Monday, Veteran’s Day, I am taking a vacation day. It’s one of those ‘family things’, my step-dad did it and so do I (we are both veterans). Panera Bread is offering current and veteran members of the military a lunch on Panera Bread, wear your uniform, show your ID card or discharge papers and lunch is on them. Many places have offers to those who are and have served. It wasn’t always like that.
I have a book in my library written by a college professor in which he answers questions from people of an opposite political opinion than his. I have not forgotten his name or that of his book’s, I am just not promoting them. I want to mention two of the questions he answered.
First, he addressed Vietnam veterans being spit on when they returned from Vietnam. He said this supposedly happened, but there is no proof it ever happened, not even once. I went in the navy five years after Vietnam. I remember being called baby killer and someone spitting on me, and we were treated a lot better than those men and women five years before us. Bill, my step-dad and a Vietnam veteran, he was spit on and worse. Sorry professor, you got that one wrong.
Second, he addressed the accusation that people of his political opinion are weak or even anti-national defense. The rest of this chapter was spent making the point that man-made global warming (the book was published before the term was changed to “man-made climate change” to cover downward changes in temperature as well) is a national defense issue and since his side is very strong on man-made global warming, then his side is actually very strong on national defense. Professor, when people point a finger at you and say, “You are weak on national defense” I may not know the specific issue they are thinking about, but I can tell you it is not climate change, they already know where you stand on climate change.
You see Vietnam Vets, like my step-dad and some of my friends; they were treated pretty bad when they came home. My group, those of us who served between 1975 and 1991, we were pretty much ignored except by a few hostile people left over from Vietnam protesting days. I remember when Operation Desert Shield started (when we began deploying people for the first Gulf War) the anti-war protests started again. There was a backlash against the protestors across the nation by the middle and lower classes of our country. Those from the Vietnam protests days, who were organizing protests for the Gulf War, were shocked by the backlash; they did not see this during their earlier Vietnam protests. They quickly came out with statements that they were against the war, but supported the troops. The public did not believe them, and though they continued their protests, they tuned it down a little bit.
Those vets, the first Gulf War vets, were treated pretty good by the people when they came home, and today’s veterans are treated even better (though the United States government never has done a very good job supporting veterans). I support the better treatment, the way the men and women were treated when they came home from the Vietnam War was a national disgrace. I saw their treatment with my own eyes, and no book by a college professor will ever convince me I did not see what I saw.
Here is my deal. I do not mind the protests, it is an expression of freedom of speech, it is our constitution in action. When I joined the navy I swore to obey the President, but I swore to protect and defend the constitution from all enemies. I understand why some people mistreat veterans, to them the members of the military are the war (some of them even believe people in the military like killing people) and they feel justified in their actions. But, I’ll keep my opinions on those people and their actions to myself.
I know people (some are friends of mine), who say war is not necessary there is always another way. There is always another way and I am glad for those people who believe this, I encourage them and would like nothing better than to see all the people of the world believe this one day, then maybe we could end wars.
I decided to serve in the military because there are some wars that have to be fought. You talk with men and women who have served and you will receive many reasons for why they volunteered. Bring up “defending those who cannot defend themselves” and without exception every one of those veterans will agree. You can hold up Hitler or any other person who needs to be stopped and I will agree with you they should be stopped, but not by war. They should be stopped by other means.
The people in Hitler’s concentration camps and gashouses, the Kurds gassed by Sadam Hussein just before the second Gulf War, the victims of genocide in Bosnia, Africa, Central and South America, you cannot protect them with sanctions and rhetoric. These are men, women, and child tortured and murdered while we try other means. The longer we try those other means the more victims are created.
The problem with wars are the leaders and celebrities both for and against, they are only concerned with winning a political argument. The people who stand to make money from war get their “boys & girls” on the hill to wave the flag and talk about patriotism. Their political opponents scream about blood for oil or whatever happens to be the expeditious slogan of the day; during Bosnia, the opponents stated the president was trying to get attention off his scandals and the attempts to impeach him, by going to war. The people who propose war rarely do it for the right reasons, to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Those who oppose war too often ignore those who cannot defend themselves – out of sight, out of mind.
Most of the wars my country has fought in the last 100 years should not have been fought, and there are many other wars that should have been fought (to defend people who could not defend themselves), but were not fought.
To me the worst part of those wars we do fight is what we do to our men and women fighting those wars while they are fighting. Once again, it is all politics. You see the losing side of the political fight, republicans during Bosnia and democrats during Iraq, write “rules of engagement” that the military must obey while fighting the war. The political opponents are usually responsible for more American military blood than our enemy is. In Afghanistan a US soldier brings his/her weapon to bear on two people operating a mortar lobbing shells at him/her, but they are not allowed to shoot them because the attackers are dressed like Afghan civilians and therefore (in the mind of politicians in the military and in Washington DC) may actually be an innocent civilian or there may be other innocent civilians standing near them. (The enemy know this and so they ensure all combatants are dressed like civilians.) So, more American women and men die needlessly thanks to politicians and generals back in Washington DC.
In Iraq, our enemy know that if they attack us from inside a mosque they can shoot at our soldiers all day and fear no return fire. Why? Because those same politicians do not want mosques damaged (it’s ok to damage churches and synagogues though), they are afraid our enemy will think we are fighting a religious war, a war against Islam. Except the political, military, and religious leaders of our enemy have already declared this war to be a religious war against all non-Muslims.
News flash to those in Washington DC! If the only time a mosque is damaged by our troops is when they are returning fire from our enemies, the Muslim moderates (our politicians claim they are pandering too) will notice this and realize we are not targeting their mosques. Not only does this rule of engagement kill many of our own men and women but also it presumes that if you are Muslim you are too stupid to notice the difference between damage done to a mosque while in battle and a mosque that is destroyed in the absence of a battle simply because it is a mosque.
I think the next time these politicians propose a war for money (republican or democrat) or the next time they (republican or democrat) oppose a war that needs to be fought to defend those who cannot defend themselves, we should take both sets of politicians give them clubs and lock them inside the capital building in Washington and let no one out until only one is left standing. I think there would be fewer wars and fewer genocides around the world. Yes, I am a veteran. Yes, if the need arises again and if I think I will be useful, I will put on a uniform again. Yes, if I have to, I will kill people in war. No, I do not like war. No, I do not like killing.
You want to see a smile on my face? Flash forward thirty years, I am walking with my granddaughter:
“Grandpa Mommy says you are a veteran. What’s a veteran?”
“A veteran is someone who served in the military. Do you understand Sweetheart?”
“What’s a military?”
You help make that conversation possible and you will see a smile on my face that took eighty years to create, a smile like I have never had before. And the tears that will be streaming down my face will be from a joy so intense no words could describe it.
Joe C Combs 2nd First offical navy portrait November 1980.