There are times when I really do ask myself, what does “support the troops” mean to Americans? I will fully admit we do have a better atmosphere for our men and women serving in uniform today than when my older brother returned from Vietnam — or is it just a very nice facade?
Perhaps this assessment from “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer’s on the topic of the military and the civilian culture in America sheds some light.
As reported by CNSnews.com, Schieffer said “Vietnam changed America,” on Sunday in a discussion of wars then and now. After Vietnam, “We began to question a lot of things, not the least of which — I mean, there was this divide between military and the civilian population. You didn`t have that before, even with the draft. Everybody felt like they had a stake in this. “It seems to me since then, and I think it’s a very sad thing, you have the military community here and you have the civilian community here. And I know people now who — some of whom that probably don’t know a single person in the U.S. military. And I think that is a very bad thing.”
So here’s a question for y’all: How many of you personally know a single person serving in the U.S military?
“Schieffer, speaking with other veteran journalists who covered the Vietnam War, was discussing “parallels” between Vietnam and the current anti-ISIS conflict in the Middle East. CBS newsman Bill Plante, picking up on the “separation of the military and the civilian population,” noted: “There are many people today who believe that some kind of obligatory government service would be very good for young people, but we’re not likely to see it.”
For the record, I don’t support the return of the military draft, but I do agree our young people need some type of national service. As a former commander, I don’t want to see our current crop of leaders saddled with spending 95 percent of their time disciplining 10 percent of their unit. We have a fine military and men and women who wish to serve and protect. We just need leadership that has shared the same experiences and knows the whistle and crack of a bullet passing by – that’s the sort of thing that helps in the formulation of better strategic decisions.
On my trigger finger I wear the #22kill titanium ring symbolizing the 22 veterans a day who are committing suicide — that is unconscionable. We know hardly anyone has been held accountable at the Veterans Administration for this heinous and disparaging treatment of our veterans. And we have a system that today imprisons our men who fight the enemy while embracing those who desert — and what exactly is the status of the Article 32 hearing for Army Soldier Bowe Bergdahl?
We hear from political pundits that America is war weary — as if that’s a reason to not meet and defeat Islamic jihadists on the battlefield. The truth is that less than 2 percent of the American population has been fighting in the current conflagrations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And even more telling, some 45 years ago nearly 73 percent of Members of Congress had served in the military — that number is south of 15 percent today, and if you only count Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom veterans, that number is in low single digits.
Also, consider the last presidential election of 2012, where neither the sitting president or vice president nor GOP candidates for those offices had ever served in uniform. I believe you must go back nearly seven decades to find the last time that happened.
Here is the list of presidents since 1900 who never served in our military (including enlisted and also in National Guard): Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
So is there truly a growing chasm between the military and civilian societies in America — regardless of all the marketed “love our troops” messages? And by the way, I do find fault with a statement made by President George W. Bush telling Americans to hit the shopping malls after 9-11. I understand the point of carrying on with our lives and not allowing the enemy to paralyze our economic activity, however, we should have all received a call to arms. We should have all been brought to the understanding that we are on the new 21st century battlefield where we must all be vigilant and play our part. Either you are on the field of battle as a warrior, or you are supporting that effort.
We’ve made the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq too distant — and of course an über politicized media didn’t help the situation either. It’s as if the specter of Vietnam had returned. In that battle, we had won the Tet Offensive, but that wasn’t the portrayal in the news media and the Viet Cong realized they had a complicit ally — and played to them. There is no difference today.
Remember the incessant media coverage of Abu Ghraib? Sadly we don’t see the same with Benghazi. Remember how every day the front pages of newspapers and TV news shows led with the faces of the killed in Iraq? Yet most Americans today couldn’t tell you where Ramadi is and what has happened there recently. No one reported the phenomenal exertions and good news stories of troops fighting to improve the quality of life for Iraqis and Afghans, such as girls going to school for the first time. So can we really say we support the troops? The overall stories told would reflect that’s not the case.
Americans seem to have what I term “Spotlight Patriotism” — especially some of the elected representatives. If we truly supported our troops, the VA scandal wouldn’t have happened. Ft. Hood would have been declared a terrorist attack and not workplace violence. 1LT Clint Lorance would be celebrated and home instead of locked up in Ft. Leavenworth prison. If we supported our troops, Ramadi would have joint US-Iraqi Army patrols and there would be no signs of al-Qaida in Iraq reconstituted. If we supported our troops, folks would be in the streets protesting better pay for our warriors — not $15 an hour for someone flipping a burger. If we supported our troops, there would be no need for Wounded Warriors Project.
Yes, I do believe there is a growing chasm between the military and the civilian communities in America, and it starts at the top. I believe an American president, a commander-in-chief, shouldn’t require notes or a teleprompter to deliver a speech on Memorial Day, but should be able to address this hallowed day from the heart. And making light of it being the first Memorial Day in 14 years without being engaged in a ground combat operation is not something to celebrate – particularly when the sacrifices of many of those remembered this day have seemingly been in vain.
We don’t want to be in a perpetual state of combat engagement but we must have the will and determination to meet the enemy any time, any place, any clime — and defeat them. We honor our fallen warriors not by dismissing global threats in order to advance political agendas. We honor them by ensuring their exertions, their victories, are never forgotten — never lost.
The growing chasm between the military and civilian communities exists because we have not had that bridging leader. We haven’t had that simple man or woman born and bred right here in our America from a common ordinary life who grew up to do uncommon and extraordinary things — like an Eisenhower born in Abilene, Kansas. Or someone who knows what it’s like to speak to the young troops and walk amongst the “influential” in civilian society and feel at home in either place.
We who have served, are serving, and shall serve are not some different breed. We are your dads, moms, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We are Americans no different except for an oath that we take and a code by which we live. We don’t live in the world of nuanced politics and political correctness, but a real world — not of reality TV or video games where you hit a reset button if the bad guy shoots you. We are one-third of Clausewitz’s Paradoxical Trinity — the will of the Soldier (the other two-thirds being the will of the people and of the government). Regardless, we stand ready.
We are the ones who embrace the words of John Stuart Mill, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”
And the chasm between the military and civilian societies in America will close when more of us understand and embrace those words. Not as violent men and women, but as vigilant Americans who will not relent, retreat or surrender.