War isn't glorious. Sure everybody knows that. They claim.
War is evil and ugly and at worst you see people you love in pain and dying, and at best you kill other human beings who were once cute little 3-year olds whose parents loved them too.
War is the infliction of suffering until one side says "enough." You can't take the suffering out of it for that is what war is - suffering. Sometimes, though, the alternative to not fighting is worse. That is usually rare, much less often than the number of times we've been to war.
It isn't parades and nobility - its being under fire and having to take a dump. You never see that in the movies - some guy having to take a dump.
It's being so filthy that the bugs just stop biting.
It's seeing Panamanians so happy and excited that they run into the street to give you water and thank you for kicking out Noriega - and some PDF assholes shoot down the street and a mother drops dead in front of her little kids, and they scream in horror and run out there too, and there is nothing you can do except burn in rage and hatred for such evil. And continue the mission.
It's being on a casaulty notification team and seeing a mother and father turn dead inside, aging before your very eyes, watching a man sink to his knees and a mother just stand there and say in a monotone "when will he... his body... come home?" And then seeing the news identify him as a Marine instead of a soldier and none of the civilians around you understand why you care.
And then some asshole says years later "you ever kill anybody?" or "I'd wouldn't serve because I wouldn't want to kill anybody" or WORST OF ALL "I love the military. You guys are great. I didn't serve because I had opportunities, but I always wanted to..."
Sure I'm glad Noriega is gone, so are the Panamanians. Perhaps we were right to go in - we didn't have to stay long and we turned the country over to the Panamanians quickly. And Noriega had been begging for it for some time. But the family of SPC Philip Lear, B 2/75, would gladly re-install Noreiga if it meant Butch could come home to them. He died at Rio Hato and nobody knows where that is.
Maybe it was worthwhile to the nation, especially to those who don't have to pay the price. I think it was the right thing to do. But it isn't something to be happy about. I wish there had been another way.
And then 15 years later you attend law school with people who ask you if you "ever saw any action?" Who say "we invaded Panama?" Who say "did you see Blackhawk Down? Cool, huh?" And who assume you are a Republican.
Service isn't just about war either. Serving in the military is ALWAYS honorable, including peacetime.
There was a military before 9/11, even if many people just discovered it.
Being in the military before 9/11 is having nobody know about Somalia and bloody October and then "Blackhawk Down" comes out and everybody knows about it (and seemingly half of the "vets" you meet were there) and everybody talks about it all the time, but nobody knows about El Salvador, or Honduras, or Columbia (still going on now) or the guys hurt or killed in training. Because nothing ever happened and nobody ever got hurt before Somalia and then later on 9/11.
Nobody knows about the 19-year old fuel handler, not an infantryman, who couldn't stop talking about his baby boy who was "on the way" and "my wife's ready to pop" and "my baby is going to be a genius." Then he's taking a steep desert grade and his wheels start to slide on loose rocks and his fueler slides, slides, and then rolls down the hill, rolling over and over and over and you watch the cab get crushed smaller and smaller and you know what it will look like inside before you get there. But you rush anyway, you can't help it. And his wife has to clear housing in 90 days because she isn't married to a soldier anymore. And it was on a peacetime exercise anyway.
It's being in Korea and having a driver working on an M1 turret when some dumbass powers it up and swivels, and you have to have somebody hold the guy, the body, while it swivels back in order to free what's left of his head.
It's having people on a hardship tour, who have been accepted to college and DO have other opportunities, ask you to swear them in during their re-enlistment ceremony. And that being incredibly important to you.
It's having privates who think you are a dick for chewing their ass for not following ground guide procedures, or for punishing them when they walk between moving vehicles in the motor pool, and you not giving a damn because even if they don't like you they damn sure aren't going to get killed for something stupid while you are in charge.
Serving before 9/11 is chewing the ass of an E-5 buck sergeant who dismounted his vehicle and ran up a hill chasing after a map during an exercise, while tanks and brads swarmed about at high speed, and realizing he thinks you are mad because he almost lost his stupid map. So you say "to hell with the god damned MAP dumbass, we can always get another one of those. How the hell do I get another one of YOU!? Call your parents and order another just like you and wait 25 years!?" And seeing him change as he realizes you are so mad and losing your officer "cool" because you were scared shitless he was going to die. And having him, after you finish telling him he should have his ass kicked for being a stupid fuck, say and mean it "thank you sir. I really respect you for that. I wasn't thinking." And it isn't kissass when he says it.
Serving is nothing like what Fox news portrays. In that world the president calls on units and soldiers to serve, instead of some harried and overworked personnel officer who needs some guys with a specific MOS and sends out an order to find some, and somebody does. And the president has no idea what their MOS is or does, much less that the unit was called up. But his steely gaze into the camera as he orders strangers off to war is considered brave and noble. Is it? Really?
Serving post 9/11 is the same as serving pre-9/11. We have always lived in a dangerous world, it is just that some of you didn't know it. We just have more dead soldiers now, and that's not a good thing. It might be unavoidable, but damn if I'm not 100% sure we did all we could to avoid some of it.
Of course we had to fight back - we were attacked. But did that have to mean Iraq, who didn't attack us? Did we really try to avoid it, did we really try all the options? "But we waited over a decade and Saddam" - sure, but we waited longer than that and the Soviet Union fell. Were we wrong to wait? Was that appeasement? If we knew we could wait another decade and with little threat to us then should we have waited? "But the Iraqis," you say. "The Iraqis were under the heel of a brutal dictator." True. Isn't Castro brutal, and much closer? What about Saudi Arabia, a monarchy with no democracy? What about North Korea? Even if you want to take them all on, should we have picked Iraq first?
Afghanistan I feel deserved twice or three times as much attention as it got, but I wonder if we tried as hard as we should have to avoid invading Iraq.
Of course, to the right that makes me a weakling. An appeaser. An ally of Saddam and of terrorists. They much prefer the "line in the sand" and talk of service and brave, brave Bush. Sure, we were wrong about WMD but he might have had them. He might have used them. He might have given them to our enemies. And Saddam was a bad man. Can't you see?
I have friends that are absolutely convinced that we were right to invade Iraq - but they still aren't happy about it. They've seen the dead kids too.
Maybe they are right. I don't agree. But why can't our nation debate it rationally? And should we respect those that either cut off the debate with "unpatriotic hippies" or "warmongering fascists?" Why are the extremists on both sides driving the middle?
I'm not sure the President tried as hard as he should have to avoid this war with Iraq. That doesn't mean I want to lose in Iraq - that for damn sure wouldn't leave us better off. But why can't we, in the midst of a Presidential election, honestly discuss whether this President was wise to invade Iraq without accusations of appeasement, betrayal of our soldiers, accusations of ignoring the "lessons" of 9/11? Did the President make a wise and careful decision, and was he right after all? Many say "of course he was."
If the Army War College and the Chief of Staff of the Army on 9/11 thought it a big mistake, and predicted EXACTLY how it would turn out so far, why isn't that discussed? Does it matter what national security professionals who aren't aligned with any one political party say?
War is the most important decision our nation faces. Why did we leave it to one man to make for us? That isn't how the Founders wanted it. Congress abdicated, writing a blank check. Why aren't we pissed about that too?
What is wrong with never going to war unless Congress formally declares war? That doesn't mean we can't deploy troops to hotspots - it means a war that takes six months or more to deploy for, that everybody calls an invasion or a war, should be treated differently than a deployment to Haiti. It should be treated as a war. We invaded Panama and nobody calls that a war. Everybody calls the invasion of Iraq a war. Would there be any more national prestige or committment on the line in Iraq if Congress had formally declared war? "But that would tie the President's hands" you say. Yes. And? So? Isn't that exactly what our Founding Fathers had in mind?
Why, if war is so terrible (and it is), is it politically easier to vote for it instead of against it? And why, if voting against it is political suicide, are those Congressmen and Senators who question it or vote against it called weak or cowardly?
Why can't we separate the war on terror from the decision to invade Iraq? I'm not saying there isn't a link (although I don't believe there is). I'm saying invading Afghanistan and going after AQ and the Taliban was a no-brainer. 3rd graders knew we had to do that. Not doing that would have invited more attacks, as well as letting those that attacked us on 9/11 get away with it. There is no reasonable debate there about this - shoot at me I shoot at you. If you are a pacifist then there is never a justification good enough for you, so debating is pointless. I'm talking to the vast majority who believe it better to defend ourselves and punish those that attack us.
But was invading Iraq the right thing for us to do? Isn't right now, before we decide to choose the next president, the right time to judge whether this president made good choices? Why is that considered weak or of comfort to the enemy?
Before we have more families get the knock on the door that my friend SPC Lear's family got, shouldn't we be able to honestly say "we tried our best to avoid this, but there was no other way. It was the best thing for us to do. And the right thing." I don't know how Butch's family feels, I haven't talked to them in over a decade. They probably support Bush and the war in Iraq. That doesn't change my point.
War seems exciting on TV, but it is actually us spending our kids lives. It is math with human lives. It is the same as taking a stadium-full of people and saying "we have a choice. We can draw lots and 1,000 of you will die, and Saddam will fall, or you can all go home safely." Well, if you believed that your friends at home would face more danger if you didn't take the risk, then you might stay for the drawing. If not you would get the hell out. But wouldn't you want to know ALL the details?
Sure you would. But what if you weren't in the stadium, and none of your friends were, or family members? Would you care as much?
Before you answer, name me five possibly hostile countries that we know have WMDs - the information is freely available on the web. You don't know off the top of your head? Then how can you be sure that we were right to invade Iraq? You didn't look into it, you trusted your president.
Fine. I actually don't have a problem with that because we have a representative democracy and our lawmakers and President make those decisions, not us.
But now decision-time is approaching for us. Before you decide you don't "like" Kerry or that he is "worse" than Bush, don't you think you should really investigate if he was right to invade Iraq? Not based on Instapundit or Fox News or NPR or the Kerry Campaign. Based on balanced assessments? And shouldn't you know how your congressional representative and your Senators voted? How many of you know? How many of you know who your Congressional Representative is?
If you can honestly say that Bush was right then you should be comforted. I can't, and it doesn't reassure me that those that disagree with me question my committment to our nation and our national security when I want to debate it. Especially after all those years I spent showing my committment not with words, but with action.
I hate war but accept it as sometimes the only option. It should be the last option, though, used only when we are sure there is no other way to defend ourselves. That doesn't mean sit by and get attacked first. It means that the burden of proof should be very, very high before we attack. That there should be very little doubt about the need for it. Very little.
Anybody that lowers that bar for war is not fit to lead our nation, however steely a gaze they have or how determined they seem. And we should at least be debating it without soundbites and simplistic, opportunistic conclusions.
We should defend ourselves while trying very, very hard to avoid dead soldiers and dead kids. Are we so sure we tried as hard as we could have to avoid this one?
Here are some sources that I wish all voters would read (non-partisan sources with a national security background, all from the Army War College):
Bounding the Global War on Terrorism found at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ssi/pubs/pubresult.cfm?pubid=207.
IRAQ AND VIETNAM: DIFFERENCES, SIMILARITIES, AND INSIGHTS at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ssi/pubs/pubresult.cfm?pubid=377. It notes that most comparisons overplay the similarities and understate the differences.
Strategic Consequences of the Iraq War: U.S. Security Interests in Central Asia Reassessed at http://www.carlisle.army.mil/ssi/pubs/pubresult.cfm?pubid=383.