Since then, two reactions to Augie's death have compounded
"People think that if they say that, somehow it
makes it okay that he died," our daughter, Amanda, has said. "He
was a hero before he died, not just because he went to Iraq. I was proud
of him before, and being a patriot doesn't make his death okay. I'm
glad he got so much respect at his funeral, but that didn't make it
This leads to the second reaction. Since August we have witnessed growing opposition to the Iraq war, but it is often whispered, hands covering mouths, as if it is dangerous to speak too loudly. Others discuss the never-ending cycle of death in places such as Haditha in academic and sometimes clinical fashion, as in "the increasing lethality of improvised explosive devices."
Listen to the kinds of things that most Americans don't have to experience: The day Augie's unit returned from Iraq to Camp Lejeune, we received a box with his notebooks, DVDs and clothes from his locker in Iraq. The day his unit returned home to waiting families, we received the second urn of ashes. This lad of promise, of easy charm and readiness to help, whose highest high was saving someone using CPR as a first aid squad volunteer, came home in one coffin and two urns. We buried him in three places that he loved, a fitting irony, I suppose, but just as rough each time.
I am outraged at what I see as the cause of his death. For nearly three years, the Bush administration has pursued a policy that makes our troops sitting ducks. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that our policy is to "clear, hold and build" Iraqi towns, there aren't enough troops to do that.
In our last conversation, Augie complained that the cost
in lives to clear insurgents was "less and less worth it,"
because Marines have to keep coming back to clear the same places. Marine
commanders in the field say the same thing. Without sufficient troops,
they can't hold the towns. Augie was killed on his fifth mission to
Two painful questions remain for all of us. Are the lives of Americans being killed in Iraq wasted? Are they dying in vain? President Bush says those who criticize staying the course are not honoring the dead. That is twisted logic: honor the fallen by killing another 2,000 troops in a broken policy?
I choose to honor our fallen hero by remembering who he was in life, not how he died. A picture of a smiling Augie in Iraq, sunglasses turned upside down, shows his essence - a joyous kid who could use any prop to make others feel the same way.
Though it hurts, I believe that his death - and that of the other Americans who have died in Iraq - was a waste. They were wasted in a belief that democracy would grow simply by removing a dictator - a careless misunderstanding of what democracy requires. They were wasted by not sending enough troops to do the job needed in the resulting occupation - a careless disregard for professional military counsel.
But their deaths will not be in vain if Americans stop
hiding behind flag-draped hero masks and stop whispering their opposition
to this war. Until then, the lives of other sons, daughters, husbands,
wives, fathers and mothers may be wasted as well.