Friday, November 11, 2011

Post No. 176a: Re-Posting of "Lest We Forget Who the Real Parties in Interest Are"

Today is Veteran's Day, formerly known as Armistice Day. Many may not be aware that the major fighting of World War I formally ended at the 11th hour, on the 11th day, during the 11th month of November in 1918.

We originally generated the following post two years ago during this same month. Earlier today on MSNBC's Morning Joe, journalist Lisa Ling, and documentary film maker Ken Burns discussed a new documentary exploring Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome experienced by our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly after serving multiple tours. With two years behind us, we thought it appropriate to re-visit some the issues raised in our original piece.

Additionally, the History Channel is currently airing a series, Vietnam in HD. Although all of the Fellows of the Institute served in the military during the Vietnam Era Conflict, we are continually amazed about how little we knew and appreciated about "the whole situation" at the time. Should you decide to view the series, pay particular attention to the comments of our soldiers about who they were and what they endured, both in Vietnam and here at home.

© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

“Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, hey”

“Father, father, we don’t need to escalate
War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, hey”

-- Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, recorded June 1, 1970

The History Channel recently aired a documentary about the Woodstock Festival held on August 15 – 18, 1969, originally billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace and Music.”

The anti-war sentiment in this country concerning Vietnam was at a fever pitch.

A significant portion of the population was affected in some manner by our involvement in that “conflict.”

College campuses served as battlegrounds and stages on many levels. Whether due to the draft, the protests, the status of ROTC units, or the interrupted lives, every college student was affected in some way.

And so were their relatives, and neighbors, and church members, and co-workers, and friends….

However, on college campuses today, there is far less concern about our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, one way or the other. (Some would suggest that is the way it should be; like a building super, when things are going well and he is doing the dirty work, one never sees him, nor has the need to contact him - personally.)

Plus, there is little concern about having one’s education interrupted to visit a foreign land.

My, how times have changed.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a noted presidential historian who appears regularly on TV. Earlier this week, she and her twenty-something son, Joey, spoke with Charlie Rose, about Joey’s two tours, one in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq.

Fortunately, he returned in one piece and was remarkably philosophical about the experience. As for his Mom, it was clear that she breathed one massive sigh of relief upon his return.

All of us living during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, knew someone personally affected. Now, primarily because of our volunteer military and the use of sophisticated technological weapons, we have transitioned to a place where relatively few of us personally know someone involved, or even personally affected, for that matter.

And that may not be a good thing, no matter where one stands on the wars.

While in a grocery store recently, we observed a very sharp, well-groomed young man speaking to a customer. His name tag revealed that he was the Store Manager.

We inquired as to how long he had been with the chain, to which he responded a surprising 7 months. He laughed and explained that he had previously been with the chain for a number of years, and that he had over 15 years of retail experience.

He also mentioned that he had served in Iraq.

But he was a stranger in a grocery store with whom a random conversation was held.

And although a human being, not a parent, or a child, or a neighbor, or a church member, or a co-worker, or a personal friend of ours.

My, how things have changed. What should concern us all are the consequences associated with this change or multiple changes.

Our nation’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict profoundly influenced the worldview of millions of American college students for almost two decades.

One obvious change is in America’s view of the military. During Vietnam, returning soldiers were frequently held in contempt, as if they were responsible for the conflict. A frightening number of them found themselves on the streets.

Today, we view the returning troops as akin to heroes, having purportedly protected us from another terrorist attack on our home soil. Interestingly, very few of them, thus far, appear to have wound up on the streets – at least not yet.

That we as a society have not fully examined, with any degree of real seriousness, the long-term ramifications of placing the burden of this battle, whether justified or not, on so few shoulders and so unevenly distributed, should cause us to pause.

When things get personal, issues take on a whole different complexion and complexity. When it’s some other guy’s issue, who we really don’t know, it’s far easier for us to ….

Is there any lesson to be learned from Vietnam? Kearns Goodwin suggests there may be. If a pullout is dramatic, it may signal weakness and be perceived as a loss of the investment of the lives lost thus far. If an increase in resources and equipment is dramatic, more lives will be expended and the definition of success will become murkier.

What Kearns Goodwin regards as potentially problematic is the route taken by then President Lyndon Johnson - the intermediate approach.

Our fear is that without that personal connection, neither side will be prompted to make the real difficult decisions.

With a volunteer fighting force, it is even more important to constantly remind ourselves who the real players are.

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