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Memorial Day Reflections

May 28, 2012

One of the few unifying aspects of modern American society is the generally supportive attitude toward our men and women in uniform. Those who serve our country honorably rightly deserve our respect and admiration. Those who have given the last measure of their devotion, even more deservedly so.

Alas, it has not always been this way. As we reflect on this Memorial Day about the thousands of men (and now some women also) who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of our freedom, we might focus specifically on the veterans of the Vietnam War.

If there is one area in which the liberals from the 1960’s may have actually grown up, it’s that they can now separate the war they are protesting from the troops who are sent under orders to fight the war. That is why they can now say that while they don’t agree with the war, they support the troops. This they did not do during the Vietnam conflict; of course, the fact that many of them were subject to the draft and direct participation may well have had something to do with the intensity of their protest then. Not to be an amateur psychologist (although liberals’ fascinating behavior invites us to do that), it could be that the Vietnam protesters treated the returning troops so horribly as a way of acting out their guilt about weaseling out of going themselves. Whatever the reason, their behavior was beneath contempt and utterly inexcusable. And unfortunately, the whole Vietnam experience set up many of the false narratives about America and those of us (i.e., conservatives) who support traditional American values:

  1. Blame America first. Didn’t matter that North Vietnam was being propped up by its Soviet and Chinese communist friends.
  2. We were the aggressors, the “imperialists” who had no business in Vietnam or anywhere else for that matter. Never mind that Lyndon Johnson fought a half-baked war that he did not really want to fight or win, claiming that conservatives pushed him into it. It was all Richard Nixon’s fault from the moment he took office in 1969, even though our involvement was almost five years old by then.
  3. It was “hip” and “cool” to be against the war; it was mean-spirited and ignorant to support it. Never mind that the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong henchmen were vicious warmongers who used civilians as human shields and out-of-uniform combatants.

As any reasonable person can deduce, those false narratives persist to this very day. Unfortunately, except for a few token efforts at reconciliation and regret since the 1970’s, the Vietnam veterans are still largely ignored. Perhaps this is the case because if more of an honest effort to honor them was made, those who so vigorously opposed the war and the troops fighting it may have to admit that they were wrong, at least about their treatment of the military.

Last spring, I visited a military base where I had been stationed during my service time. I was not in uniform but was wearing an Air Force cap. A perfect stranger approached me, held out her hand, and shook mine as she thanked me for my service. As one who served for many years but never faced hostile fire or ill treatment, I stammered my thanks while thinking about the legions that deserved the accolades far more than I did. Many of them are still waiting for that honor that they so richly deserve.

As you think about our veterans on Memorial Day, please consider supporting the Wounded Warrior Project as a tangible way of supporting them—especially those who were severely wounded in combat and have had major struggles re-adjusting to civilian life. Other than charities that support needy children, I can’t think of a worthier cause than this.

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