It is now becoming a repeated but no less discomfiting phenomenon in American politics that when support for the war cools, snide attacks on soldiers grow. When troops came home from Korea – never a popular war in the post-WW II euphoria - they were considered “suckers” by many for going to the war that wasn’t. Harry Truman, who sent troops to fight, denigrated the war, calling it a “police action.” From that point forward Americans gave it little attention or credibility.
As a result of intense, bitter fighting Korea in three years ate up almost as many American soldiers as Vietnam did in a decade. But upon return, soldiers found a country that had gone on without them, simply ignoring their sacrifice. Hollywood managed to make two good films on Korea – Pork Chop Hill and The Bridges of Toko-ri. The next time film portrayed Korea it was in the anti-war satire M*A*S*H. That is the only image of the Korean War most Americans hold today if they recall it at all. Little wonder veterans feel that they were in the “Forgotten War.”
Conversely, Vietnam is the war no one seems able or willing to forget. Perhaps because so many icons of yesterday’s media made their bones during the war and are unable to let go of the defining moment in their lives. Major media figures pass Vietnam on to their juniors like oral histories among Pygmy tribes, to the point that reality is glossed over in a haze of self-promoting memories. As a consequence, even thirty years beyond, every issue involving the military must still pass through their warped Vietnam lens.
Incredibly, most of the people feverishly comparing any military action the U.S. undertakes to “another Vietnam” were not born or even cognizant of world events during the actual war. Some learned about it at the knee of activist parents, others from Journalism school academics frozen in a time warp of campus leftist ideology that is constantly stuck in a 1960s groove.
The most telling intellectual progress about Vietnam made on campus for almost 40 years has been in revisionism. “We opposed the war, but supported the troops,” they tell us now. Oh, really? Then I suppose the taunts of “baby killer,” “murderer,” and “pigs” were all an exercise in intellectual protest. And the paper bags of dog crap tossed over fences at wounded servicemen lying outside on stretchers at Travis Air Force in California were, like the borrowed medals John Kerry tossed over the White House fence, simply “an expression of discontent.” Whatever, their “support” was too subtle, to “nuanced” for this returning GI to perceive.
Liberals hated soldiers then and still do. At the Clintons’ first inaugural, newly hired staffers sneered at the Air Force fighter jets flying overhead until one suddenly said, “Hey, wait a minute. Those are ours now!” Their view of the military has always been an “us versus them” paradigm. No less now than at the height of the Vietnam days when crowds chanted “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win!” and waved Viet Cong flags at the troops.
Thirty years ago we watched a spectacle of John Kerry and the Winter Soldier bunch - composed of largely fraudulent “veterans” and overt traitors like Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden – indelibly stain the honor of every legitimate Vietnam vet. Kerry’s Senate testimony paved the way for a parasitic political career constructed on the heroism, sacrifice, and dedication of men and women whose reputations are tarnished to this day by his reprehensible behavior.
The few realistic films such as Hamburger Hill and The Hanoi Hilton, were panned. Those that trashed the troops, such as Platoon, Coming Home Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, and the entire Rambo series, were gushed over for their “gritty realism.” Never mind that the thesis was flawed, these films, we were assured, “told it like it was.” Baloney.
Despite mounds of contrary evidence each and every one of the latter portrayed the Vietnam veteran as baby-raping, murdering, fratricidal, alcoholic, suicidal, drug-besotted losers who were unable to readjust to society, reduced to living in a Kenmore box under the overpass. Exactly the story that Kerry and company have consistently promoted since the 1970s. (Actually not terribly different than the behavior of his mentor, the senior Senator from Massachusetts, except that the latter eschews the cardboard box for the Kennedy Hyannis compound.)
But liberals, ever fond of quagmires, remain sunk in their narcissist perceptions. A recent best selling book, Keeping Faith, written by Frank Schaeffer, father of a Marine from Massachusetts, detailed how shocked and stunned their circle of “Volvo driving friends” were when they learned that the young man had enlisted. They treated it as a tragedy, as if he had been stricken with a fatal disease, or involved in an awful traffic accident. “What happened?” they were asked quietly at cocktail parties. “He had so much going for him.” The implication was clear: only losers join the military.
Whenever liberals dislike or distrust anything they label it as stupid. Hence Ronald Reagan was a buffoon, Bush a moron, and today’s soldiers are called ignorant, incompetent, and incapable of finding employment anywhere other than in a military establishment that will recruit anything with a pulse as long as it will kill. It is the ultimate in sophomoric snobbery from a bunch of moral and physical cowards who are content to slop at the trough of freedom that is filled by the blood and sweat of patriots they despise.
In fact today’s soldier is a cut above any that the country has produced, including the properly honored “greatest generation” of the Second World War. The troops who bravely crossed the beaches at Normandy were young conscripts, average age 19. Few had graduated high school. They accomplished the mission given them and won the war. Today’s soldiers patrolling remote Afghan villages, crowded Baghdad streets, Columbian jungles, and Abu Sayeff strongholds in Mindanao are older, better educated, more mature, and more technologically savvy than any of their predecessors. They are accomplishing a more complex mission equally effectively. And they are winning this war.
One thing has not changed: American soldiers are magnets for children and the oppressed wherever they go. In his final book, To America, the late, great historian Stephen Ambrose noted that when “German, Japanese, or Russian armies come into a village children flee from them in fear.” Conversely, “when American GIs arrive the children run to them, knowing that they will be treated kindly and given food and candy.” It is the same today.
Several legitimate support-the-troops charities that send “care packages” to deployed soldiers find odd requests from the field. The soldiers want crayons, pencils, rulers, notebooks, school supplies, hard candies, and toys. Why? To give away to kids, of course, as they walk the streets of the towns, villages, and cities they patrol.
At a recent dinner with my friend and colleague Ralph Peters we discussed the present military personnel situation. Ralph succinctly remarked that the all-volunteer military was “good for the military, but bad for the country.” In other words, the socialization process that accompanied a conscript military had a positive effect on the country. However, the professional character of a volunteer military results in a much more effective machine for breaking things and killing people, the ultimate mission of any military organization.
Since the mid-1970s Americans have voted for the latter. It is unlikely to change at this point any time soon. But the sad part is that more Americans – including more lawmakers – are without the experience of military service than at any time in our history. It makes the military a remote, unknown, somewhat suspicious organization.
We should better know the men and women who make up the military. Take the time to learn who they are. These soldiers are your fellow countrymen, your family, friends, and neighbors. They are us.
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