View Full Version : Mistletoe and Eating Crow

12-27-03, 05:53 AM

From the Editor:

Mistletoe and Eating Crow

By Ed Offley

I have a wonderful announcement to make: I was wrong. Not just mistaken: I was flat-out wrong.

Last Christmas Eve, as the Pentagon began massing U.S. military forces in Southwest Asia for what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom, I wrote about the apparent disconnect between the signs and sounds of the Christmas season and the grim video imagery on the evening news:

“Here at home, we can turn off the TV and make vanish the world as it is, focusing on our holiday lights and sounds. We can shift our attention as we desire away from the images of Americans in desert fatigues maneuvering their armored vehicles, of flight-suited aviators catching the carrier’s No. 3 wire, of soldiers on patrol outside Kandahar. We merely change channels and look away.”

“And one reason why we can do this stems from the simple fact that for most of us, those young men and women in uniform out there - the ones on patrol over the ‘no fly’ zones, those standing guard near the Korean DMZ, those manning the midwatch in the Persian Gulf - are strangers to us. For most of us, they are not our sons and daughters, cousins or neighbors’ kids. They are a distant abstraction.”

With a national population about to reach 300 million, and an all-voluntary military force that totals only 2.6 million active-duty and reserve personnel, it is not unusual for many American families not to have a close relative, neighbor or friend serving in the military today. The World War II-era mass mobilization and the prolonged life of the military draft during the 1950s and 1960s created a broad, day-to-day connection between the military and the civil society it protects. But that ended three decades ago with the end of the draft.

Events this year have clearly shown that the American people have not forgotten about the men and women serving in harm’s way. Two recent examples of this have added an extra charm to this holiday season.

First, there is the decision by Time magazine to name “the American soldier” – in actuality, all members of the U.S. military – as Person of the Year for 2003. I do not mean to undermine the excellence of the magazine’s choice by expressing amazement that its editorial leadership was capable of reaching that decision. Indeed, it stands as a concrete example that since 9/11, most of the mainstream news media have come to recognize that the U.S. military is not some monolithic corporate empire, but a community of American men and women – mostly very young – who are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, moms and dads – even if we do not know them personally. As the magazine put it:

“To have pulled Saddam Hussein from his hole in the ground brings the possibility of pulling an entire country out of the dark. In an exhausting year … to share good news felt like breaking a long fast, all the better since it came by surprise. And who delivered this gift, against all odds and risks? The same citizens who share the duty of living with, and dying for, a country’s most fateful decisions.”

“Scholars can debate whether the Bush Doctrine is the most muscular expression of national interest in a half-century; the generals may ponder whether warmaking or peacekeeping is the more fearsome assignment; civilians will remember a winter wrapped in yellow ribbons and duct tape. But in a year when it felt at times as if we had nothing in common anymore, we were united in this hope: that our men and women at arms might soon come safely home, because their job was done. They are the bright, sharp instrument of a blunt policy, and success or failure in a war unlike any in history ultimately rests with them.”

The second example is a brief news item last week reporting on the arrival back to Fort Hood, Tex. of Lt. Col. Allen B. West, the former 4th Infantry Division battalion commander who was relieved of command for getting tough with an Iraqi detainee suspected of knowledge of a planned ambush against his troops. His Army career at an end, it might not have been surprising for West to be met only by his immediate family and ignored by reporters disinterested in old news.

That did not happen. Dozens of friends and even strangers gave West what the Army Times newspaper described as “a hero’s welcome” when he arrived at the base. The newspaper noted that West has also received an outpouring of more than 4,000 emails and letters since the incident for which he was punished became news worldwide.

What made the West incident strongly resonate both among the troops and American people as a whole was the officer’s willingness to jeopardize his own career in an attempt to protect the lives of his troops. “The Army is two things, an institution and a living organism of men and women.” West told Army Times this week. “We have a responsibility and an obligation as leaders to train and protect the living organism, but we also have the Army as an institution and you have to have the order of discipline for that institution to carry on, and I have no problem with what has transpired,” he said of his legal ordeal.

“That loyalty apparently went two ways,” the newspaper added. “When he boarded the helicopter that would carry him out of Iraq and to the end of his Army career, soldiers with the unit he commanded, the 2nd Battalion of the 20th Field Artillery Regiment, stood at attention, some with tears in their eyes, and held their salute.”

It’s great to see on a steady basis, signs that the long-feared “military-civilian gap” is being bridged. On this subject, it’s wonderful to be proved wrong. Holiday cheers to all of our men and women in uniform.

Ed Offley is Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at dweditor@yahoo.com.