Monday, May 29, 2006
This is, and has always been, a day to honor the nation's war dead, and to remember those who are now serving in the uniform of the armed forces of the United States.
As many who read this blog know, I have vociferously disagreed with our policy in Iraq, even when I can figure out exactly what it is. However, we should not in any way blame those men and women who are there, for whatever political mistakes have been made by the leadership in this war. They are doing what they are asked to do, and doing it well, and at great risk and loss, doing it successfully. Often they are doing this despite the periodically re-defined mission, an enemy that no one at the top planned to be fighting, and the by now notorious lack of adequate body and vehicle armor. They deserve our respect and our honor, and we should reserve whatever criticism we have for those at the top who have made mistakes, not for the ordinary people who wear the uniform of our armed forces. Even when they do something that is wrong-- and all week we've been hearing about the Haditha incident (and whoever is guilty of misconduct there-- including a cover-up-- should absolutely be held responsible for their actions), we should not let that specific instance reflect on the basic commitment to getting it done the right way that almost all of those in our armed forces share (and I've had both friends and family deployed to Iraq).
Let's also remember that most of them are still nineteen or twenty year old kids who would be turned away as too young if they tried to buy a beer at circle K, and who instead of sitting in a comfortable chair on a college campus, threatened only by their math assignment, or instead of doing their job and only having to pay attention to the bills when they get home, or instead of devoting their time to their families, have instead chosen to risk their lives, do the work they are asked to do on behalf of their country, and often sacrifice important time with their families.
We must also not forget the 'other war.' We are also fighting in Afghanistan. Maybe it is because we have less troops there and less casualties, or more probably it is because of the lack of controversy (no one seriously argues either the justification or the purpose of the war in Afghanistan, and the press probably finds agreement to be boring) but Afghanistan is hardly ever mentioned, and if so then it is invariably preceded by 'Iraq and...' But Afghanistan is much more than the 'other war.' It is the war that we were thrust quite literally into on September 11, and a place where Americans are fighting just as hard every day as in Iraq.
It is important on this day to remember the war dead, not only to honor them, but also to remind us that a decision to go to war should never be taken lightly or undertaken if there is any other option. War is a terrible thing, and no amount of flag-waving or patriotic sloganeering should be allowed to obscure that fact. Some wars are necessary (and as I've just pointed out, Afghanistan is a prime example), but to quote former President Jimmy Carter as he said last year when he was awarded a Nobel Prize for a quarter century of hard work in the interest of promoting peace and Democracy, 'War may sometimes be a necessary evil, but it is always evil.'