by Glen Chancy
By 1974, Captain Oliver North had been away from his wife and small children for several years. He had been fighting communists in Vietnam, and training Marines on Okinawa to do the same. He had seen his wife during periods of leave, but that had been about it. Finally, a letter arrived informing him that she wanted a divorce. Mrs. North had decided she couldn't live alone anymore. The letter included the name and address of her attorney. She did, however, want Captain North to keep seeing his children.
He was angry, and at first decided to grant her the divorce. He considered his duties with the Marines more important than his family. Eventually, some of his fellow Marines convinced him to leave his duties in Okinawa and return to the States where he could reconcile with his wife. One of them said to him, "The politicians in Washington have thrown away the lives of so many young men. They don't care if your family gets ruined, or your kids grow up without you."
When his sincere attempts to patch things up were rejected by his wife, he plunged into depression and even needed psychiatric care. What was especially wounding to him was the realization that even though his oldest child was almost five years old – he had never really been a father. Captain North had been actively deployed for more of his children's lives than he had been at home. Even when he had been with them in the same house, he usually left before the children awoke, and returned home after they were asleep. As he admitted in his autobiography, "My children didn't know who I was." The pressures of serving in a military engaged in an endless war in Southeast Asia had claimed the North family as a casualty.
After counseling and prayer, the North family finally got back together. A family catastrophe was avoided, and Captain North resumed his advancement in the Marines. Eventually, as a Lt. Colonel, he would serve President Reagan on the National Security Council. Today he is an u2018embedded journalist' for Fox News in Iraq, and one of the chief cheerleaders for putting today's young soldiers in the same situation that he faced in 1974. Evidently, he has forgotten what prolonged separation does to a family.
With our military fighting a war in Iraq, we Americans are told incessantly to u2018support the troops' and to u2018support our president.' Many of those screaming these two slogans the loudest are the same people who actively endorse the idea of the United States as the world's policeman. It is our duty, so they say, to send U.S. troops into hotspots around the world to free the oppressed, to spread democracy, and to stop weapons of mass destruction. Interestingly, most of the commentators and politicians espousing this policy are lacking both personal military experience and family in uniform. Which is probably why they don't understand that u2018supporting the troops' means opposing the U.S. being the world's traffic cop.
Among those who oppose the war in Iraq are those who are concerned about innocent civilian casualties. Others are concerned about both Iraqi civilian casualties and about the lives of our own men and women in combat. Those are valid concerns, but one dimension of this conflict seems to be completely ignored. Conflicts of this nature destroy lives, even when the soldiers come home in one piece. Just ask Oliver North about that.
Humanitarian wars, police actions, u2018Operation Iraqi Freedom,' whatever you call them, they all involve the same basic scenario. Men and women, usually aged between 18 and 35, are separated for long periods of time from their families. They are usually deployed near the future combat zone to some staging area for months prior to actual hostilities. After the fighting starts, they are then committed for additional time under highly stressful conditions. After the fighting is over, a large number of them get stuck as occupation troops for a year or more.
The deployed forces miss the births of their children. They miss special birthdays, first teeth, first steps, and baseball games. Their spouses are forced to become single parents for one or more years. The strain is often terrible, as spouses sit at home worried and alone. Especially for stateside spouses without strong family support, the situation can become unbearable.
There is a reason that u2018Dear John' letters are a staple of military life in times of war. Marriages are hard enough when husband and wife are together. Toss in continuous separation and extreme stress, and the fragile bonds that tie men and women together in matrimony can snap. Having lived through this, many service members exited the military during the Clinton administration, with its insane tempo of u2018humanitarian actions' in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, and elsewhere.
As the occupation of Iraq drags on, how many families will crack under the stress? Based on earlier conflicts, it could be quite a number. Despite all the joy among Shiites and Kurds at the fall of Saddam, will it be worth it to the American families who become victims of this war?
Page one of USA Today reported the story. An element of the 101st Airborne was in a heavy firefight in Baghdad. An Iraqi man carrying an RPG was hit trying to switch firing positions. A ten-year-old boy ran out and picked up the RPG. A young soldier manning a machine gun cut him to shreds. A reporter interviewed him about it almost immediately afterward. The soldier was upset, but was being comforted by his superiors and comrades that he had done the right thing. One small incident, reported because an embedded journalist was at the scene. The young soldier, visibly shaken by the experience, will carry this memory with him for the rest of his life.
In wars involving urban guerrilla and terrorist actions, the fighting gets confused and bloody. Civilians often emerge as combatants. In addition to the ten-year-old boy mentioned above, many other Marines and soldiers have killed civilians at checkpoints already. More killings will likely follow, if a terror campaign is stepped-up by those opposed to U.S. occupation. The legality of those killings isn't at issue as the Marines and soldiers have a right to defend themselves. The point is that we, the people of the United States, have put these troops in an environment where young children and women could be their enemies, and in that environment they have to kill them to stay alive. Has anyone stopped to consider what this horror does to our troops?
How many of our men and women are now killers? What does it do to the psyche of a young person to take human lives, possibly innocent civilian ones? We know the answers to those questions. A lot of our troops have now killed, and while the results vary from person to person, the psychological scars of that usually run deep. Even in u2018good wars,' such as World War II, combat soldiers have suffered horribly in the aftermath. Nightmares, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and various psychological conditions are prevalent among those who have seen combat, and been forced to kill in self-defense.
Those who would commit our forces to global policing are not considering the effects that killing others have on our troops. Even if we are extremely successful, as we have been in Iraq, the survivors of the war will have to live with what they have seen, and what they have done. This is an acceptable though regrettable occurrence when our forces are fighting to protect the freedom of American citizens. When they are sent into battle to liberate or protect foreigners, it is a sacrifice that is absolutely not worth the cost.
On CNN, a story ran in which soldiers and Marines read out loud excerpts from their letters home. As the father of a small child, one of them made my blood run cold. An Army Chief Warrant Officer was reading a letter to his young children. A helicopter pilot, he was definitely a tough guy. Yet, as he read he was choking back tears. In the letter, he asked the forgiveness of his children for missing so much of their lives. He promised to make it up to them, if he could. This officer, this warrior, this exemplar of America, was hurting and distraught over prolonged separation from his wife and children. He will never get those precious moments back. Other troops expressed similar sentiments. Several of them noted in letters that they didn't want victory parades. They just wanted to go home.
Less than 10 minutes after the close of that story, a former Republican Congressman appeared on a CNN talking head show to advocate global policing. He recited a long list of countries including Sudan, Rwanda, and Syria which are oppressive and whose people need u2018liberating.' As he said, "As the world's only superpower, the United States cannot continue to ignore oppression and genocide, wherever they occur. We must be prepared for more actions to come." The war in Iraq isn't even over, but this gentleman and his friends are already talking up the next one.
I wondered if the Army chopper pilot weeping for the time he has lost with his children would agree that the U.S. has an u2018obligation' to deploy him all over the world to u2018liberate' people. The juxtaposition of these two stories couldn't be more jarring, or more indicative of the separation the chicken-hawks have from those who actually do the u2018liberating.'
The advocates of global policing are not u2018supporting our troops.' They would have us send our military all over the world to liberate or protect complete strangers, at the cost of destroying American families who live next door.
If a man sacrifices everything to save complete strangers, he can be argued to be a hero.
If a man is forced to sacrifice everything to save complete strangers, then he is a victim.
In global police actions, our troops are the victims of our altruism. We feel better about ourselves because we are willing to turn their lives inside out in order to u2018help people.' Will God forgive us for what we have demanded from them and from their families?
Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines swear an oath of allegiance to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. That oath does not cover liberating Iraqis from their own government, nor protecting Rwandans from slaughter by their neighbors. The parents, husbands, wives, and children left at home desperately seek reassurance that the horrible sacrifices they are making are worth it. They aren't, and inside many of them know that. Iraqi freedom is not worth the empty chairs at dinner, the tears of lonely wives, or the cries of the children who only want their mommies and daddies to come home. This is not even to mention the service members who actually die.
I am unwilling to trade the lives, welfare, and treasure of Americans to protect and liberate non-citizens of the United States from their own governments or their neighbors. To me, the lives of my countrymen in uniform are more valuable than the lives of oppressed Iraqis, oppressed Sudanese, or the oppressed citizens of any other nation.
This is because I am a citizen of the United States, and I support my troops.