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"Death of John Murtha" an alternate obituary by Eric Lipps

Author says: what if the late John Murtha had been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War? muses Eric Lipps?. Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).

February 8th, 2010: the New York Times ran the following obituary for Rep. John Murtha (D-PA): HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Rep. John Murtha, the tall, gruff-mannered former Marine who became the de facto voice of veterans on Capitol Hill and later an outspoken and influential supporter of the Iraq War, died Monday following complications from gallbladder surgery. He was 77.

Rep. Bob Brady, a longtime friend, said the late congressman's large intestine was damaged during surgery and an infection led him to be hospitalized with a fever.

"There will never be another Jack Murtha," Brady said. "He went out on top of his game."

The Pennsylvania Democrat died at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., where he was admitted on Jan. 31. The gallbladder surgery was performed days earlier at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., which didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.

In 1974, Murtha, then an officer in the Marine Reserves, became the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress. Ethical questions often shadowed his congressional service, but he was best known for being among Congress' most hawkish Democrats. He wielded considerable clout for two decades as the ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee that oversees Pentagon spending.

"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion"Murtha voted in 2002 to authorize President George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq. His growing frustration with the Bush administration's handling of the war, however, prompted him in November 2005 to insist that the administration either "get serious' about the conflict or "bring our folks home."

"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion," he said. "It's time for the President to decide whether he wants to win this fight or not. If he does, we need a new and more effective strategy; the administration should realize that we cannot win on the cheap, or with too few troops on the ground, and should commit himself to sending as many additional troops as may be needed." Murtha noted that Bush's military advisers had initially recommended sending in as many as 300,000 troops to successfully pacify Iraq, but that Bush had chosen to send in roughly half that number because he reportedly believed the Iraqi army would quickly fold and that there would be no significant resistance thereafter. "Clearly," he observed, "that was mistaken." Murtha's words were the first full articulation of the call for what came to be known as the "surge" in Iraq.

Murtha's call for an increase in troops for the Iraq war rattled Washington, where he enjoyed bipartisan respect for his work on military issues. His fellow Democrats, in particular, were upset at this break with the party's growing antiwar consensus on the part of a congressman widely seen as speaking for those in uniform when it came to military matters.

Murtha "was the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress, and he was incredibly effective in his service in the House," said Rep. David Obey, a Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "He understood the misery of war. Every person who serves in the military has lost an advocate and a good friend today."

Murtha was known in his home state for helping bring money and projects to areas depressed by the decline of the coal and steel industries, "a steadfast advocate for the people of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years" with a "tough-as-nails" reputation.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remembered Murtha as a tireless advocate for veterans and the military.

"From health care to weapons procurement, from shipbuilding to pay and benefits, no one understood the needs of our modern military better than he did," Mullen said in a statement.

"That we remain the greatest military in the history of world is testament in no small part to his vigilance and stewardship," he said.

Known for his seriousness, Murtha also had a lighter side. Gov. Ed Rendell recalled Monday that "he was a funny guy, he always enjoyed a good laugh and he was somebody who was a great and loyal friend."

Rendell said Monday that he has not decided when to schedule a special election to replace Murtha. He has 10 days by law; the political parties must come up with their own candidates. The governor said that it would save taxpayer money to hold the election on May 18, the state's planned primary date, but that he might set it sooner in the event of urgent congressional issues.

Murtha was born June 17, 1932. The former newspaper delivery boy left college in 1952 to join the Marines, where he rose through the ranks to become a drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C., and later served in the 2nd Marine Division. He settled in Johnstown, then volunteered for Vietnam, where he served as an intelligence officer and earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

He was serving in the Pennsylvania House in Harrisburg when he was elected to Congress in a special election in 1974. In 1990, he retired from the Marine Reserves as a colonel. "Ever since I was a young boy, I had two goals in life -- I wanted to be a colonel in the Marine Corps and a member of Congress," Murtha wrote in his 2004 book, "From Vietnam to 9/11."

Murtha's defense of the Iraq war extended to the troops. When in 2006 Marines were accused of murdering Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" at Haditha after one Marine died and two were wounded by a roadside bomb, the Congressman was among their most vocal supporters, demanding that what he called "reckless charges' against the troops in question be dismissed. Critics said Murtha ignored evidence of misconduct in his zeal to protect fellow soldiers. He said that the accusations were unfair and helped fuel Iraqi hostility to U.S. forces.

"This is the kind of war you have to win the hearts and minds of the people," Murtha said. "And we're set back every time something like this happens."

As the Iraq war became increasingly unpopular within the Democratic Party, speculation mounted that Murtha might switch to the GOP. Whenever asked, however, he denied any intention to do so. "My constituents elected me as a Democrat, knowing my political views," he said in a January 2007 interview. "To cross the aisle now would be a slap in the face to those who voted for me in the primary." That statement were widely seen as a shot at Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who in 2006 was defeated in his state's Democratic primary and who won re-election as an independent after receiving the open support of the national Republican Party, which essentially abandoned its own nominee in Lieberman's favor.

Murtha was a perennial target of critics of so-called pay-to-play politics. He routinely drew the attention of ethical watchdogs with off-the-floor activities, from his entanglement in the Abscam corruption probe three decades ago to the more recent scrutiny of the connection between special-interest spending known as earmarks and the raising of cash for campaigns.

Murtha defended the practice of earmarking. The money, he said, benefited his constituents.

He became chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee in 1989.

Murtha's critics recall the Abscam corruption probe, in which the FBI caught him on videotape in a 1980 sting operation turning down a $50,000 bribe offer while holding out the possibility that he might take money in the future.

"We do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested and maybe I won't," Murtha said on the tape.

Six congressmen and one senator were convicted in that case. Murtha was not charged, but the government named him as an unindicted co-conspirator and he testified against two other congressmen.

Murtha's district encompasses all or part of nine counties in southwestern Pennsylvania and embodies the region's stereotypes of coal mines, steel mills and blue-collar values.

State Sen. Don White, an Army veteran and a Republican who represents a portion of Murtha's district, said he and Murtha were longtime friends, despite belonging to opposing parties and serving in different branches of the military.

"He made sure that Washington, D.C., knew where Johnstown, Indiana, Kittanning and a lot of other sites in western Pennsylvania were located," White said.

Survivors include his wife of nearly 55 years, Joyce, and three children.

Eric Lipps

Guest Historian of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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