Ghosts of Vietnam

Life does not afford us the luxury of free freedom. We all know this. Yet the critical commentary continues. I usually purposely avoid politically charged themes and debates. I don’t like the feelings that tend to get stirred inside of me, such as those I’m now feeling. I think of myself as easy going, yet passionate. Firm in my convictions, but with no need to force feed them to the nearest passer by. And yet, as I write this post, I feel like I must sound something like Lincoln beginning the Gettysburg Address.

Considering a group of people I’ll call, “progressive liberals”, I immediately think of those who get on soap boxes and speak a lot faster than they seem to think. They enjoy freedoms and the comforts thereof, without realizing or caring that their critcisms of the U.S. government leaves a heavy residue on our servicemembers, who are too often distorted as brainwashed, even abusive dupes and minions incapable of independent thinking and compassionate action.

Make no mistake about it. We think, all right. We think, God, Duty, Honor, Country, Family, Freedom, Love, Life and Sacrifice. We just usually try to think before we speak. And then try to act accordingly. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we falter. Nearly 20 years ago, I found myself taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, because I was running away from a boy in college who’d broken my heart. Not the most patriotic reason to serve your country, but that’s the way it happened.

Soon after, I was called to support Operations Desert Shield and Storm. (I know, telling my age, again.) That’s when the thinking and the action became real, not just words. I remember how many people were quick to call it the New Vietnam. Many others were careful to ensure that no matter what, this time they’d “support our troops”, putting the ghost of shame from the Vietnam-era treatment of vets to rest for good. God blessed me not to see combat, but I’ve seen its effects on the many who did.

Well, look at us now. Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and a whole bunch of people up in arms, figurately and literally. A whole bunch of people still waving flags and tying yellow ribbons. A whole bunch of folks praying and crying. Crying and dying. It hurts. It still hurts.

But look at what else. The ghosts of Vietnam, and their accompanying specters, this generation’s incarnates of a villified, “Hanoi Jane” have all come back and multiplied in the likes of The Dixie Chicks, Sean Penn and others to haunt us. God bless ’em. Did we conjure these up on purpose? Did we forget so soon that regardless of personal feelings, men and women have taken that oath seriously enough to live the codes that say, “I am prepared to give my life in their defense”? Not in defense of crude oil or political agendas or arrogant aggression or the pride that goeth before the fall, or whatever makes the best headline. In our defense. Yours and mine and ours. And certainly, human atrocities abound here on American soil as well. That these things were/are not addressed with the urgency they deserve is equally hurtful, and is as well out of the control of our troops. It’s worth saying that wherever our troops are, they deserve our support. Not just in words or waving flags or car magnets, but in whatever you have that is genuine.

A decision was made to obey orders. A code was accepted to guard our country and our way of life. Like Billy Joel said, we didn’t start this fire, and it’s not an easy one to put out. It may burn for a while yet. And for those who seem not to have noticed, we’re getting burned pretty badly too. Lives have been lost and will be lost for ideals that we all share until the reality gets too real for some of us. Ideals that say you and everything you hold dear are worth my life. Now suddenly, we have everything from cognitive dissonance to conscientious objection to anti-government editorials to anti-military recruiting protests to people heckling at military funerals. Well, so be it. If that’s what you choose to do with the freedoms we protect and provide, then thank God and a U.S. service member that it’s your right.

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