Tuesday, November 09, 2004

VIETNAM VS. IRAQ

Vietnam has been brought up a lot in relation to the Iraq war. The specter of America’s first loss in conflict still haunts us decades later. The ghost of Vietnam was supposed to have been laid to rest in our stunning success in the first Persian Gulf War. But like the phoenix, Vietnam has risen again. Pundits wonder if we are becoming entrenched in a quagmire, as we had with Vietnam. Are we being bogged down in a guerrilla war with an elusive enemy and no exit strategy? Is history repeating itself?

But one way the Iraq war is different from Vietnam is the way our troops have been treated by those on the homefront. Many Vietnam vets did not receive the welcome they deserved. Some of those who were outraged over U.S. conduct in the war in Vietnam took their disgust out on returning troops. I have not seen that kind of behavior in the Iraq war. Yes, this war has brought out strong emotions from those who oppose it. Yes, there have been worldwide protests denouncing the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But from what I can tell, people have learned not to confuse the policy of the commander in chief with the troops he commands.

For this war, I have heard countless stories of random people going out of their way to help out returning soldiers. Last week, we had a meeting with our guys’ sergeant major, who was in town for R&R. He told us that while he and other soldiers were in transit at an airport, waiting for the next flight out, airline officials asked for passengers willing to give up their seat so the soldiers could get to their destination. Dozens volunteered. When the sergeant major landed at his next destination, the captain came on the intercom asking passengers to stay seated so the soldiers could gather their belongings and be off the plane before anybody else. An old man sitting next to the sergeant major told him if anyone got up, “I will kick their ass.” Guys who have gone on R&R tell my husband of strangers buying drinks for them. Earlier this year when I was flying home from a trip, a grandfatherly figure sitting next to me was making small talk. When he learned I lived on a military base, he asked me if my husband had served in Iraq. I told him he was there last year and was getting ready to leave again. He absorbed the information and a minute later he turned to me and said, “Please tell him thank you.” He then turned his head and didn’t say anything else for the remainder of the trip. But he had said all he needed to say.