I've been stewing about this all day. Let's have a little perspective, shall we?
I am a veteran. I have all my limbs, and actually suffered only the usual mental traumas of peacetime service, because I served during the immediate post-Cold War Clinton years. I spent maybe a total of 20 weeks separated from my family in total over nearly 7 years, and that was by choice, to attend a cushy language school. But still, I remain a veteran.
My wife is a veteran. She was gung-ho, duty driven, and would still be in if she hadn't been railroaded by an idiot commander. She had plans that would have done us all proud, and put herself through 22 months of intensive training, only to become a military spouse and watch my frustrating experience from the sidelines. But still, she is a veteran.
And now the entire McCain election campaign has become awash with talk about veterans. Mike Huckabee spoke at the Convention in St. Paul about the school teacher who brought her new students in on the first day to an empty classroom, made them spend the day guessing how they could earn their desks and chairs before having veterans bring the furniture in to demonstrate that "these guys earned your desks FOR you". Every knows all of the gory details of Sen. McCain's Vietnam experience. All of this is meant to guilt us into repaying his service by honoring him with the Office of President, as if the most "veteranly" veteran should be qualified to run the country.
This morning, one of my Facebook friends posted a YouTube video made by an Iraq veteran who accused Sen. Obama of "disrespecting all veterans" by calling the Iraq War a mistake. The rationale here is a Republican favorite: the idea is that the sacrifices made by our soldiers somehow magically make that war "right". The claim is that we are "winning" in Iraq, and that because this soldier (among many others) lost a leg, that redeems the countless civilian casualties and human rights abuses that are inevitable when one country invades another.
Speaking as a veteran, I feel compelled to respond: BOLLOCKS.
The fact is that when the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. occurred in 2001, the stated intent was to draw the U.S. into this war. By 2002, everyone knew that Iraq had nothing to do with those attacks, and yet TO THIS DAY, people still connect 9/11 with the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. That connection was never real, but it was what Osama bin Laden counted on when he set his plan into motion: the U.S. would want revenge, and to the U.S. public, one Muslim enemy is as good as another. He was right about that, and so, thanks to the emotionally charged rhetoric of war-mongering Republicans and the spineless reaction of Congressional Democrats (including Hilary Clinton), bin Laden got what he wanted.
By provoking the U.S. into invading Iraq in March of 2003, al-Qaida "won" the war.
Individually, I love our soldiers. The vast majority of them are good-hearted people who want to make this world better, and all of them believe that what they are doing is right and good. I hope they keep doing what they believe is right and good, and I hope that the Iraqi people are beginning to appreciate those intentions. However, our military is a weapon that was used on them, and the hand that wielded that weapon belongs to everyone who agreed to use that weapon in anger against an adversary who had not harmed us.
Our soldiers put themselves in harms way to try to bring peace to a shattered land. They are trying to create a safe environment for the Iraqis to build schools and improve their infrastructure; they bring toys and candy to the children. Those are all good things, but what I can't understand is this: Why does anyone expect that to make up for the mistake we made by invading in the first place? Would any of you forgive an army that rolled into our cities, killed our government, and allowed rampant looting, just because they then built us some schools? Would you look upon foreign soldiers with favor because they gave your kid a Hershey bar? Or a teddy bear?
No, you wouldn't.
I still refuse to believe that the Iraq War was about oil. If it was, then it failed. But I believe that the War was a political gamble, meant to cover up for a multitude of inadequacies that have been revealed by the events of the last several years. Judging by the words I hear from people like this YouTube veteran, it worked. There has been no progress in repairing or replacing Social Security, no reform in our abysmally unfair and opaque Immigration laws, and large steps backward in protecting our health and our natural resources.
And now, the Republicans want to give us their Second Choice a crack at things; the man they couldn't get behind 8 years ago. And even he isn't the main attraction in this election; the Base is being galvanized by a "yummy hockey mommy" who thinks that abortion is the most dire threat to our nation, and that Iraq is a Holy War that God wants us to fight while we continue to whore ourselves to the oil companies.
None of that is made right by the sacrifices of our soldiers. And none of that is made right by claiming a special moral high ground for veterans. If you are a veteran who feels hurt by the events of the last several years, you have my sympathy; but it gives you no political credibility. And it gives you no right to speak for me publicly.
My wife and I are veterans, and our message to Barack Obama is this: you have promised us change, and you have shown us a staggering amount of dignity during a very difficult time. In your acceptance speech to the National Convention, you pledged to get us off of our addiction to oil, relieve the tax burden on our working families, and to deal with socially divisive issues in a fair and pragmatic manner. You, sir, will get my vote, because I believe that these goals are possible, and no one else will say that.
And while I would never presume to speak for all veterans and soldiers, I guarantee I do speak for more than a few of them.
May the deity of your choice bestow blessings on everyone; because we certainly need them.