Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been wrangling over who is more qualified to be president. Amid the choreographed sparring, there is a story of substance that deserves recognition.
In an April 7 interview with Charlie Rose, Sanders was asked about his suggestion that Clinton should apologize for Iraq war deaths. He insisted that he was only responding to his opponent’s recommendation that he apologize for the gun violence at Sandy Hook. After further prodding, however, Sanders conceded:
“Do I bear responsibility for the tragedy and the horrors of Sandy Hook? So, you know, let’s get off of that. Of course she doesn’t bear responsibility. She voted for the war in Iraq. That was a very bad vote, in my view. Do I hold her accountable? No.”
The Vermont senator seems to have it backwards. To the extent that there is any evidence that either politician’s votes or public deliberations caused or contributed to either event, the laws of democratic vigilance require they be held to account. Others can navigate the gun-law debate, a conversation that is necessary and urgent. But when it comes to discerning the relationship between responsibility and foreign policy—policies that encourage a global arms trade of even more harrowing destructiveness than our domestic firearms market—allow me to speak from the heart.
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I am a veteran of the Afghanistan war, where I served as a Marine signals-intelligence officer for about a year. For the first half of that year, I commanded roughly 80 personnel as the assistant officer in charge, and for the latter half I commanded roughly the same number as the officer in charge. During the course of my deployment, I engaged in a variety of activities ranging from mundane desk work to regular air and ground movements to occasional vehicle-mobile and foot-mobile combat operations. While I sometimes found myself caught up in fields and deserts full of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or, in one case, an exposed firefight, I never pulled a trigger, never witnessed gruesome suffering or death to my immediate left or right, and never endured lasting physical injury myself. What I did endure, and continue to endure, is an overwhelming anguish that will likely haunt me for the rest of my days.
We all have our stories, and as with most profound things, they rarely accord with the clichés or tropes taught to us since birth.
I remember smoking and joking with a team of my Marines on a small outpost when two eruptions took place about a kilometer out. We received word that an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician and a particularly beloved squad leader had just lost their legs, while another EOD tech was left with a marred countenance. A grunt from the fated patrol said to me: “He’s fine. Just some metal in the face.”