Somebody Else’s Sacrifice


Refugees fleeing Mosul


Yes, I watched the last debate. You knew I would. I get why people don’t, especially those who have voted already. And, no, watching the final debate didn’t change my vote. I doubt it changed yours, either.

If you didn’t like Hillary before, you aren’t going to like her any more now.

And if you didn’t like Trump before, you likely detest him by now.

Count me among those who have no respect for Trump. I’m not going to try and change your mind about your vote one way or another, but I do want to explain this thing that Trump does that drives me over the edge of raving mad.

It’s when he lectures – yes, lectures – on military or foreign policy.

There is this story that Pat Conroy told in his book My Losing Season. If you haven’t yet read Conroy’s book, get it and read it because my recounting of this story won’t do the power of his telling it justice.

Mr. Trump is not a man that Pat Conroy would have liked. Anyone who knew Pat knew that the one thing Pat hated was a bully and Trump bullies. Pat would have skewered Trump every chance he got. Pat was a man who fought for underdogs. That trait, I think, was just one of the things I and millions of others loved about him. Pat was a champion for people who didn’t have champions. He was the first writer of renown to champion my work. I will forever be indebted to Pat for making the time to care. And I know, I know, I’m not alone. Pat called himself the “blurb whore” because given a chance to sing the praises of another writer, Pat would belt out a tune. The first time I met Pat was at a trade show in Atlanta. He literally yelled across the wide open space between us: “You wrote a helluva book, girl!” He was talking about After the Flag has been Folded. Then he and Sandra took me by the hand and began introducing me to all their favorite booksellers.

I had no idea when I began reading My Losing Season that Pat would talk about Vietnam veterans who were his friends. I didn’t know that Pat had married a Vietnam widow, or that he had adopted the Gold Star daughters left behind when Joseph Wester Jones III was shot down. Learning all of that about Pat endeared me to him. What I would have given to have a man like Pat step into the role of father in my life.

But it was his words about his protesting the Vietnam War, and about his own lack of service to the country that shattered me. Speaking about his Citadel buddies who served and came home wounded and broken by the war, Pat said he realized while writing the book that he should have gone to Vietnam like his friends had done. He should have fought alongside them and earned the right to protest.

“I have come to revere words like “democracy” and “freedom,” the right to vote, the incomprehensibly beautiful origins of my country, and the grandeur of the extraordinary vision of the founding fathers. Do I not see America’s flaws? Of course I do. But I now can honor her basic, incorruptible virtues, the ones that let me walk the streets screaming my ass off that my country had no idea what it was doing in South Vietnam. . . . I have come to a conclusion about my country that I knew then in my bones, but lacked the courage to act on: America is a good enough country to die for even when she is wrong.”

I cannot read those words of Pat’s without weeping. The first time I read them, they broke my heart wide open. I sent Pat flowers with a message telling him that I wished somebody had spoken those words to me when I was 13. Pat called me after he got those flowers. He told me that his editor had urged him to take out those words. He had fought to leave them.

Vietnam has always been a divisive issue for our country. We are so conflicted about it even yet. There are facts we have available to us now that we didn’t know then. Those facts make it clear that the war was misguided at best, wrong at worst.

Not unlike the one in Iraq.

You heard the news, I’m sure, about the war refugees at risk in Mosul.

My nephew, David, who carries my father’s name, was a sniper early in the American War in Iraq. His unit. the Stryker Brigade out of Fort Lewis, was stationed in Mosul. David earned a Purple Heart. He saw many of his buddies from his unit die in Iraq. Two of David’s sons are named for the soldiers he fought alongside. Friends who died.

ISIS is moving in on Mosul. It looks like a repeat of Vietnam to those of us who have knowledge of such things. Vietnam veterans joke wryly about how they had to keep taking the same hill, or the same city, over and over again.

I said it early on in the Iraq war and I’ll repeat it here: You can’t give another country freedom. The people there have to want it for themselves. They have to fight for it. If you force freedom upon a people, upon a country, then it isn’t really freedom, is it?

I heard a news report this week suggesting that the locals are doing their best to keep ISIS from overtaking Mosul. Meanwhile, human rights agencies are calling for an intervention because of the number of civilians who are at risk, caught up in this struggle for power and position. Civilians who just want the ability to go to the market and buy fruit for their families, or sell their wares to support their families. Or as they said about those civilians during the Vietnam War, people who just want to tend to their rice fields.

The one thing I think we can all agree on is that the situation in Mosul is a mess. Too many lives have already been lost. Many, many more are at risk.My heart is heavy for the Iraqi people. It seems to me like we learned nothing from our actions in Vietnam. We keep making the same old mistakes. But let’s be clear – the situation in Mosul is not the result of Hillary Clinton’s policies or lack thereof, no matter how much Mr. Trump wants to spin it that way.

Nothing makes me stark raving mad quicker than hearing Trump boast about how had he been president the Iraq war would never have happened. I understand he is employing hyperbole for his own rhetorical purposes – chiefly to get elected and named Commander in Chief. But whenever I hear Trump prattle on about Obama administrations failed policies in Iraq  (never bothering to mention that it was the GOP administration that put us in this mess to begin with) or about how Clinton is responsible for the situation in Mosul or Aleppo, I step into that Mario at Warp Speed frenzy of madness.

I want to bitch slap Trump in those moments.


Can there be anything more pompous or self-righteous or just plain mean than a man who bought five deferments to Vietnam boasting about all the ways in which he could manage war better? He can’t even manage his own companies in an honorable and ethical fashion. Imagine if he employed his business practices with our soldiers:

“Sorry, soldier, you got killed. I don’t like people who get killed. They aren’t heroes in my book.”

“Sorry, soldier, I am only paying you 70 percent of your salary because I didn’t like the way you and your fellow soldiers fought that battle. You didn’t win it. You had too many wounded. We took on too much loss in Mosul. So I’m not paying you a full salary because I only do that for excellent work and Mosul isn’t excellent work, you know.”

Nothing was more hurtful to me growing up than having someone say to me – and they did it all the time – that my father’s death was “such a waste.” When Trump talks about the war in Iraq, it is with that same tone, that same sense of “I would never have been so stupid as to fight that war.”

Like my father had any choice.

Like any of the 58,000 plus names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall and the In Memory Memorial or the Vietnam Women’s Memorial had any choice in the matter.

War is a Congressional decision. We go to war because Congress sends our men and women to war. If Trump wants to gripe about the war in Iraq, he needs to take it up with the GOP lead Congress and president who first sent them there.

Otherwise, he needs to shut the hell up about how he would have made better decisions. We have no proof that Trump makes good decisions. Hello, the man has three wives. He’s got five children by those three different wives. If this were a woman with three different husbands and five children by those three different husbands, she probably wouldn’t win an election to a county commissioner seat, much less the presidency.  She would be denigrated by the press and the public alike.

Here’s a little known secret that people in the  military know but civilians continually fail to understand, when you don’t serve, when you find every reason in the world not to serve your country, when you use your daddy’s money to finagle your way out of serving your country, you really have no right to criticize those who do serve.

You don’t.

As Pat Conroy came to understand – you have not earned that right.

If you have any rights at all, it’s because somebody else earned you  those rights.

The fact that Trump can even run for president is the result of somebody else’s bloodshed.

Somebody else’s sacrifice.

Often times, those people making the biggest sacrifices are the children of war.

Conroy, the son of a Marine, summed up the sacrifices of military children this way: “We spent our entire childhoods in the service of our country, and no one even knew we were there.”

It’s those children of all those soldiers who died fighting in Iraq and the children of Iraq that I think of when Trump rants about all the ways in which the war has gone wrong.  And I think of the children of the men and women who have been deployed numerous times, of the years they missed their mothers, their fathers, and how even now, how those children still suffer because the mother, or the father they sent off to war, isn’t the one who came back home to them.

Trump has lived in a gilded enclave his entire life. He has sacrificed nothing and no one. Nothing. No one. Trump has not earned the right to pontificate about the decisions made by the men and women on the front lines. He needs to know that somewhere is a 13-year old girl who lost her father in that war, listening to his words. And when she fails to sleep at night, her pillow is wet with bitter tears. She wonders why if a man seemingly as hateful and ignorant at Trump knew better than to fight in Iraq, why didn’t her own father?

That question will haunt her for decades to come. Until, hopefully, one day she picks up a copy of My Losing Season and reads the healing words of Pat Conroy, assuring her that her father’s death was honorable, no matter what an ignorant man who refused to serve had to say about it.

She will nod her head in recognition and wipe away her tears when she reads what Pat said about loss:  “There is no teacher more discriminating or transforming than loss.”

Then she will know that the reason Trump is so ignorant is because he had lost nothing, no one. He had learned nothing in life because he had been given everything.


Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold Star daughter and author of the memoir AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (William Morrow).





Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Rose blackwell

about 6 years ago

Oh Karin my heart is heavy ! You are the only sane voice out there. !


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

Rose: There are other voices out there but yes, I miss Pat's voice this election season. And I share the heaviness of heart that you speak of. How can we not be heavy of heart given this election season and the sate of the world? Hugs and prayers.



about 6 years ago

In the lead-up to the Iraq war, we heard a different rationale and justification on a daily basis for why Saddam Hussein had to go. It went on for months. We never heard much more than a shred of an idea of what would come after, how it would work, how much it would cost. And we never were forced (and we didn't volunteer) to take an honest inventory of ourselves to see whether we had the attention span and the staying power to see such a transformation through. We took a pyramid with the minority Sunni on top, the 4X majority Shia on the bottom, and we turned it upside down. Then we let go of it. We displaced and deposed all the people who know how to run anything in the government and the economy, and we left the door open to the reverse discrimination and corruption that followed. All done in our name, with our borrowed dollars, and with almost no thoughtful discussion, debate, referendum or prayer services. For certain we must not lose sight of the irreplaceable loss of life and loved ones among our own. But the responsibility that must weigh on our shoulders must include the far greater numbers of men, women and children lost and continuing to be lost as a result of the chaos that has ensued. Before we could ever dream of a truth and reconciliation process for the Middle East, we should take a time out and consider a domestic one for ourselves. We are where we are not because we lack the courage to send in the troops and the drones to fight our battles. We are where we are because we lack the faith and the guts to live the way of Christ. We would do well to take an example from our Muslim sisters and brothers and let our first greeting to one another always be, "Peace be upon you." Peace according to the depth of biblical tradition and the way of Christ is not, as a wise theologian said, some antiseptic form of "bovine contentment". It is rather a thirst for restoration and healing that involves us in "all that saddens, maddens and gladdens." He also said that "everybody wants peace, but we also want what we cannot have without war." There's a take-home to ponder, both in this election and in every day of our lives. There's something to pray about. Thank you again for writing. And, yes, peace be upon you.



about 6 years ago

Thank for putting my feelings into words.



about 6 years ago

And by the way, I adore Conroy. How special for him to be your friend, mentor, cheerleader.


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 6 years ago

Linda: Thank you for reading and responding. Yes, Pat was a very special person to a lot of writers. I'm just one of many. I count myself blessed.


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