Friday, April 1, 2011

Are we a nation at war or not?


"We are not at war," a veteran who served in the Army for eight years told me Wednesday in Maryland. "Only some of us are."
I wasn't initially sure how to feel about that statement. The painful events of the next 48 hours showed that he was on to something.

So begins today’s post on The Unknown Soldiers, a blog by columnist Tom Sileo. Tom gives a brief bio of six 101st Airborne soldiers killed in Afghanistan on March 30 and asks why we didn’t hear about this on the news. It’s a good question. Seems like a couple years ago we heard lengthy reporting about every US casualty and a constant running count of our total losses in Iraq and Afghanistan – but no more.

For older people who think of war through the prism of Vietnam, it is important to make the point that these are different times. These are not wide-eyed 19 year old draftees, or men who are out of options. These are professional soldiers who could do other things if they chose to do so. These are men who have enlisted or re-enlisted, sometimes several times, since the war in Afghanistan began in the aftermath of 9/11 almost 10 years ago. 

Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Burgess, 29
Pfc. Dustin J. Feldhaus, 20
Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, 28
Staff Sgt. Frank E. Adamski III, 26
Spc. Jameson L. Lindskog, 23
Pvt. Jeremy P. Faulkner, 23

They had parents, wives and girlfriends, some of them had children. Spc Lindskog was a combat medic, a 68-Whiskey (Army MOS 68W), who was caring for his wounded comrades when he was killed. I wonder if we’ll see any politicians or pundits up-in-arms about this violation of the Geneva Conventions? I’m guessing not.

While I don’t know the circumstances of these soldiers, I do know personally many soldiers who have volunteered to go to Afghanistan and Iraq. In my reserve unit, we recently had one of our officers who transferred to another unit just so he could go back and keep doing his job. It’s not bloodlust or crazed desire for the ugliness of war. It’s quiet professionalism and a sense that there is a burden that needs to continue to be carried, even when their friends and neighbors seem to have lost interest. I’m reminded of my own post from October 2010 about Medal of Honor recipient Robert Miller, where I quoted George Orwell speaking of “rough men ready to do violence” on our behalf.

I’ll end with Tom’s closing words from his post:

Are we a nation at war? I still believe the answer is yes. Yet we are also a nation at a crossroads. We cannot think about war only when it's convenient or when someone from our town is killed. To stand by as this pattern develops not only dishonors the brave men and women volunteering to fight, but puts at risk everything they fight for.
To me, being a nation at war means uniting behind our troops and paying attention to their sacrifices. The time for America to do both is now.