Sen. Robert Byrd, RIP
Some of the finest moments in his career came near the end, when he argued passionately against the Iraq war.
Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) died early Monday morning. No one has served as many years in the US Senate as he did: 51. And perhaps no other senator has quoted as many Greek and Roman statesmen as did Byrd. He leaves behind a long and storied legacy. He was once a member of the KKK and voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964—a move he later said he regretted. But he did back the Civil RIghts Act of 1968. He brought the bacon home to West Virginia in truckloads.
One of the finer moments in his historic legislative career came on March 19, 2003, when he delivered an impassioned address opposing George W. Bush's imminent invasion of Iraq. A fitting way to remember Byrd is to watch it:
And here's Byrd in October 2002, as the Senate debated a resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq. (He was among 23 senators who voted against it.)
Byrd never let up with his protestations against the war. Mother Jones compiled a list of his admonishments during that first year of war, including the following:
February 12, 2003:
"This is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.… The doctrine of pre-emption…is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self-defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the U.N. Charter. And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our—or some other nation's—hit list....
"To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any president who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50 percent children is 'in the highest moral traditions of our country.'"
February 26, 2003:
"We cannot treat the citizens of this nation as if they are children who must be fed a fairy tale about fighting a glorious war of 'liberation' which will be cheap, short, and bloodless."
March 19, 2003:
"Today I weep for my country…. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent, peacekeeper.… We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat U.N. Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet…. This administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war."
May 6, 2003:
"This is not some made-for-TV backdrop for a campaign commercial. This is real life, and real lives have been lost. To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech. I do not begrudge his salute to America's warriors aboard the carrier Lincoln, for they have performed bravely and skillfully…but I do question the motives of a desk-bound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech."
June 5, 2003:
"What amazes me is that the president himself is not clamoring for an investigation. It is his integrity that is on the line.… And yet he has raised no questions…expressed no anger at the possibility that he might have been misled."
September 10, 2003:
"The president has now stated that the war in Iraq is the central front on the war against terrorism. But it was our invasion of Iraq which has turned that nation into a staging ground for daily terrorist attacks against our occupation forces. If we are serious about protecting our country from terrorism, shouldn't the central front be the war on Al Qaeda? But at the White House…the president waves the bloody shirt of 9/11 and then subtly shifts the conversation to Iraq."