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The Troops, But…
Demoralizing the military
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 8/23/05
notable exception of any terrorists or traitors who happen
to be lurking among us, all Americans presume to support our
troops. To say otherwise
would invite public condemnation. It wasn’t always so. Some of the
more enthusiastic peaceniks of the Vietnam era referred to our troops as
baby killers and murderers. Protestors have learned something about manners,
at least, so now even the approximately half of Americans who say the war
in Iraq was a mistake insist that they still support the troops. After
all, you can’t blame the troops for starting the war. The buck stops
with the president on that account.
J.F. Kelly, Jr.
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive
who writes on current events and military subjects.
He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
over thirty years of experience in the armed forces and conversations
with many sailors, marines and soldiers, I am firmly of the
opinion that vocal, as opposed to private, opposition to a
war is incompatible with support of the troops who are fighting
it in our name. This is so because members of the armed forces
are sworn to protect the country against all enemies. That
is always implicit in their mission. They don’t get to
pick and choose the enemies. That is the responsibility of
their commanders and ultimately of their elected civilian commander-in-chief
of the armed forces, the president. Short of his impeachment,
they are stuck with his decisions at least until the next presidential
election. That’s fortunate, in my opinion, because decisions
affecting the security of the nation shouldn’t be determined
by public opinion polls or influenced by noisy demonstrations.
That is no way to run a war, as demonstrated by the Vietnam
We failed to win
that war in spite of an overwhelming military advantage because
the American public lost the will to persevere
and the politicians caved in. The troops didn’t fail us.
Those all-important folks back home simply failed them. As a
result, the sacrifices of many thousands of brave warriors were
wasted because the public turned against their mission. The outcome
was a national malaise and sense of bitterness among Vietnam
veterans that persists even today. We are in imminent danger
of following the same path in the current conflict.
Personally, I’ve never been much of a fan of marches,
demonstrations and vigils for any cause. I believe that a strong
letter or email to elected officials is the most effective way
to impact public policy. Elected officials do pay attention to
them, at least in the aggregate. Marches, demonstrations and
vigils come across to me as being more about the participants
and less about the cause. (“Hey, look at me on TV, chanting ‘Bring
the troops home!’).” Did any of them think to ask
the troops if they wish to be brought home before they accomplish
the mission they accepted?
Had they done so,
they might have learned that, with relatively few exceptions,
the troops believe that they are conducting their
nation’s business and they count on the fact that the folks
back home, again with relatively few exceptions, support them
in their mission. This is even more the case today than it was
during Vietnam because today the troops are all volunteers and,
by volunteering, committed themselves to the accomplishment of
Protestors of the
war may earnestly desire to assuage their consciences by proclaiming
their patriotism and support for the
troops while at the same time demanding that their mission be
aborted and that they be returned home but it just doesn’t
wash. Their public protests are inevitably demoralizing to the
troops and are not construed by many of them as support. They
simply can’t have it both ways.
Cindy Sheehan deserves the respect and sympathy of a grateful
nation for the sacrifice of her beloved son and the grief caused
by his loss. She has, of course a perfect right to express that
grief in any legal way she chooses. One would have hoped, however,
that she would first ask herself what her son would have wanted
her to do. As a volunteer he apparently accepted his mission
and died a hero. Would he have wanted his mother to render that
sacrifice less meaningful by publicly questioning the mission
he died pursuing?
By engaging in a public display, she made herself a symbol
of protest, attracting the anti-war media who seem always willing
to shamelessly exploit grief, the Bush haters and the usual assortment
of political opportunists, demagogues and crazies who flock to
all high profile protests. In doing this, she unwittingly dishonors
the memory of her son, harms the morale of his comrades and pleases
our enemies. tOR
2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.