As the Obama family spends their annual summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, perhaps the president should try “Catch-22” for some beach reading. Joseph Heller’s classic, satirical anti-war novel, published in 1961 and based on his experiences as a bombardier in World War II, is sadly relevant today, as Obama’s wars, in Afghanistan and beyond, drag on.
Heller’s title refers to a fictional military rule that said you could get out of military duty if you were crazy, but if you requested relief from military duty, you were clearly sane, so must serve. He wrote, “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr (a pilot in the novel) was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.”
Barack Obama ran as the anti-war alternative when he was a primary challenger to Hillary Clinton, whose nomination as Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 was widely held to be inevitable. It was his Oct. 2, 2002, speech in Chicago where he declared his opposition to the imminent invasion of Iraq, calling it “a dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.” As a U.S. senator, he pledged to filibuster any bill that granted retroactive immunity to large telecommunication corporations that cooperated with the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens. And on his first day in office, you might recall, he vowed to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Has Obama ended the war in Iraq? Certainly not for the Iraqis. July was one of the bloodiest months there since the height of the insurgency against the U.S.-imposed Iraqi government. So far this year, more than 4,000 Iraqis have been killed, mostly by bomb blasts that targeted civilians, and close to 10,000 have been injured, in attacks by Sunnis against Shias or vice versa. On July 22, a military assault was launched against the Abu Ghraib prison, made notorious 10 years ago by the shocking photos of abuse of prisoners at the hands of their U.S. captors. Five hundred prisoners were freed in the course of the attack, including, reportedly, many senior al-Qaida leaders. Transparency International ranked Iraq the seventh-most corrupt government on the planet, narrowly edging out Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia. Thirteen U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in July, including Spc. Caryn Nouv, a 29-year-old mother of two.