When Al Qaeda terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001, I was a 42 year old reservist; I was absolutely willing to go if called up. One of my mentors while I was on Commander, Third Fleet staff (1997-99), had been killed when the Pentagon was attacked. While my unit’s signals analysts were mobilized, as an electronics maintenance supervisor, I was not. As the war continued, members of our larger community went into harm’s way and some died in combat.
While many young Americans today have been conditioned to think we are aggressors in many places, they have no firsthand experience with people or places outside North America. My peers and I have firsthand experience of the difficult, dirty, dangerous and often violent world people live in. Twenty years ago, I had conversations and developed acquaintances while traveling around the Mediterranean, Bulgaria, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Central America, South America, and Asia. Most of these relationships may have lapsed but people I know who still travel to those places know that the same struggles continue. Every week we are witness to violence that occurs in the name of a religion or a faction that Westerners want to blame on secular causes. Military members have been often marginalized by critics including academics and journalists for behavior or biases that may be exacerbated by tours in those regions. I trust military service members understand better than noisy college protesters and Facebook ranters who complain from the comfort of the United States.
I’m first to admit that I don’t have boots on the ground exposure to the war in Afghanistan or Iraq. My service in the operational theater aboard a Spruance -class destroyer occurred over 20 years ago following the combat phase of the Gulf War. I was there when we launched 15 Tomahawks to destroy Saddam’s Intel center; it was retaliation for plotting to kill former President G.H.W. Bush. But every IED, every homicide attacker against our troops and against civilians since the 1990s has been funded and armed, directly or through proxies, by the Iranians. Some terrorists have used US arms we stupidly provided to extremists because the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Today we are rejuvenating a relationship with the one democracy there – Israel. Those politicians will not admit that just about every Islamic group we have given arms to in the past 40 years has at one time or another been used against civilians or against us. When the terrorists were not Sunnis killing Shia or Shia killing Sunnis, they were blowing up soldiers, sailors, contractors, police and aid workers. Only through constant training and force was any semblance of peace being fostered there. And today, while we consider adding to the presence in that region, the entire Western European and Arab worlds are succumbing to a misguided and poorly implemented influx of refugees. In the 1990s, we named the breakdown into factions and groups unwilling to assimilate into the culture of the host countries “Balkanization”. This has certainly been seen to exist in many nations where the influx of Islamists have not assimilated.
Combat veterans have a unique position to support, refute, or respond to policies of the United States that engage us in conflict; however, I think all veterans have a moral duty to protest when policies or bureaucrats fail to support those who returned from a conflict. For more than thirty years, my friendship with a Vietnam combat veteran and scholar, whose acerbic commentary on all things involving politicians, military affairs & particularly anything that can be ascribed to failures of the Republican Party – has continued as I respect someone who has been at the “pointy end of the spear”. Another veteran, a retired USMC Colonel also has acerbic commentary, but would likely be diametrically in opposition to the other combat veteran. This continues to keep me mentally sharp to engage in debate.
I hope to add my voice and watchful eyes to call the Government to account for many shabby incidents of treatment for honorably serving veterans. I am hopeful that a website for combat veterans, The War Horse, started by a combat veteran of this most recent conflict will help veterans. I have a son serving in the Army today and know that the culture in the military often puts the military family at odds with young people who have not experienced military service. I am also leery of the biases and motivations of journalists and academics who generally have been critical on all things American, who now promote a combat veteran’s experience toward journalism and academics. Yet I will add this to my reading list on conflict, coping with the aftermath, and the promises kept and broken by the nation that sent them to war.