Regardless How We Feel About Any Given Conflict, Those Who Have Served in Our Armed Forces Deserve Our Thanks This Memorial Day
By Ken K. Gourdin
A recent Associated Press story by Rebecca Santana about attitudes of former soldiers toward the Iraq War appeared in the Deseret News (see here, last accessed May 25, 2015):
The story does quote some former military personnel who believe that the military action in Iraq was a mistake, and that point of view, regardless of who agrees with it or not, is not wholly without merit. Others, however, have a different view. Many veterans are frustrated by the efforts of Republican presidential contenders to distance themselves from the war by calling the invasion a mistake. One, for example, notes, essentially, that hindsight always is 20/20:
“Do-overs don’t happen in real life,” said Gregory Diacogiannis, 30, who served as an army sniper in Baghdad trying to spot militants laying roadside bombs and chased high-value targets in the city of Baqouba. “I have trouble with the question itself just because it lends itself to disregarding the sacrifices that have been made.”
The story also quotes another former soldier, who states that the value of what the U.S. did in Iraq should not be measured solely by the fact that no weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, were found:
. . . [M]any vets, regardless of whether WMD was found or not, found legitimate reasons for being in Iraq. John Kriesel lost both his legs when a 200-pound bomb went off underneath his Humvee outside the western city of Fallujah. He’s written a book called “Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel” detailing what he went through.
He said he’s proud of what he and his unit did in Iraq to make their area safer. He speaks fondly of Iraqi children he encountered and said he’d do it again in a “heartbeat.” So many questions, he said, like whether to invade Iraq or not, are easier to answer in hindsight.
“I think it’s naive to just assume that we can just wave this magic wand and know what we would do in that situation,” Kriesel said.
Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer contends that those calling the initial invasion in 2003 a mistake are answering the wrong question, saying that the relevant decision (and the real mistake) is President Obama’s 2011 decision to begin withdrawing all U.S. troops. In a recent Washington Post Op-Ed (see here, last accessed May 25, 2015: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/you-want-hypotheticals-heres-one/2015/05/21/909713d6-ffe9-11e4-805c-c3f407e5a9e9_story.html), he writes:
Iraq is now a battlefield between the Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State and the Shiite jihadists of Iran’s Islamic Republic. There is no viable center. We abandoned it. The Obama administration’s unilateral pullout created a vacuum for the entry of the worst of the worst.
And the damage was self-inflicted. The current situation in Iraq, says David Petraeus, “is tragic foremost because it didn’t have to turn out this way. The hard-earned progress of the surge was sustained for over three years.”
Regarding a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, I wrote, in part, that “[T]here [at the Tomb], debates about the rightness or wrongness of any given conflict fade into insignificance. What matters is that those who sacrificed so much were willing to answer the call of their country. May we ever remember, and never forget.” (Ken K. Gourdin (June 4, 2013), “Twenty-one steps: reflections on duty, honor, and privilege,” Tooele Transcript-Bulletin A4).
In a similar vein regarding a story of the vandalism of the home of Cassie McEuen, a former service member (see the story here, last accessed May 25, 2015: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865628929/Search-continues-for-vandals-of-servicewomans-home.html?pg=all), I wrote:
Thanks to Ms. McEuen for her service as a “soilder.” While authorities doubt the crime was connected to her service, if it were (and while I don’t support the weak defense for committing atrocities that “I was just following orders”), we need to move beyond misplacing blame for political decisions at the feet of those who carry them out. That’s a lesson we should have learned from the Vietnam conflict, but perhaps have not yet. By and large, the role of military rank-and-file personnel is to go where they’re sent and to do the bidding of those who send them. For their willingness to do that, they deserve our respect. Conversely, debates about the rightness or wrongness of any given conflict or action belong in the political arena.