Sunday, August 24, 2008

What are we learning on the path of war? (My Sacred Life, Sunday)

When I was in high school, I took action which was very unpopular in my own household when I attended a rally at the Colorado state capitol near downtown Denver. It was a peace rally, a protest against the US involvement in the war in Vietnam. My father was a career Air Force officer who was still on active duty at the time, in 1970.

He did not follow through on any of the threats he made, and my high school did not suspend anyone as they threatened to do. The rally being during the day on a school day, those of us who attended did so only by ditching a couple of classes.

All the emotions displayed on all sides were subsiding even by the time we all got home from the rally that day. Thankfully, the rally was a peaceful one with no great shows of civil disobedience, just a bunch of folks listening to speakers on the steps of the capitol building.

Perhaps the greatest shame I knew, though, was my own strong association with a movement which had its heart in the right place in seeking to pull our country's young men and women out of that area where war had been resident long before we showed up, but its sense of outrage completely misplaced toward our troops when they came home.

Several times, I was invited along to yell epithets at lines of troops returning home from Vietnam. I did not understand the motivation then, and I still don't today. Of course, I did not go along on those "harass the returnees" trips. It was really idiotic to boo the poor young guys barely older than ourselves for the mistake of drawing an unlucky number in the draft lottery and then doing what their country demanded of them.

History shows a not-very-glorious end to that conflict, as most conflicts of that type seem to end. The large country trying to impose its will always leaves, it's just a matter of time. Witness Russia and Afghanistan, as another example. The folks fighting those they view as invaders are home. The invaders are in a strange place where, as individuals, they have no desire to be. The conclusion is foregone. The dog who is defending his own back yard will beat a much larger dog who knows to back off and go home...where he rules.

What is different this time, when the United States is again embroiled in a war the American people, for the most part, did not want and which now, by a large majority, wants us out of?

I'm grateful to see that my country, the people who have sacrificed thousands to this insanity, have learned one lesson very well: when the young men and women come home now from Iraq and Afghanistan, they are not booed. Quite the contrary--as they walk through the airports now, these troops are the cause of spontaneous applause, and recipients of heartfelt expressions of thanks and big hugs from people they have never seen before.

It's a step in the right direction. I don't have personal knowledge of the level of care we are providing to those young people who are returning and need our help. Not just the ones who the Army and other services are responsible for helping medically (I have heard some horror stories in that area), but the way our communities care for the people returning home. It's a shame that we did such a lousy job in the late 70's and since in reintegrating the Vietnam-era vets back into our world, the one where there is no sniper to fear each step you take.

How are we doing today? The challenges are many to someone who has spent a year or more being shot at, vehicles blown out from under them, and never knowing, for sure, what the intent is of the group of people approaching. Even those fortunate enough to return home without visible wounds have a huge adjustment to make. I'm sure the level of response varies all over the map...literally. In some small towns, the returnees are embraced and enveloped in the love only a small town can bring from its heart. In some big cities, there are no accommodations made at all. It is sink or swim in the big city, at least in some cases.

Denver is home to a great many military retirees, and I have to hope that we are doing a better job than other cities our size in helping. I don't know that for certain, so my own challenge is to find out, and to help in whatever way I can. I'll report back on what I find.

The best answer, though, was one we had available to us. My wife and I were at a candlelight vigil the night before the bombs dropped on Baghdad. That's where the answer was, on that night. It was in the hearts of every one of the hundreds of people who had gathered to light candles and listen to people decry the beast about to be loosed again. Stop. Don't do it. Back away, and come home.

We can help our young people the most by refusing to send them into harm's way. They are best reintegrated into our communities by never having their lives disintegrated in the first place.


Julie said...

Rick, I SO agree with you on this. As one of those "bleeding heart liberals", the only insult thrown at me that gets under my skin is that I don't support the troops. This is so far from the truth even in non draft times. It is BECAUSE I support them that I am so disgusted with the machine that sent them off to fight in this war, based on lies.

Rick Hamrick said...

Amen to that, Julie! Supporting the troops by sending them to a guerrilla war with under-armored vehicles and several different factions all happy as can be to shoot at them??

You were one of the few who found a blog post I wrote--only wrote two or three on that aborted blog--years ago where I was even more strident on this topic.

I served our country for 4.5 years. It would never have entered my mind that "supporting" me would mean sending me to Irag, cutting funding of my educational benefits, and then treating me like a worn-out shoe when I was injured and could no longer serve.

Thanks for your strong comment!