War is old men talking and young men (and women) fighting

The following was written about nine years ago, but it still has merit. I repeat it to honor our Veterans on Memorial Day and Flag Day.

The above title is a paraphrased line from the movie “Troy” and while I cannot find it among any of the quotes from Homer’s “Iliad” it still resonates with me. Achilles is highly frustrated with Agamemnon and the other kings celebrating the day’s victory in battle, which none of them fought in. He is counseled with these words. You know what war is all about – “war is old men talking and young men fighting.” I use this quote today to honor our men and women who have fought in battles. They are the ones who put their lives in harm’s way and it is they who should be commended.

If you fought for your country, whether the cause was justified or not, you deserve to be honored. When you are lying in the mud or a foxhole and are being shot at, whether we went into a war without good cause is moot. You are there doing your job in the direst of circumstances. Our country learned that lesson from Vietnam where returning veterans did not get treated with the proper respect. This war dragged on and people asked why are we sending our teenagers and young adults to die over there? The Pentagon Papers revealed later our leaders were not very forthcoming as to the reasons, knowing the war was unwinnable.

We have similar kind of war going on which began in Iraq and has continued into Afghanistan. We have been doing this for over ten years. The reason for being there has now been called into question, yet there we still sit. However, the lesson we learned from Vietnam has at least helped Americans treat our troops better. They did not pick the fight with Iraq or Afghanistan, yet they are there to fight it our battles for us.

And, there is one other similarity to Vietnam and the gulf wars which makes it so tough on our troops and causes even more PTSD. The enemy combatants are hiding among the civilians. Our troops have to be on their guard even more, as they do not want to kill innocent people, yet the innocents don’t have a “red jersey” on like a quarterback in practice which says don’t hit me. This has to create a greater stress level to an already stressed situation.

What I don’t care for is when old men get together to discuss sending young people in harm’s way without doing their due diligence. Let’s just bomb Iran and get it over with you will hear some old men say. Or, let’s just invade Syria as some members of Congress and Senate have stated. This may be the reason I hold Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld in lesser regard as they sent Americans to die under false pretenses in Iraq. My thesis is before you commit Americans to die, do our country, soldiers and their families the duty of making damn sure we have exhausted every other means. And, when we do commit Americans to fight, define what success will look like. If we cannot do that, then maybe we should not be fighting.

So, let’s honor our Veterans. They have done our country a great service and some have paid the dearest price with their lives, minds and bodies. Let’s honor them by doing our homework to avoid conflict whenever possible and taking care of them when they return. We have too many veterans wandering the streets when they get back and too many waiting in line for disability and medical help. We need to fight less and serve them more. Thanks for your service.

These truths should be self-evident, but many are not

This Monday we get a day off to create a nice long weekend. Memorial Day is a wonderful celebration, but is one where we should honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We tend to promote jingoism, which is an ugly term, to beat on our chests and talk about how mighty we are. Yet, I believe we should honor our valiant soldiers who died fighting our battles, by being truth seekers. We owe it to them to do so.

I believe the following truths are self-evident. If you disagree, I welcome your comments. I am not looking to blame anyone, but learn from our mistakes and realities of the situation. In my view, we cannot address our problems, if someone is telling you the problem is not real and we are so great that we can make any problem go away. In no particular order.

– We went into Iraq with insufficient troops and hardware and without a clear-cut plan for success. General Shinseki actually resigned because of this initial failure. The later “surge” is what Shinseki had argued for in the first place. Winning battles is easier than maintaining the peace, which is what Shinseki noted to his bosses.

– We overreacted to 9/11 and as a result underreacted to Syria and pulling out of Iraq, so says a military historian. Al Qaeda was small in number and now we have a much greater enemy. We are a war-weary country and made many mistakes from the outset and along the way. We had the Iraqi police force fired, many of them later became part of ISIS. This concern was noted at the time of their firing ten years ago.

– Torture of prisoners has made us less safe, because we have grown larger, multi-generational groups of people who do not hold America in high regard. What little intelligence we have gained is dwarfed by this continuing animosity and mistrust.

– The Middle East is a hard to solve conundrum. America cannot win a war that will solve this problem, as proven in Iraq. Again, winning battles is easier than maintaining the peace. We have been fighting in the Middle East for over thirty years and spent trillions of dollars – what do we have to show for this asks another military historian and Vietnam veteran. He noted we did not learn the lessons of Vietnam.

– While many are grandstanding with chest beating opinions, it is good to be negotiating with Iran over limiting nuclear development. The non-diplomatic options are not worth considering as they could lead to a deadly result for many. In any situation, we owe to our troops and to their families to exhaust all other means before we send them to die.

– The same is true for Ukraine which gets lost in the news these days. Vladimir Putin is not a trustworthy individual. We need to continue to hold his feet to the fire as an international pariah. We need to help Ukraine be stronger, but also continue a joint effort to call Putin on the carpet.

– We also owe it to our troops to protect them and their families from predators here at home. Pay-day lenders and expensive and ineffective for-profit colleges have had a license to steal from our military families. The former will get our families into a 1000% annual effective interest rate pretty quickly. The latter spends more money marketing than teaching and graduation rates are in the low teens if that high. Also, the diet supplement business which is largely unregulated (due to some well-funded senators), has led to deaths of many soldiers who bought diet supplements (from on-base stores to aid with their training). You cannot support troops and screw them over like this. It is not right.

We owe it to our troops and their families to make sure we have exhausted other means, before we send them into battle to risk their lives. We owe it to them to have a clear-cut plan for success and a reasonable end strategy. We owe it to them to learn from our mistakes and not placate political egos to gain favor with voters. Finally, remember the quote from the movie “Troy,” when Achilles is consoled by his cousin – war is old men talking and young men fighting. Let’s honor those young men and women and treat them and their families well.