Thursday, September 8, 2005

Our Backbone: the Soldiers, Not the President

I have a brother who is a Captain in the Army. He has done year-long tours in Korea and Iraq, and is now preparing for another deployment, probably (I'm assuming) to Iraq or Afghanistan. I love my brother and I'm very proud of him, and I try always to be cognizant that he and thousands of others like him--men and women with families, spouses and kids and parents and siblings--have voluntarily signed up to put themselves in harm's way to protect my country and my freedoms. His stories about his deployments have made it clear as day that this is not child's play. I must acknowledge right away that his contributions to our country already in his young life far outshadow any contributions I have made, or ever will make. And I'm aware that my thoughts rightly belong under a heading of “Those Who Have Not Served.”

This acknowledgement of the debt we owe to our country's soldiers makes my feelings for our current president and government, and especially my criticism of them, a sensitive issue for me. I'm not ambivalent about what I feel, but I'm sensitive that my opinions are not things that a person deploying to a war zone wants to hear. Even if the criticism is just, I can't imagine a soldier being happy that orders they are bound by oath to follow are in pursuit of a policy which is not supported by the citizens of their country. Or worse, that the policy, and the mission that pursues it, are thought to be ill-advised and unworthy of the sacrifices required. I'm not even sure that as a country we are on board about the most general goals of our current policy in the Middle East. Anyway, long and short: I want not to fire off my dislike of W and his governance lightly.

So that’s all difficult enough for my little brain to process. But it gets worse: W and his surrogate strategy module, Karl Rove (and the rest of his intellectual life-support system), have been very quick to use the honor of the soldiers as a shield for his government's policies; criticism of our government, we are told, is a slap in the face to people who are dying to protect us.

Man, that's a hard thing for me to hear. But this concept is so badly thought-out (and was surely not followed by those same conservatives during the Clinton administrations) that it's hard not to see it as ugly opportunism. Thomas Jefferson said "Dissent is the sincerest form of patriotism," and our freedom of expression seems among the most precious freedoms we have and the most worthy to protect. Criticism of our government is the absolute cornerstone of free speech. In truth, I'm a bit surprised that there has not been more resistance within the military (beyond the ongoing and increasing difficulty finding new recruits) to a mission which, oath or not, many of THEM must also have grave questions about.

It is this honor--the honor of the mission of a country's soldiers, and the honor of the men and women who have chosen to serve--that makes me think that the use of our troops must be governed by the most scrupulous code of ethics. What we seem to have now instead is a squandering of that honor for political advantage, and I for one find it deeply disturbing. Again and again I am reminded that politics is a dirty business: Rove knows that a particular brand of conservative will leap to the defense of W--no matter what--and that his policies can ride the coattails of this blind allegiance. But to me this is another of a host of tricks this administration is happy to play to move its agenda forward, instead of simply being straightforward and honest.

Maybe I'm naive and this is simply not how anything will get done in politics. But I will not allow this sect of Republicanism to define the debate for me. I do love my country, and I am proud of our soldiers.

I agree with the bumper sticker: “Support The Troops--Bring 'Em Home!”


Joshua said...

I think this is a very well thought out and articulated article. For the most part, I agree.

I do want to take a bit of opportunity to talk from the other side of this, however. I, too, have a brother in the service (Marines). We have talked a lot about this subject, and he is upset at the way most Americans seem to be reacting.

We wonder, he and I, though, how many people are reacting that way, and how many are being put on camera. It seems to me, at least, that the media can gain far more by painting a villian (Bush), a victim (troops) and a climax (war) than it can by being nonpartisan and unbiased (which it once was, and is supposed to be).

I think the truth, or closer to it, is that most people feel badly for the troops, personally, and the neccesity for war, globally, but do not think it is wrong to be over there. Or at least, they didn't until the media chose ONLY to focus on the supposed wrongs being done.

I am not sure what we have accomplished, and I am not sure what we have lost. What I am sure of is if we bring our men and women home before the job is done, we will have lost all we have done, and all those lives, and all those hours and days and months and years away from family and friends, for nothing.

I am not ready to call for that, even if it means my best friend and brother has to serve another tour over there, in harms way, possibly losing his life to fulfill an oath that he believes in, if not a war we don't believe in.

I hope I didn't overstep my boundries posting this: this really was the best article I have seen on a blog regarding the war.


wunelle said...

Thanks, Joshua, for your thoughtful response. I'm glad for the dialog.

I must agree that, having made the decision to be there, we must stay the course. My ending comment about "Bring 'Em Home" is not intended to mean that I would summarily pull the plug at this moment, only that getting the troops home, safely and in a way that honors their service, would be my top priority.

This raises another question to me of whether, once committed, we have given the troops everything that is needed to ensure their success. Are there enough of them over there to do the job? Are they properly provided for? I don't presume for a second to be able to answer these questions, but the points have been raised often enough to lead me to ask.

My brother said during his time in Iraq that the news coverage did not provide a balanced look at the situation there. Perhaps for this we should be most unhappy.

I think my disillusionment stems from my not having been convinced at the outset that the war was necessary, or that it was necessary in such a way as to require our going it alone (of course we do have allies, but our traditional, large Western allies were all unconvinced). There was a great groundswell of anger at the French for not going along with us, but I feel the case for going to war as a solution, for going as quickly and urgently as we did, and for going alone if we couldn't get the allies we wanted, these cases were not made to my satisfaction. Just my thoughts.

For what it's worth, I have no compunction about removing Saddam, or about using our military to remove him if necessary. But, again, I think the case wasn't made, and that mission was confused with 9/11 in a way that smacked of opportunism.

Thanks for your thoughts, and I welcome any comments.

Joshua said...

Again, I agree with all of that. The question I have long had is why did we move so quickly, and for what opportunity.

I think people like to scapegoat Bush here, and he is an easy target, to be sure, but those same people were calling for blood after 9/11. Retaliation was the battlecry of the masses, for quite some time (unless you were on a college campus, but that is an entirely different post). Was Bush being driven by the same machine that drives the media?

We will never know. What we do know is he didn't disclose his real intentions, unless he really was stupid enough to assume, without reason, that WMDs were being mass produced (some new findings say he had a little evidence, but not nearly enough). Do I think he went over there because his daddy did before him? No. Do I think he went over there to send a message to terrorists, and the people who harbor them? Ehh, maybe? But I think the real reason he was over there was to quell the public urge for blood while affecting long overdue regime change. Had he said that, perhaps the public opinion would have been better. We certainly would have looked at our time there, thusfar, as a victory.

I am not sure I am willing to judge the man on his intent alone, but in this case, some good has come, and is coming, out of this conflict.

I rambled, but it is not often I get to discourse about these things with someone who isn't totally aligned with one side or the other.


wunelle said...

Another very sane post on a subject which seems to invite extremism.

I agree that the psychological environment after 9/11 in this country was a vengeful one, and I think that everyone had thoughts that the traditional Republican hawkishness might serve us well by kicking some ass we wanted to see kicked, even if it wasn't necessarily the personal first choice response of some of us.

Certainly I don't know what was in Bush's mind after 9/11 or what his primary motivation was. There seems to be some evidence that Iraq was on his mind long before 9/11, and that the attack on this country was an opportunity to move against an extremism he felt was centered there. Like you, I don't believe he was acting in his father's footsteps, but if he intended to "send a message" to terrorists (which seems more probable) I think he was biting off more than we could chew, as a nation and as a culture. There is a sense that this American-hating philosophy could be pummelled into submission; I don't know if anyone in the administration really believed that, but for my part I think this is not how we will find the common ground which seems the only alternative to anihilation. And looked at in that way, we may have a longer road to rapprochement for this action.

I'm grateful that I'm not called upon to make these decisions, set these policies. I'm quite aware of all that I don't know or understand about the region. I'm just not convinced that W grasped the situation much better than I do, and heaven help us if I sent in troops based on what little I know.

For what it's worth, I have been consistent in my opposition to the war (or at least my serious questioning of it) from the beginning, and was certainly not myself calling for blood after 9/11. I think the events of 9/11 called for action of some kind, of course, but in my own mind a military action was not high on my list (at least not an overt one).

Thanks again for the post.

Joshua said...

I wonder how much of that hatred we see is not a reflection of the popularity of self hatred in this country. It seems to me is is increasingly fashionable to hate, most often blindly, any policy or action from our own people.

I guess I don't know what else to say about that. I hope I am wrong.


wunelle said...

I hope you're wrong too, but I wonder.

The pilots I work among are the angriest, most disgruntled group I have ever met, even though they have things far better than the average citizen. (Now that the pilot's career has rather collapsed, at least at the passenger carriers, I understand some of that anger; but this is the last four years, and near as I can tell they've always been angry.) I simply don't get this, except to conclude that the anger is not a reaction to circumstances but a baseline upon which life's experiences set. I seriously considered many times whether I wanted to pursue a different career because I so feared getting to be 60 and being filled with anger and hate like so many people I worked around.

I guess all we can do is exercise good stewardship of the things in our purview.

Be happy, my friend!

Nancy Dowling said...

It really sucks to be a soldier in a war. It sucks even more to be one in a war that was ill-conceived, overly-optimistic, badly-planned – and possibly – one that will cause more terrorism than it stopped.

I’m thinking years ahead to when the troops come home. And I’m remembering the unwelcoming response to the Vietnam vets. According to current polls, a large percentage of the public feels that this war wasn’t “worth it.” I predict this sentiment will grow, in a downtrend we saw back in the 1960s and ‘70s. And when those poor vets returned home, they got a crappy welcome and no support. We lost the war, lost over 50,000 American lives, spent billions of dollars -- and all for naught. The North would have won whether the US got involved or not. It was a total waste.

I believe this war will present Americans with the same aftermath. But in terms of “Support Our Troops” – isn’t this a reason to support them even more when they return? Being on the losing side in a wasted war is a sickening thought. All the more reason to thank the soldiers for having the guts to stick it out.

Question: which is more gut-wrenchingly sad –- to sacrifice yourself in war for an ideal of global democracy against an evil despot? Or to die because a few powerful, misguided, ill-informed NeoCons decided to start a war? Morally and psychologically, they have a much tougher row to hoe than victorious WWII vets, who were involved in a civilian-supported war with clear lines between good and evil. These Iraq War vets will not get a ticker-tape reception. I’m afraid it will be more like déjà vu all over again.

wunelle said...

I think the issue is one of putting one's life on the line for a cause worthy of that great sacrifice. The entanglements that weather this dilemma--WWII, as you say--do so because the sacrifices are for fundamental and worthy things, things worth dying for.

To command thousands to face that sacrifice for a cause which does not have public support is, I think, very shaky ground. I question the ethics of it. Conditions in Iraq had reached a point where some intervention was warranted, surely; but most other nations did not feel that their young men and women needed to lay down their lives to fix it. At least not yet.

As I said above, our situation threatens to squander the honor and sacrifices of many individual soldiers for what it is too easy to see as a political pipe dream. I would love to learn that I am simply wrong in my assessments of this all.

My brother said when he returned from Iraq he was already seeing the scorns and slurs toward soldiers that you allude to. While I find that behavior by civilians toward the serving soldiers utterly unconscionable, I feel the whole situation is ass-backwards: these people are showing, however thoughtlessly and inappropriately, their disapproval of the administration and its policies. And without excusing the boorish civilians, the onus is on the government to answer the concerns of many, many people who spoke up loudly with their reservations about this course of action.