ONE AMERICAN GRANDMOTHER'S VIEWPOINT
Recent events among my extended genealogy internet family have prompted me to write this. The current war we are involved in, Operation Iraqi Freedom, has been the discussion of most households in this country. These discussions have spilled over into work places, friendships, mailing lists. You can walk into most stores (at least in my city) and find open discussion about the war. Unfortunately, when feelings run so deep, feelings can and do get hurt. Tempers flare, arguments ensue, and who ultimately gets hurt? Our troops, the men and women of several countries, who are in direct harm's way. We must NEVER forget them, and we must NEVER stop our support of them.
I was recently asked by a younger neighbor of mine my viewpoint of not only this war, but events of my lifetime that have shaped me. She specifically asked about Viet Nam, as she knew my age. As I sat down on the apartment steps, I silently chuckled to myself that if any or all of my children had been there, they would have sat back with their feet up, with a couple cold drinks, for the duration of my "soap box speech".
Viet Nam was a horrible quagmire in military history, spanning four U.S. presidencies and involving both major political parties. It ended in what some consider total defeat, others call it political defeat. I do not even pretend to know the full scope of the Viet Nam war. In my opinion, we sent our troops over there with their hands tied. They were not allowed to fight the war properly. I think under the circumstances given, they did a splendid job. We are still feeling the sting for wounds from that war. Well over 2000 personnel are in the Missing in Action classification. Close to 60,000 Americans lost their lives. American POWs received horrible treatment from their captors, and many never returned. Were we wrong to be there? Absolutely NOT. Our motives were right, proper and moral. Politics unfortunately played a role, and our methods of fighting a war were outdated at the very least, questionable and constrained as well.
The anti war protesters of the sixties hurt a lot of people, especially the American troops. They were hit with rotten eggs and produce as they both left and returned from the war. Many were assaulted when they went to the draft office in their area. I am not a veteran myself, so those stories I will leave for the veterans to tell. I was however a wife of one. Here is what I experienced:
I was pregnant with my oldest child when my husband was shipped out. I went home to stay with my mother. My father was in a nursing home. During the 15 months or so that I lived there, I lit a candle in the window every night. My mother and I paid for two plate glass window replacement windows due to bricks coming through the window. Did I remove the candle? NO.
At one point, about seven months pregnant, my mother and I drove to a local shopping center in my car, which had a Marine Corps emblem and base sticker in the window. Parking the car, and walking toward the stores, I realized there was a peace demonstration going on. They had seen my car. I held my head up, as did my Mother. We walked through the lines, with chants of baby killer, war monger, and other far worse slogans. I knew my car was "toast". After the police dispersed the lines, we went back out. Fortunately, I only had to replace windows. The car had a few dents, scratches and of course anti war slogans written all over with whatever they could find. Other incidents happened while driving the car, but this one sticks out in my mind. Did I stop driving the car or remove the stickers? NO.
We did receive the periodic threatening phone calls, to which we simply hung up. Did we change the phone number? NO.
My husband returned alive, but perhaps not totally well. I believe he is still experiencing problems today that are a result of the war. We are no longer married. If I had it to do over again, would I change anything? He was already in the Marine Reserves when I met him. It did not deter me then, and certainly would not deter me in a repeat. Would I conduct myself differently in the face of protesters? I might argue with them more openly, but I would hold my head just as high as I did then. My emotions run very deep on how the war was/was not fought, the conduct of our government during and after in relation to the health of the veterans, the status of the MIA/POW personnel. These emotions, however, do not blind me as to the morality of freedom and related issues.
Since the start of the current Operation Iraqi Freedom, I have relived some of these experiences and more unsaid here. Recently as my husband (who is an Army veteran of Viet Nam) and I headed to a shopping center (the first time since the war started), I felt a pit grow in my stomach wondering if here is where I would once again be confronted with picket lines and anti-war demonstrators. We were not. I would have walked through the lines as I did 34 years ago (almost to the day) with my head held high, and my beliefs in God and the rights of human beings intact. I didn't need to this time around. I was relieved, and perhaps knew that somehow society has made some progress.
In the course of history of mankind, wars have been fought for various and asundry reasons. Some were justified and moral, others were not. There have been individual dictators, like Saddam Hussein, who have inflicted horrors upon their own people as well as others in their way. Wars have had to be fought to stop such men. Operation Iraqi Freedom is one of those wars. The question many of my generation are asking is this - did we learn and grow from Viet Nam?
Perhaps the answer to that question lies in a broader question - has mankind learned over the course of centuries? I believe the answer is yes. The study of my family history and genealogy in general has taught me several things -
Freedom is not free. Freedom is a right that every human being should have. And in obtaining that freedom, sacrifices must be made. Our own American Revolution was fought with great losses, but with determination and vision. I recently read an article about San Francisco policeman being ordered to not wear American flag insignias while trying to establish order at an anti-war rally. It is my opinion that all American policeman should be required to wear the American flag insignia because of what it stands for. Those protesters have a right to gather and protest in a peaceful manner. That right is represented by the American flag. Why protesters burn it is beyond me - it represents one of very freedoms they are enjoying by protesting. Their right to protest stops, however, when laws are broken and the rights of others are infringed upon.
Another recent article sees a correlation between the American Revolution and the Iraqi conflict - only the author believes the correlation is that we Americans are not consistent in our beliefs. We fought our own revolution against the British, yet are waging an unjust war in Iraq. That argument is a huge insult to our ancestors who fought in the American Revolution against British tyranny and rule. I am a granddaughter (on my mother's side), several times removed, of a Sargeant QuarterMaster under George Washington; of several men who fought at King's Mountain; and other men and women who boldly stood up against the oppression of the British. We colonies did not have freedom of speech, nor did we have freedom of religion. Other freedoms and rights that we take so matter of factly today were simply not there.
The evolution of the British government is in fact a steadfast monument to the dedication and beliefs of individuals who have managed to forge a new Britain from within. My father's parents were first born American children of immigrant parents - one family from England around 1870 and one from Scotland around 1875. Somewhat latecomers on the American scene so to speak. I could speak volumes about the deep respect and desire for freedom that I have in my blood.
Religious freedom is one of humanity's basic rights. Apparently the belief in it runs strong in my veins. One grandfather, several times removed, became one of the founders of the first non-denominational bible society in Scotland in 1813. Another grandfather, another line from Germany, was a brother of Martin Luther, the Catholic priest who split with the church and became the founder of the Lutheran Church. That particular line came to the Massachusetts colony in the 1630s, during another time when people sought religious freedom. Another grandfather, different line, was a Catholic who left England for Maryland in 1680, seeking religious freedom. That line later fled the British oppression in Maryland before the Revolution, again seeking relative freedom of religion in Pennsylvania. I have Scot and Irish Catholic and Protestant lines as well, all of whom were seeking religious freedom as well as a better life.
I had a great uncle who was gassed on the battlefield during World War I. He suffered the effects of that for the rest of his life. World War II saw chemical atrocities, as well as Hitler's atrocites on people. I have seen references to chemicals known to be used during Korea. We now know the effects of Agent Orange, a defolient used by the American government in Viet Nam. BUT on the other side of that coin, I have seen references to chemical agents used by the enemy. Let's be real and frank here folks. I would imagine every army in the history of man has tried to figure out a way to kill in mass the enemy. In Roman times, the Roman Army I believe was known to try to contaminate however they could water and food sources of the enemy. And history has shown that at least one Roman emporor was poisoned by an enemy. Somewhere, I think I have read where Napoleon tried to poison the food source in an enemy camp. War is not pretty. Politics is not pretty. Sometimes they combine into very ugly. It has become an absolute necessity of modern governments to eliminate the use of what is termed as weapons of mass destruction, chemical agents being one of the primary ones. Operation Iraqi Freedom is a perfect example of that need to eliminate WMD. Saddam Hussein has not only used chemicals against his military opponents but against his own people. This has been in addition to the torture and murder of his own people. I can look at the suits our soldiers are wearing in Iraq to protect themselves from chemicals etc, and I am in awe. My son is now in possession of a World War I gas mask similar to the one my great uncle was wearing in France. Perhaps it is the same one, but we don't know. I certainly would not want to be protected by that one. Technology in that particular field has certainly advanced.
Operation Iraqi Freedom does however help rebuild America's faith in its military and its government. Why?
In one of the wisest decisions I have seen, independent journalists by the hundreds have been "embedded" into military units, bringing independent as well as immediate coverage of the front - good and bad. It is only logical and wise to note that some operations are not broadcast until after the fact, for the safety and security of those involved. No where have I seen a journalist complain about these constraints or imply that they have been told what to say. What does this do? Let's go back to Viet Nam a moment. There were claims of American atrocities, Vietnamese atrocities, journalists reporting biased coverage (one way or the other). If there had been embedded journalists with Lt. Calley's unit in VN, perhaps the truth would have been known from the beginning. He was accused of atrocities. The soldiers claiming civilians including women and children were acting as the enemy.
We do not leave our fallen or captured comrades. I still say a prayer for the missing and their families from Viet Nam, and over the years have added to that prayer the souls of the missing from all the previous wars. Viet Nam was not new to the missing in action problem, or to the POWs who were not returned. There will always be casualties. Our military leaders are doing everything they possibly can to reduce casualties and to retrieve missing and captured. Every conflict we have been in since Viet Nam has seen fewer and fewer casualties. The modern technology we are using is a wonderment to all of us, especially those of us who are older. I can remember my Mother commenting on the technological advances between her childhood and her old age (1909-1989). I believe technology in the last years since 1989 has far outpaced the 80 years of progress in her lifetime.
We are fighting a war, and at the same time doing everything humanly possible to reduce and/or eliminate civilian collateral damage. That is difficult when you are fighting an enemy who is using their own civilians as human shields. There is a certain irony, an awesome irony, that we are fighting enemy soldiers, while at the same time our medics are caring for our wounded, the wounded soldiers of the enemy whom we have captured and any and all civilians we can reach. It is our military who is bringing in water and food to the Iraqi people - people who have been abused and malnourished by the their own government, long before this war started. We are fighting a tyrant's army, a tyrant who is part of the bigger picture of worldwide terror - the same type of terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 killing innocent civilians. Those terrorists did not care about our civilians, nor was it those terrorists who helped rescue the survivors, care for the wounded and dig out the killed. I am proud of the way our soldiers are conducting themselves as well as how the war is being fought. Did we learn from Viet Nam? Yes, most definitely. Was Viet Nam the end result of learning from previous wars? Yes, most definitely. Maybe someday there will be an ideal world with no war, no suffering, no hunger or pain. Meanwhile, we can only hope and pray that mankind continues to evolve into something better.
One of Scotland's heroes from it's past is William Wallace. Although the movie Braveheart dramatized some points, fictionalized some, there is one point about it that captured the minds of millions and drove home one specific point. While being tortured, and ultimately drawn and quartered alive, Wallace in response to his torturors request to swear allegiance to the Crown screamed out one word - FREEDOM. That one word has rung around the world in every sector of the world for centuries upon centuries. Men who fought for freedom, and died for its cause.
A few more thoughts for everyone to think about:
Dixie Chicks - I do not care what their personal views are about any politician. I do however care that the one member made such a blatant error which ultimately affected our troops. The President is the Commander in Chief of our armed services.
Sen John Kerry - I do not agree with some of his political views. However, in my opinion his comment that this country also needed a "regime change" was totally uncalled for. No presidency in our country is a regime. Our elections do not represent a "regime change". Therefore, his choice of words was poor. And his choice to start an election campaign during the height of this war was also poor. The first primary is almost a year away. Sen. Kerry's role in the Viet Nam war should have been properly scrutinized years ago, not for speaking out against the war but for perjuring himself to the U.S. Congress and openly meeting with the enemy in Paris. Ms. Jane Fonda was another of the Viet Nam era protesters who should have been closely scrutinized and perhaps prosecuted for treason for her trip to Hanoi and her propaganda speeches from there condemning out troops.
Comments about President Bush being a chicken thief who stole the last election: The last election was the closest in history, with a recount being done. No matter what your politics, like the outcome or not, he became the President of the United States for four years. One year from November there will be another election, just as there has been every four years from the start of this country. President Bush might be re-elected for four more years - the maximum he can serve. Or he might be defeated by an opponent. That man whoever he is will then be our president for the next four years. There is a trend here folks. Open your eyes. Elections are every four years. You can scream about voting problems, discrepancies, what have you. Those too have been a part of every election since elections were invented. Fortunately, technology has evolved to allow us to begin correcting them. Are we perfect? No, but we continue to strive in that direction.
So many discussions seem to get around to the elder, former President George Bush. He was President during the Gulf War in 1991. And yes, that war was stopped before it should have been stopped. Thousands of Shiiate Muslims were tortured and killed because of that. If you will take the time to really study that war, you will find that the decision to stop was in fact brought about by pressure from many countries, including Muslim countries. We were there to liberate Kuwait, not Iraq. One can go farther back in time and argue that if we had been allowed to properly fight in Viet Nam, thousands of South Vietnamese would not have later died at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Or how about if we go farther back into Korea and finish it off rather than split it? We stopped McArthur in WWII. Oh I could go on, but I won't. Former President Bush is not responsible for the death of those people in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is. It is time that the world leaders begin to form these coalitions to stop people like Saddam Hussein. And do it properly, and completely.
Thank you for reading my opinion. I only have one question remaining for any and all: I have tied yellow ribbons on the railings of my apartment balcony where they will remain for the duration. Have you done something similar?
Mary Thompson Saban
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This page was last updated 01/08/2014.