We can hate the battle while loving the soldier
Veterans Day is an appropriate time for us to focus on a lesson we should have learned during the Vietnam War. We can embrace the soldier while disdaining the war.
In the military, patriotism must be revealed through obedience. A disobedient soldier places his comrades at risk. The social contract that binds civilians and their leaders allows for dissent. The pact between soldier and military leader does not, and should not, allow for protest.
For a civilian, war protests at times signal patriotism, not betrayal. Civilian patriotism in a democracy is measured not by blind obedience to the reigning political power but by obedience to America’s set of beliefs and ideals. When those ideals conflict with U.S. conduct, civilians should feel no shame for their dissent.
A soldier, however, can have no such privilege.
Our military presence in Iraq, as was our military presence in Vietnam, is the source of great turmoil within this nation. Some see the Iraq war as a critical step in protecting our homeland from terrorists. Others see the war as a horrible mistake wrought by careless leaders. Some even believe the war to be a consequence of corporate greed.
This nation’s experience with large-scale wartime controversy was born in Vietnam. A tacit understanding between Americans and their elected officials had, before Vietnam, kept a muzzle on most protest.
Our lack of experience showed; many who protested that war did so badly. Advocates for peace too often used violence and hate as their tools. War supporters too often labeled democratic dissent as treason.
The most dramatic failure during Vietnam was our nation’s inability to separate policy from soldier. We too often condemned those whose sacrifice was greatest when our protest should have targeted only those who made policy. We killed the pawn to spite the king.
Today, Veterans Day, is a good time for a gut-check. Our democratic political system is designed to function even when protests are loud and dissension is great. We can protest the war without betraying our country.
What we cannot do, however, is blame those whose patriotism exposes them to horror every day. As we sit in our armchairs, getting no closer to combat than the evening news, we have no standing to fault those who face death and violence in a hostile land. We can change the channel. They cannot.
We hate war because we love its victims. Today, let us focus on that love.
THE DECATUR DAILY
201 1st Ave. SE
P.O. Box 2213
Decatur, Ala. 35609