It's been a while since I posted in this series, but the issue came up this week about how conservatives can disagree with US foreign policy without insulting or demoralizing the men and women who wear the uniform, not to mention their families who stay behind. The BLUF, or Bottom Line Up Front is, you may have guessed, that we are veterans, not victims.
There are some key concepts that those unfamiliar with the military need to keep in mind. 1) today's military is an all volunteer force, 2) contrary to misconceptions, today's force is educated and required to understand right from wrong, 3) soldiers routinely worry more about their families than about themselves, and 4) we don't do it for the money, or the thanks.
We volunteered. It's been over four decades since the the military draft lapsed, yet some people still treat those in uniform as poor victims who are serving against their will. I've even met people who still think that a judge can order someone to choose the Army or jail for non-violent crimes. The truth is, not only are we all volunteers, but since September of 2007, everyone in the US military enlisted or re-enlisted after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. We knew we were volunteering to serve in uniform during a time of war, and we knew there was a chance of being sent overseas to fight. We knew that our country had determined radical Islam and Al-Qaeda to be our enemies, and that we might end up fighting our enemies or those who aid them on the far side of the globe.
We are not robots. The old stereotype about 'just following orders' is pure and ridiculous nonsense in today's military. We train our soldiers extensively in morality and ethics, and require them to live up to those standards. We encourage younger soldiers to ask 'why' when we are getting ready for a mission, and we require every soldier headed out on a mission to understand the larger picture of what we are trying to accomplish. This requirement to understand the implications of one's actions are the reason that people who violate the military's rules and ethics are prosecuted and punished for their actions, such as the soldiers who shocked the world by abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. We didn't excuse their actions because they didn't know any better--we held them to account for their crimes.
But if we are held responsible for our lapses in judgement, it means we also must take credit for what we did right. The US military helped bring freedom and democracy to 26 million people in Iraq, gave hope to a generation of young people who had known nothing but despair, and removed a dangerous, brutal and unpredictable dictator who freely admitted to crimes against humanity. You may disagree with the war as a whole, but it is intellectually dishonest to argue that the war in Iraq was a complete failure, or that the US military didn't achieve what some considered impossible.
For every soldier on the frontlines, a family waits at home. Ask a member of the military deployed overseas what the number one thing people can do for them is, and they overwhelmingly say 'take care of my family'. And while there are many patriotic Americans who give of themselves to help military families, for those who disagree with US foreign policy, what you don't do may be more important than what you do. My wife, while worrying about me in Iraq, trying to raise our kids alone, and faced with seeing her husband less than 22 days in a 22 month period, also had to watch the news every day (but only when the kids were asleep) and see people calling me a baby killer, a murderer, a pawn for an evil America, the foot soldier of the US empire, and my personal favorite, someone who got his kicks from 'killing brown people'.
In this country, we don't hold sons accountable for the sins of their fathers, nor wives for their husbands. Yet every anti war zealot who slandered me along with the entire US military also punished my wife for what they alleged to be my crimes. Every libertarian who honestly disagreed with the War on Terror but choose to express that disagreement by comparing the US Army recruiting efforts to the Nazi Fallshirmjager corps was sticking a knife in the back of my children, who had to wonder why mom quickly changed the channel when the news came on. There are plenty of people who believed the War on Terror was wrong, and that the US was making a mistake in pursuing it. Yet only a small group of people took to social media and street corners to attack our troops in harms way.
We don't serve for the money, or the glory. Contrary to what some people think, it is very rare these days for someone to thank a veteran for their service (unless they are running for office, of course). The peak of patriotism in the mid 2000's that saw people seeking out veterans and military to thank them has faded to a dull glow, even for a soldier in uniform or a veteran wearing an American Legion hat. But we didn't serve because we want people to thank us. We served because we believed it was the right thing to do, and because we believe that we have left the world a little better place than when we came into it. Over the last decade, many of us served because we felt that engaging the enemy overseas was far better than letting the enemy attack us at home. We served because we saw with our own eyes countries where those who disagree with their government are beaten, tortured or killed, and we wanted Americans to have the right to say what they will, even when their words make our blood boil.
So if you are a person who 'unabashedly decried his government's foreign policy', or 'strived to call attention to the folly of our interventionist foreign policy', yet now suddenly find yourself needing the support of proud US veterans, the first step is to put your ego aside and understand the damage that was done. In the midst of the most stressful time most military families can endure, you mocked, distorted and belittled what their loved ones were risking their lives for. In trying to draw attention to yourself with pithy comments on Twitter and snarky posts on Facebook, you crossed the line from honest debate over government foreign policy into the realm of accusing US soldiers of murder, and equating them with the very same terrorists we were fighting.
For us proud vets to accept your apology as sincere, you are going to need to do more than tell me about all the military guys you know, or try to pass off your comments as harmless and misconstrued without being able to see how they impacted those in harm's way and those waiting at home. Most importantly, you have to convince us that you are honestly sorry for your actions. You can't start making amends until you admit and accept the truth in your own mind.
Oh and please, for the love of Pete, do not use the word 'if' in your apology, unless you want every veteran to know that you are lying.