The number one talk show host in the U.S. threw a signature potshot at the Philippine government's response to the Angelo de la Cruz crisis. "A new world record was set on the 100-meter dash," he said, "by Filipino troops fleeing Iraq."
It may not be the most ingenious barb, though some were tickled pink. I myself, being a junkie for crass comedy and wicked witticism, was tempted to deliver a repartee about how the troops actually hit the finish line first by sticking out their chin. But that's being petty, and I might be accused of being a "lookist."
Many Filipinos did not laugh at Leno's ribbing - some because they took offence, others because Jay Leno's tirade was in fact an unwitting compliment - one that was on the other hand undeserved. Many other members of the "Coalition of the Willing" ran away faster. Of course, as the New York Times editorial pointed out, they did not have the luxury of having a knife pointed to their neck to expedite things (the Madrid bombing was not conditional to withdrawal, it was "just" retaliatory), but the core question still is whether to stay or not - whatever the incidentals. The thing is, the Philippines should not have found itself in the mess that was Iraq had it not been too quick in throwing its support to this American-sponsored race and having our troops sprint into the game. Now most everyone agrees that the world would be a much safer arena if Australia, the United Kingdom, and America itself followed our lead and ran out of Iraq as quickly as they broke in.
More than two weeks ago, while on a brief U.S. trip, I took the most proletarian mode of travel from San Francisco to Seattle: the Greyhound bus, where one gets to share seats with the most interesting (and sometimes chilling) of characters. Near me was a U.S. Army trooper, looking languid and dazed, not unlike those war-shocked Vietnam veterans we often see in films. He opened a conversation, and told me how he appreciates dozing off on the bus, for he did not have the luxury of having a normal sleep during his eight months in Iraq. They were mortar-fired everyday, and his friends dropped like chickens in front of his eyes. He also got to fire his M-16 every now and then and hit a few warm bodies. Undeniably the whole experience was a complete trauma for him and his family, though he probably never realized how Iraqis managed to sleep in those days as well, and how they felt when their friends, sons, and daughters perished in smoke like ants being fumigated.
I asked him what he thought of the war, and he said, matter-of-factly, that he thinks Osama Bin Laden AND George Bush should both be hanged. "War is ugly, man," he said. Images of explosion, blood and chains suddenly flashed in my head, thus I replied: "So I heard." The shell-shocked anonymous trooper then looked me in the eye and said: "Frankly, there is no conceivable force in the world that would ever make me go back there again."
That was the randomly met, average American soldier for you, Señor Leno.
His is a wave of sentiment rolling all over "the land of the free and the home of the brave." I have not watched Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 or read Bill Clinton's My Life, but I have seen how people within and outside America flock to these explicitly anti-war pieces in droves. I have seen the Abu Ghraib photos and the grisly Nick Berg video and realized that the utter revulsion I feel against this vicious cycle and this war altogether is now getting universally shared.
Many Philippine government officials reacted negatively to Jay Leno's wisecrack, saying it is unfair to say that our soldiers are cowards. I agree. We can say a lot of things about our military, but it is definitely not lacking in courage. On the contrary, we probably suffer from them having too much of it. The same goes for their adversaries. Our biggest problem really is that the warriors in our midst are much too fearless. If soldiers and rebels can be even a little less brave, perhaps they will have second thoughts before pulling the trigger. Perhaps there would be less gunfights, less air strikes, less bombings, less assassinations, less torture, less beheadings and less willingness to go to the wilderness or far-flung deserts to partake in wars decided and designed in the comfort and security of sanitized rooms by "dauntless" leaders within and outside of government.
Among warmongers, a subtraction of courage can be a good thing. It may be a less glorious path to peace, but our blessings are too few and far between, let us just try and run for it.