- Editorial Note: As we acknowledge the ten year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Americans are discussing how our attitudes have changed since we initiated that conflict. While it is hard for many of us to remember exactly what our feelings were at that time, it is easy for me. I wrote a column for the Columbia Star that was published during the last week of March 2003. This seems like a good time to share it.
If you’ve been watching the local news in the last month, you have seen footage of soldiers leaving for the Middle East. There are several military bases in South Carolina and the flow of soldiers oversees has been constant. Every time I see such a story, I think of a high school friend.
His name was Allan Gaines, but we called him Yank. His family moved south during his early teens and he never lost his accent. When he graduated from high school in 1967, he joined the Marines and left for Parris Island.
The rest of us stayed in touch, some writing letters for the first time in our lives. When Yank came home on leave before going to Viet Nam, he had the same look I see on television today. He was crisp, clean and confident; a well-trained warrior who was eager to go do his job and find out if he was man enough to live up to the legacy of his uniform. Yank joked with us over beers about how easy war would be and suggested a deer hunting technique as the best way to end the conflict rapidly.
“We’ll get some hounds and drive them toward us,” he said on his last night home. “We can wait by the Mekong River and shoot them as they appear.”
All the military people on camera today resemble the ones I remember from the late sixties. They are well trained and sure of themselves. Clear eyed and doubt free, they are the best we have to offer to the world and are ready to show everyone what it means to be an American soldier. I expect them to be ready and eager to go fight. It’s their job. Everyone dreams of a chance to perform under tough conditions. We all want to show our stuff.
I guess this vision that seems to appear every night on the news is why I worry about war with Iraq. I haven’t thought much about the motives of the people in charge, although I have a tendency to mistrust the very rich. They usually have selfish reasons for everything they do.
I don’t have a problem with getting rid of Sadaam. He is an evil man who is living a sadistic fantasy at the expense of an entire people. But is it our place, especially under the present circumstances, to take him out. It seems extreme for the United States, a country that has never invaded another country, to be looking to cast the first blow in this case. Especially when one takes a hard look at the evidence revealed so far and the existence of so many other tyrants who seem as dangerous.
I’m not in agreement with the pacifists and dreamers who think we can reason with such a man, or that war is never the answer. They are naive. Sometimes war is the correct answer and sometimes it is the only answer. But, I’ve seen little evidence that this is one of those times.
There is some irony in the fact that the loudest proponents of attacking Iraq speak feverishly of supporting the Military. Common sense tells you that the best way to support our soldiers is to keep them out of harm’s way.
Eight months after Yank left for Viet Nam, the call came. We were at a party on a Friday night when someone called to tell us that Yank had been killed. I remember no one knowing what to say, not only to Yank’s mother and sister, but to each other.
In the funeral home, I noticed where his face had been put back together with clay and makeup. I heard later that a mortar shell had exploded in his foxhole. Thirty years later, at the black granite wall in Washington, I rubbed my fingers over his name. Holding my grandson’s hand at the time, I broke down and cried like a little baby.
There is some belief that we will make short work of the Iraqi army. The general opinion of the supporters of this war is that it will be easy, much like the Gulf War ten years ago.
I hope that’s true, but worry that it may be more like the Viet Nam War. This time we aren’t fighting a shell-shocked army in the middle of the desert with low morale, retreating from a half-hearted invasion of one of their neighbors. We will be invading another country. For better or worse, it is their home and they might want to defend it. There is little doubt that we will win, but at what cost?
How long will we have to stay? How much more incentive will we give to the extremists who hate us already? How many innocent civilians will die? How many young men like Yank Gaines will be lost in the process? And what do we get in return?
- Image: U.S. Army (USA) M1A1 Abrams MBT (Main Battle Tank), and personnel from A Company (CO), Task Force 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment (1-35 Armor), 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division (AD), pose for a photo under the "Hands of Victory" in Ceremony Square, Baghdad, Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Hands of Victory monument built at the end of the Iran-Iraq war marks the entrance to a large parade ground in central Baghdad. The hand and arm are modeled after former dictator Saddam Husseins own and surrounded with thousands of Iranian helmets taken from the battlefield. The swords made from the guns of dead Iraqi soldiers, melted and recast into the 24-ton blades by Technical Sergeant John L. Houghton, Jr., United States Air Force - public domain via Wikimedia Commons.