Monday, May 31, 2010

Respect for the Uniform

Within the past month, one of my students mentioned that when his grandfather got off the plane from Vietnam in his soldier’s uniform, somebody spit on him at the airport. That’s the kind of memory that lingers, even to the third generation.

In retrospect, most thoughtful people now agree that Vietnam was a pointless war, waged for political purposes. Many of us believe that, too, about Iraq. But thankfully, the mood of the country is now such that every serviceman or –woman is considered a hero and treated with respect.

Not all are really heroes, of course. A friend who earned his Purple Heart as a Marine in Vietnam once said to me about those he knew who had died, “Some died because they were brave, some because they were cowards, and others because they were stoned. Some just happened to be in the wrong place.”

No doubt the same may be said for today’s “fallen heroes,” but they all come home with the same flag draped over their coffin. Like the rest of us, some are more worthy than others, but who are we to say?

The mood of the country today is to salute the flag (not burn it), tear up during the National Anthem, and say thanks to the men and women who serve.

But let’s not forget that moods are emotions, and emotions are fickle. Let us resolve never again to confuse a soldier with the mission he or she is sent to carry out.


Six said...

The musing of your friend who was a marine that fought in Vietnam is interesting. No doubt we have some of the bravest, most amazing soldiers in the history of the world... but the actions of our soldiers on behalf of leaders such as President Bush and President Obama cannot be excused with simply 'just following orders'...

Our troops are volunteers... the sacrifices they make are no doubt real - but they have volunteered to carry out the missions of the US Military. The problem with president Obama is that he has re-branded the (illegal) wars in a way that makes people feel good about these wars. Somehow Afghanistan has become the 'good war' and everyone seems to have resolved that we will have a military presence in Iraq for at least a generation and likely longer...

The fact is our soldiers would NOT volunteer if they did not believe that the people at home did not support their actions over there. They go to war because they believe that people support them. For all of the 'Tea Partiers' out there... think about this, more than $1 TRILLION has been spent fighting the war in IRAQ alone (that we know about on the on-the-books budget). We currently have an estimated 95,000 troops in Iraq, and another 190,000 private contractors... all other countries have essentially withdrawn their troops. So nearly 300,000 people in Iraq on the US Taxpayers dime. In just one year of accounting, it was discovered that over $9 billion in CASH allocated had gone missing, there was 300,000 firearms that went missing, and billions more in equipment that just simply 'disappeared' or was 'paid for' but has never been accounted for or was pure overcharges that taxpayers will never get back. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 600,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and about another 55,000 'insurgents'. How many more wounded such as the wikileaks video showed how common and SOP civilians being listed as 'insurgents' really is. All of this is against a country who did not attack us, who posed absolutely no threat of attacking us and who our officials lied about our need to go in when and how we did. And to the conservatives (and Democrats) who argued that we would actually make money on this war with the oil... how's that working out for us?

The challenge for me is... supporting our troops is supporting the war. I just don't see how the two can be separated right now given THIS war.

Citizen Jane said...

Six, if you were president, what would you do about al Quaida?

You raise three issues here, all of which are worthy of discussion: 1) whether a just nation should go to war at all, and if so, when; 2) how money should be managed in a vast enterprise like the military; and 3)when it's right (or wrong) to obey orders. (The last point is one of particular interest to me--I've been intrigued for many years by Stanley Milgram's studies on obedience to authority.)

But let's start with point 1: What would you do about international terrorism in general and al Quaida in particular?

Six said...

I don't have the ultimate answer on what to do about al Quaida - but occupying and nation building Iraq and Afghanistan are putting us in a weaker position, not a stronger one. Economically it weakens us in obvious ways, militarily it weakens us having so many deployed for so long, and from a foreign policy perspective it is a great recruiting tool for our enemies.

If I were king for a day - I would immediately begin the withdrawl of troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq. I would put out the message that if we are ever attacked again, and it is learned that there was a government (such as the Taliban was found to be) that directly or knowingly allowed/encouraged the response to that government and military targets would be swift, violent but short-lived. We cannot afford to nation-build nor is it effective. We also cannot live in fear of terror... in so many ways, the terrorists have already won. Let's face it, the next al Quaida attack on the US will not be orchestrated out of Afghanistan or Iraq... those masterminds behind such an attack will likely come some where out of Yemen, Saudia Arabia, Iran or somewhere in Africa. We take that win back by living true to our principles of a free society and we honor that by treating terrorists the same way any other horrible criminal within our existing system would be treated - do not elevate them by compromising our constitution. I would aggressively pursue al Quaida and other terror organizations by the EFFECTIVE means of counter-intelligence and covert ops. Waging a 400,000 person strong forgien occupation does not win the hearts and minds of the civilians - it strengthens the hatred for the US and is a major recruiting tool. It also does not eliminate or even reduce terrorism and is not consistent with our principals as a nation as defined in the Declaration of Idependence and Constitution, etc. It bleeds our resources, divides the world against us and costs hundreds of thousands lives. How many Iraqi children have now grown up only knowing US military occupation? In Afghanistan how many children are now succeptible to being recruited in the war against thier foriegn occupier because all they have ever known are militarized checkpoints where they have no rights - where they have seen thier family members needlessly murdered as in General McCrystals words, "we have killed an amazing number of people (at checkpoints), but to my knowledge none of them have been a threat." That is not how you win a battle against terrorists.

Six said...

Directly to your points - 1. Ben Franklin once said, "There was never a good war or a bad peace." And a favorite of mine, Mark Twain once said, "An inglorious peace is always better than a dishonorable war". That is not say that war is never necessary - When we were attacked at Pear Harbor, we needed to respond. When the south tried to break away on desire to keep slavery, the north needed fight and when British empire continued to impose on the colonies, they were right to break away - however, right and good are not the same thing. War is never good. There are such things as just wars, necessary wars and wars that are worth the costs... but we have become a warring nation.

2. We spend and dedicate resources to our military to the point of nearly equal to the rest of the world combined. The US has over 1,000 military bases in OTHER countries (about 130 different countries) - that is not counting our domestic bases, that's just foriegn bases. Not counting the Iraq and Afghanistan bases, we spend over 100 billion per year servicing the bases (not counting troop support costs). That is basically money out of taxpayer pockets and in to foriegn countries pockets. There is something terribly wrong with that picture. We should begin the process of closing all of our military bases across the world - Clinton did some good, Bush reversed it and Obama has put Bush's reversal in to over-drive making it even worse.

3. It is always morally right to disobey an illegal order. Especially when the order violates someone elses god-given rights. To quote again Mark Twain, "All war must be just the killing of strangers against whom you feel no personal animosity; strangers whom, in other circumstances, you would help if you found them in trouble, and who would help you if you needed it."

Sorry to go off on so many tangents... I have just been missing the civil rights, war protests that were gaining traction before Obama was president...