December 13, 2005

Dissent is Patriotic

The notion that one can be opposed to the war and still support the troops is a difficult but important question. In the face of a constant barrage of spin and propaganda from the Right about how opponents of the war are giving comfort to the enemy and hurting our troops, those of us who do oppose the war need only to take John Murtha's and Bernie Sander's examples as proof that you can do both.

My father, whom I have mentioned before was a career Army officer, who fought in WWII, was opposed to the Vietnam war thinking it an unnecessary fight which was doomed. He saw the early stages of Vietnam develop while he served as military attache in Tokyo in the early 1960s. But while he opposed the war, he was a determined defender of the men and women who fought it. He hated the disrespect to our troops shown by the New Left, by the student movements, by the Trotskyites and other crazies, and even by mainstream Democrats who should have known better. The idea that his fundamental opposition to the war harmed our troops or gave comfort to the enemy would have been a joke to him, and he would have rejected that argument outright as a slander against the best of American traditions of dissent.

I remember one time on the subway in New York City after my Dad retired, perhaps in 1969, he and I were riding down to Wall Street (he had become a broker) to join some of his friends from work for lunch (I was home from college), and he saw a young man wearing a fatigue jacket with a 3rd Army patch and some medals hanging on the front. It was his first contact with a Vietnam Vet against the War. But at first, he suspected that this young guy did not deserve to be wearing this outfit. So he challenged him, asking him "do you have a right to be wearing that?" The answer was yes. In fact, he had served in "Nam." And from there, for about 5 minutes I listened as these two men, a twenty-something, longhaired, fatigue-wearing, anti-war Vietnam Vet chatted with my short-haired dad in his three-piece Brooks Brother suit about the army, the war, and what was wrong with it. These two guys could not have imagined that their opposition to the war was anything but a patriotic act. They didn't identify with Jane Fonda or the SDS, but they both knew war, and they both knew this war was wrong.

John Murtha, a much decorated Marine Corps vet, is a firm friend of veterans while he also opposes the war. Here in Vermont, while Bernie Sanders, our self-described socialist Congressman who will soon be in the US Senate (driving Frist and the others crazy) is firmly opposed to the Iraq war, he also gets huge votes among veterans in Vermont because he fights for them tooth and nail.

A recent friend, who authors a very thoughtful, well-written occasional newsletter on political subjects, and who himself is a veteran who opposes the Iraq war, has proposed the following as ways to support and thank our troops and their families.

How do we thank the troops who have fought and died or been wounded and traumatized or simply burned out by the grueling fight with the insurgents in Iraq? Here, deeds speak far louder than does rhetoric. We should drastically increase the VA’s budget to accommodate its new caseload (not decreasing veterans’ aid as is now proposed). We should enhance the quality of military living here in the U.S., most of which, especially for married service men and women, is substandard by any measurement. Perhaps we should provide a fund to underwrite tuition assistance from grammar school through college for the children of dead and incapacitated soldiers who have died or are suffering from service-related injuries. Perhaps we need to reenact the GI Bill for returning service personnel.

I don't hear these kinds of proposal coming from the chickenhawks who spout words like "victory" so casually from their mouths and then never explain to our troops just what, in reality, that might mean for them.

So, if you oppose the Iraq war, the next time anyone says you are hurting our troops, just tell them about John Murtha and Bernie Sanders. And ask them how much they have lobbied their Congressional representatives to increase funding for veterans.


Stephen Charles said...

There are many very good reasons to oppose the war, one of them being that you don't want to see any of our soldiers killed. I think some people go too far, however, when they start referring to the insurgents as "freedom fighters" and compare them to the American Revolutionaries. Actions like these actually do help the enemy and legitimize their terrible actions.

Stephen McArthur said...

Comparing the Iraq insurgency to Amerian revolutionaries is alomst as silly as Bush comparing the current Iraq situation to the American Revolution.

And I say "almost" because there is more credibility in comparing some of the Iraqi insurgency, the truly nationalist part of it which is fighting against any occupation of its country, to "freedom fighters" than it is to compare the current Iraqi government, jury-rigged and jacked up by a foreign power (in this case, more akin to France in our own revolutionary war) to the American colonial revolutionaries.

There are those "insurgents" (remember, the insurgency is not a homogeneous affair) who are fighting specifically against the American occupation, some of them as part of an active Shi'a militant opposition, not just Sunni, Ba'athist, and Sadaamist. The al-Queda terrorists, in the form of many Arab outsiders, represent the most obvious and prevalent example of people who are not "freedom fighters."