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Supporting The Troops, But…
Demoralizing the military

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 8/23/05

With the 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.

J.F. 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]

Based on 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 Conflict.

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 assigned missions.

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

copyright 2005 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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