Monday, November 12, 2007

This is the National Defense Medal.


Every soldier, sailor and marine gets one for serving during a time of war. It's as generic a medal as you can wear. It's so generic, even I have one.

To me, this is the perfect symbol of the citizen soldier, the guy who goes when he's called, the guy who would rather be doing anything else, but steps up when his country needs him. And I'm afraid that guy is going the way of the honest man.

We're celebrating Veterans Day today, even though it was yesterday, the 11th day of the 11th month, the day in 1918 that the insanity we call World War I ended. Veteran's Day. The day when old soldiers squeeze into old uniforms and accept thanks from people who notice.

Recently, a co-worker's son was killed in Iraq. She and I had a long talk and she said something that started me thinking. She said that people who don't come from a military background don't understand why men and women enlist and serve proudly. Having come from a military family, I had never really thought about that.

This is a particularly tough time. The nation is divided on this war and this president and our troops are in an ugly spot doing dangerous work, wondering if the country is behind them. On this Veteran's Day, it's important to ask the question, can you be for the troops and against this war? This is how Michael Jernigan answered it in yesterday's NYT:
"To people who support the troops but not the war — that is your right. But remember there was someone holding a gun who fought so you can have that right. It is tough for me to smile when someone tells me that they support our troops but feel the war is wrong. I stand there and smile and say, “Thank you for sharing your feelings.” I think people say that because it makes them feel better to say it, but they really mean, “Thank you for your service, but really you are an idiot for following that insane president.” It makes me feel belittled. I do not want to hear it. I was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps and I do not make policy so save it for your congressman."

Why does he think that? Why does he think that those of us who have served and are serving now may be against the war and still support him and his comrades? I think it goes back to what my co-worker said. In this time of a volunteer army, there is a growing chasm between those who feel that the life of a soldier is a calling and those who don't understand why anyone would choose that life voluntarily. They say it's because there are no jobs for him, or he's been denied other opportunities and they never understand that many men and women like the military life. It is their life.

But as the chasm grows, the military people don't understand civilians, either. I once told a young officer that my daughter was a singer living in New York. He was sorry and sympathetic. "We had a cousin like that," he said.

He didn't get it. He didn't know that along with a military tradition, we also had a tradition of entertainers that went back generations. Writers, singers, performers. I told him that the next time he heard a great song on the radio or saw a good movie, he should thank all those young people who sacrificed a secure life to pursue a dream every bit as honored, in our family, as military service.

He didn't get it. Just as members of my co-worker's family didn't understand her son's dream of being a soldier, this soldier couldn't grasp why anyone would dream of being a performer.
Those people are crazy!

And as we continue with our volunteer military, and fewer civilians are touched by that life, the less we'll understand one another. And that is a dangerous thing.

The more Michael Jernigans we have who don't believe we can honor the soldier and not buy into his mission, and the more civilians we have who have no understanding of how anyone could give their lives in service to their country, the more we'll be forever divided.

Something to think about.

But maybe for another day. Today, I salute all those who wore that gold and scarlett ribbon. Whether you were a cook or a clerk, a transportation officer, supply sergeant or a grunt. You didn't let others take your place on the line. For that, regardless of politics, you will always be my brother.

Welcome home.

9 comments:

here today, gone tomorrow said...

You did give me something to think about. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

suek said...

But with a military tradition, you also know that whether you agree or not, there's only one "old man", and when the decision is made, you back it. You may certainly work for a new "old man"(at least in this country), but while the present one is in command, you follow the plan.
I think that's where the problem lies - those who claim to support the troops are seen to be doing their best to undermine that which will allow them(the soldiers) to succeed. The decision's been made - rightly or wrongly - and we can only go forward.

On your general topic - I agree in general. There _is_ a widening gap between the military and civilian population. Could it become a problem? I don't know - maybe.

I also tend to assume that most young people drawn to the entertainment industry will eventually outgrow it. And to be honest, I think most will. Those who don't probably _do_ have a calling. I wouldn't wish it on anybody - it's got to be tough. Even with talent, you have to be the right personality with the right connections in the right place at the right time. For the most part, I see it as terribly destructive to families(the entertainer's young family, not the family from which they came), whether it's due to the personality requirements or just the total dedication of purpose and assets.

As a parent, I'd be really torn between encouraging a young person to follow their dream or to "get on with life" and enjoy whatever talent they had as an avocation. Still, our lives would be poorer without those who persevere.

David Terrenoire said...

Sue,

You're right about "the old man" but in the service that means your CO.

The president, on the other hand, while he's your Commander-in-Chief, he's also a politician and that means he is not only your commander, he also works for you as a citizen. You can vote him out of office. You can't vote your CO out of office, as much as you'd might like to.

And if you think your CINC is taking the country on a disastrous course, as a citizen, it is your obligation to speak up. That's not undermining the troops or the policy, that's trying to correct a policy that you believe is getting good men killed for the wrong reasons.

Brave men died for my freedom of speech. I'm at least brave enough to use it. Otherwise they're just meaningless words on an old piece of paper.

suek said...

>>as a citizen, it is your obligation to speak up>>

No argument from me here.

>>That's not undermining the troops or the policy, that's trying to correct a policy that you believe is getting good men killed for the wrong reasons.>>

But how can you do that without having the ability to change the CinC? Of course, you can work for that change, but we have a 4 year cycle...no news there! and there's not likely to be a change in between - short of assassination or impeachment. I'll assume that you don't consider the 1st an option - what about the second?

I've followed you here...we had a good discussion started that I though warranted further exploration before it disappeared...it's obvious we approach things from different assumptions. I may end up considering you a total wacko - the black sheep among your honorable family - but at the moment, I assume you are just on a different path. I _do_ think there are people who have some of the same positions you have who _do_ try to undermine the troops. There are those who truly believe our troops are criminals and killers. I don't think you're among those, but I'm looking for the lines that differentiate.
When one team is extreme enough to unbalance the delicate balance we need for democracy, the other side gets more extreme in order to offset it. Without getting into the chicken-egg discussion, it's pretty apparent that we need more people in the center in order to minimize the extremists. I'm looking for the center. Is it even out there? Can we find common ground - even if we have major differences?

David Terrenoire said...

Welcome to The Planet, Sue. Whether I'm crazy or just angry, I'll let you decide.

suek said...

Ok...so why are you angry?

David Terrenoire said...

Sue,

I'm angry for a lot of reasons. One, I think George Bush was asleep at the switch on 9/11. I'm not saying he could have prevented it, but they had even taken terrorism off their list of priorities before then.

Second, after 9/11, Geogre Bush had a unified country and a unified world, ready to do what had to be done. Even the French paper Le Monde's headline read "We are all Americans."

We were ready to sacrifice. We were ready to serve. We could have embarked on a moon project to free us of oil. But no, George Bush asked us to go shopping.

Everyone I know was behind Afghanistan. But Iraq was tougher to justify. But we were told they knew precisely where the WMDs were. They were wrong. They told us the war would cost us nothing. Theye were 800 billion and counting wrong. They said Zinni was wrong when he said we'd need more troops. They were wrong and Zinni was right. They said Chalabi would form a new government right away and we could leave. They were wrong. They said the looting wasn't important and we didn't need to mobilize the Iraqi army for security. They were wrong. They thought they could fill important civil slots with college-age kids whose politics were right and still get the public works under control. They were wrong.

Do I need to go on? I could, for pages, but I have work to do. That's just the beginning of why I'm angry. This is competence on un unprecedented scale and we, and our grandchildren will be paying for their screw-ups for decades.

So my question to you is, why AREN'T you angry?

suek said...

>>This is competence on un unprecedented scale >>

Incompetence has been an issue in every war. Unfortunately, leaders in the military usually _become_ leaders in peacetime. After they exhibit their inability to do their job, they're weeded out and able officers do their job. The same is probably true of Presidents. You blame Bush for "permitting" 9/11 - I think Clinton is equally to blame, but in fact, maybe the problem lies with the CIA and FBI. I'm not sure we'll know for years to come. A person can only make decisions based on his knowledge

>>and we, and our grandchildren will be paying for their screw-ups for decades.>>

You're ex-military - you know the nut that Afghanistan was/is. The Russians certainly did their best, and failed. Would you have had us invade Pakistan as well?
As for Iraq...two separate issues - going in at all, and doing a good job.
Going into Iraq...justified? or not?
Achieving success...ok...they won in record time. The theory at the time was win and get out. I don't think anyone knew the actual situation there was as bad as it was. Who's responsible for that lack of knowledge? Saddam ran a dictatorship...even CNN played footsie with him if they wanted to publish anything out of Iraq.

One thing the entire conflict has done is clarify the intention of islam to establish the grand caliphate. I disagree with Bush - I understand that there is a percentage of islamists who are _actively_ pursuing that goal, but I don't think that there are moderate muslims - I think there are only soldiers and supporters. I think our war _is_ against islam. I would have disagreed with Bush if he had said that originally, though. I've learned a lot since then. What that means, though, is that by staunching the flow of islamicists early - even if not early enough - our children and grandchildren have a chance not to have to fight a much larger battle.

So the cost is high - it doesn't approach Vietnam or WWII - and it's only money. Yes, lives too, but if you intend to use a military, then lives _will_ be lost. And if you _don't_ use the military, what's the point of having one?
And decades aren't so long.

suek said...

You might find this interesting...pretty short. The book might be worthwhile, but there are so many on my list already...!!

http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dc/2007/11/book_saddam_faked_having_wmd_a.html