Failure of Leadership / Veterans Day  (2015Nov11)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015                                              12:37 PM

Every war we talk about the bravery, the gallantry, of our side’s soldiers—and the perfidy and inhumanity of the other side. And no one with a heart could fail to feel the tragedy of young heroes going to their deaths with honor—or fail to feel disgust at war crimes. But to me, the failure is always on those who allow things to get to the point of war.

The anti-war movement that arose during the Vietnam War was begun by activists—but it attracted many parents of draft-age children, and of children who were currently serving, and of the fallen. They recognized a failure of leadership in a government that cared more for their Cold War ‘chessboard’ than for the men and women being sent into harm’s way. Had they known that Nixon’s advisors had told him the war was unwinnable, they would have had too much ammunition—so they were lied to.

Being the first time that a citizenry had actually opposed its own government’s war plans, the peaceniks made a few mistakes. Their biggest mistake was in demonizing the soldiers, along with their leaders—the horrors of Vietnam were laid at the feet of the grunts on the ground—young boys, mostly, trying their best to survive in a situation that their leaders sent them into without any hope of winning. Whatever savagery was reported as having been committed by US troops in Vietnam (and there was far too much of that, sadly) it was a consequence of boys being sent into hell without any leadership—and that was reflected in the top brass, all the way up to the C-in-C.

Nevertheless, today’s GOP cliché, that liberals don’t ‘support our troops’ was a valid charge in 1972. But the liberals have seen, along with the rest of the country, that our military reflects our leadership—those young people will respond to whatever training and discipline the USA gives them. And with world leaders—and military leaders—that can’t be bothered to think things through, to discuss alternatives, or to make plans before they start shooting—we can’t really expect those leaders to produce an army that won’t immediately descend into bloodlust—the whole idea of war is to suspend civilized behavior for the duration—exceptionally convenient for leaders—not so good for the GIs.

I watched the Iwo Jima Reunion of Honor documentary last night—and I was struck by the refrain of survivors of both sides—that they had nothing against any individual—that they fought only because their country told them to—and because they expected to be killed if they didn’t kill first. I remember the shock I felt, after a Cold War childhood of indoctrination into hating the commies, when I first confronted the truth that most citizens of the USSR were just like us, getting up every morning, going to work, raising a family, trying to live their lives—that they were an ocean away and, outside of a few Politburo members, no more interested in our neighborhood than we were in theirs.

The Cold War was two governments, riddled with fear and ambition, insisting that we citizens share those failings. It was give substance by the nuclear arms race and MAD—but those policies were also confined to our governments—in fact, most information concerning that science was kept secret—we were only supposed to share the fear and hatred, none of the understanding.

I’m disgusted by the fact that humankind is so tantalizingly close to a civilized society in some parts of the world—and our leaders, our military, and our media focus on the trouble spots—trying to treat war as if it were an inevitability. War isn’t inevitable—it is, and always has been, a failure of leadership—we should rename Veteran’s Day to Leaders Should Do Better Day.

Hawks will say this is naïve—that the world is full of evil and it must be fought. Well, evil is everywhere—when it happens here, we call the cops—we don’t declare the neighborhood a war zone—a profit center for arms merchants and black-marketeers. There is a balance to most things—war signifies those places where the powers-that-be have decided ‘balance be damned’. And they don’t do this because they have to—they do it because they’re too damned stupid and lazy to find a better way. Worse, there are those like Dick Cheney, who sees war as good business—how do we forgive ourselves for voting for madmen like him?

Americans have matured—we no longer blame soldiers for the horrors of the wars they are sent into. But when are we going to start blaming the governmental and business leaders whose responsibility those horrors are? When will the ‘Leader of the Free World’ evoke the image of a diplomat, instead of a sniper?

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