Laurence M. Vance wrote a column in which he heaps a lot of the blame for the horrors of war on our troops.
It is the troops that are occupying a foreign country. It is the troops that are dropping the bombs. It is the troops that are throwing the grenades. It is the troops that are launching the missiles. It is the troops that are firing the mortars. It is the troops that are shooting the bullets. It is the troops that are destroying homes and infrastructure. It is the troops that are injuring, maiming, and killing people, including thousands of civilians.
Those are hard charges, and if it were 1969 and I were just getting off the plane from my tour in Vietnam, I would be red-faced and swearing after reading Vance’s column. But that was then, and this is now. I have worked with veterans for many years now, and I have met many men who are living with the guilt of being that trooper who killed the civilian, who threw the grenade that blew away the child, who dropped the bomb or fired the mortar that destroyed the village, and those troopers suffer a lifetime of guilt.
Even when I was in the thick of things in Vietnam, something inside of me was telling me that what we were doing was wrong. Yes, we had pep talks by our officers telling us we were bringing freedom and democracy to the poor people of South Vietnam, but the next day you might see the wounded child holding on to the dead body of its mother, and all the words in the world couldn’t make that scene seem all right.
People keep telling me it took a lot of guts for me to defend America over in the Nam, but I don’t remember it like that. I joined the Marines, they sent me over there, and that was that. Some how I think it takes a lot more guts for someone in uniform to say, "this isn’t right," and file for conscientious objector status, than to follow orders like I did, all the while trying to stuff those thoughts of doing wrong into the back burner of my mind.
For sure it took a lot of guts for Laurence Vance to write his column saying, "I don’t support the troops, I don’t support the troops in this war, and I won’t support them in the next one with Iran or any other country."
There it is, Vance lays it right out there for all to see, and his thoughts are just as clear as they can be. Laurence M. Vance is anti-war in the truest sense. I have been anti-war for over twenty years now, and I have met thousands of combat vets who feel the same way, but it is hard to lay warfare at the feet of the enlisted man. It much easier and way more popular to blame President Bush or some mysterious group of neocons that we think is really running the show. Somehow it doesn’t seem right to blame the troops, after all they were just doing their job. When you are one of those troops, and years after the battles are over you are still fighting to keep down the guilt you feel for things you did, you know in your heart that you should have stood up and said, "NO! I won’t do that."
When it comes right down to it, no matter what George Bush says, he cannot have a war without the consent of the troops. If the young men and women in uniform stand up and say "No," it is all over. I know those troops we have in Iraq today have that little voice in the back of their heads saying what they are doing is wrong. It doesn’t matter how many people thank them for what they are doing, because way deep down inside, they know it’s wrong, and years from now they will pay the price for not doing the right thing.
At the end of Vance’s column he says another thing that I and all veterans can get behind.
And when they are all home — from Iraq and everywhere else in the world — I support using the troops to actually patrol our coasts and guard our borders. I support the troops so much that I don’t want them sent to fight any more foreign wars.