Soldier’s dad: Bush blunder cost son his life

Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Soldier’s dad: Bush blunder cost son his life

That story, you may recall, received widespread play – partly because it brought the war into Wisconsin living rooms, and partly because of the heroic nature of his death. A former star athlete at Beaver Dam High School, Straseskie drowned after jumping into a canal while attempting to rescue a downed helicopter crew.

Since then, 20 other Wisconsin soldiers have died in Iraq, the most recent being 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Adrian Soltau of Milwaukee, who was killed in an explosion Sept. 13. And while all those deaths were duly noted in the media, one gets the sense that many Americans have grown indifferent to what’s happening in that chaotic region. Either that, or they don’t want to face the unsettling possibility that, 30 years after Vietnam, we’re once again trapped in a no-win situation.

John Straseskie, the father of Kirk Straseskie, senses it, too.

“I don’t think Bush has a clue what he’s doing over there,” the 52-year-old retired Beaver Dam resident said in a phone interview this week.

And Straseskie suspects things will just continue to deteriorate because, he maintains, the president and his advisers can’t seem to comprehend one simple fact.

“Anytime you have guerrilla-type warfare going on, you kill a lot of innocent people – and that just feeds the guerillas,” he says. “And there’s gonna come a time when we’re running with our tails tucked between our legs just to get out of there.”

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Straseskie has voiced his opposition to the war. Though he originally supported the idea – like the vast majority of Americans, he says, “I believed this stuff about weapons of mass destruction and all the other horse bleep” – Straseskie publicly criticized Bush shortly after learning of his son’s death in May 2003. (Another of his sons, Ryan, also was deployed in the Persian Gulf with the Wisconsin National Guard, but returned home early this summer.)

“He put our troops over there to finish what his dad didn’t do,” Straseskie said at the time.

Sixteen months later, those feelings appear to have intensified.

He’s angry, Straseskie says, “because more and more innocent soldiers are dying in a war that we had no business starting in the first place.” And he’s disillusioned, he says, because many Americans apparently agree with Bush’s contention that the war was worth fighting because we captured Saddam Hussein – who, according to the president, was a major terrorist threat.

“But how many Iraqis were involved in Sept. 11? None that I’m aware of,” Straseskie counters. And yet, he says, “people still buy this stuff.”

Having said all that, Straseskie acknowledges there’s still a chance the United States “could turn this around” and says people shouldn’t be surprised if the draft is revived and the war is expanded early next year – particularly if Bush is re-elected.

But in his own view, there’s only one sensible option at this point.

“I think we should get out and let the Iraqis fight their own battles,” he says.

Besides, “I think if you look at the region as a whole, they don’t want democracy over there. Not their current leaders anyway. Because if they get democracy, they’ll lose their power.”

Asked what he’d ask Bush if he – not Jim Lehrer – were moderating Thursday night’s televised debate, Straseskie says, “I’d ask him, ‘Don’t you think you’re rather vain and full of bluster when you say that – with all the information we have now – we were justified in going into Iraq? Without enough allied support to even try to get the job done?’ “

But Straseskie says he knows Bush wouldn’t answer truthfully – one, because he’s not about to admit he made such a catastrophic blunder; and two, because to admit as much could very well cost him the election.

And, frankly, that’s been the toughest thing to accept over the last 16 months, Straseskie says. The likelihood that his son – and 1,052 other Americans – gave his life in a war that in the long run “probably isn’t going to solve a thing.”

Yes, the initial shock of Kirk’s death has worn off, Straseskie says.

“But you never really get over it. Especially at holidays and birthdays. You look around and realize your son’s not there.

“It’s like an open sore.”

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