In search of honor
On Nov. 11 many spoke kind words for our troops on Veterans Day, but speeches do little when actions that matter most are in painfully short supply. Bear with me if I remain disappointed in our country’s real support of the men and women who wear the uniform.
Just to be clear, I’m referring to veterans-in-process, the 1 percent who currently fight the wars we conveniently ignore until TV news forces on us a few uncomfortable moments. But never mind, because we are practiced in studiously returning our attention to the economy, rising tuition cost at universities and the juvenile maneuvers that pass for politics in our nation’s capital.
When you consider the stark contrast between the worker bees in our armed forces and the clowns we elect to serve as our leaders, it almost seems that America has forgotten the meaning of honor.
If you believe there is no honor in war, I would differ no matter what I think of the war itself. Every time one of our combatants leaves family behind to deploy, he or she is putting duty above self. Every time he willingly puts himself in danger to protect his comrades, a routine daily occurrence in combat, he is sacrificing his own interest for a larger purpose. That is the very meaning of honor to me, no matter what the dictionary says. The sad thing is we at home do not reciprocate. It seems we don’t even try.
When President George Bush pulled the trigger of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were no spending cuts or tax increases to pay for the war. In keeping with his predecessors’ practice, he sent the bill to our children in the form of debt, thereby avoiding the backlash of public opinion that is predictable when we dip into voters’ pocket. Our troops did a masterful job fighting as directed and some died doing their job. Tell me where the honor lies.
When President Obama’s generals recommended a surge of troops in Afghanistan the President straddled two opposing political camps, authorizing most of the requested troops while at the same time announcing to our enemy when our troops would begin their withdrawal.
Most sixth graders could tell you why you don’t disclose to an enemy when you plan to stop fighting, and our troops in combat have borne that disadvantage now for over a year. Playing politics with the lives of our troops is devoid of honor.
While presidents, admirals and generals plot the doomed strategy of turning a 7th century wasteland into a functioning democracy, it is our men and women whose boots are on the ground paying the price. Their family lives are sacrificed as they are sent to war zone tours three, four or five times to get the job done while we at home spend our time griping about falling real estate prices or plotting where and when to hit the next sale before Christmas. Who earns the honor here?
At the highest levels of the White House and Pentagon, rules of engagement are created to ensure a more gentle war, tying the hands of our troops in combat, withholding the overwhelming force that victory requires since success is measured these days by public relations yardsticks.
Our troops are required to take elevated risks in order to protect civilians, holding fire on an enemy using human shields, long delaying close air support in a firefight while remote lawyers go through their checklist, demonstrating to the locals our compassion in many ways even though they see it as weakness. Flag-draped coffins coming home to Dover are apparently just part of the cost of positive world opinion. Who earns the badge of honor by your measure?
Now Washington is rolling steadily toward the abyss of making radical cuts in the Defense budget, triggered by failure of the deficit commission to reach agreement on deficit reduction. Dishonorable is too kind a word here for the scoundrels who use your money to buy your vote with promises, all so they can remain in office. With the background thought of our troops doing their duty in a shooting war, consider these events while keeping a close watch on your gag reflex.
This President’s spending spree bloated America’s already-excessive spending by 25 percent, but he squalls like a stuck hog at the very notion of spending cuts.
His mantra that the rich need to pay more is predictable as a Democrat tactic of pitting the classes against each other to gain favor with the largest number of voters. But it is particularly egregious since nearly half of Americans pay no income tax at all, receiving subsidies instead.
It is human nature to demand more-more-more from government, and politicians are either too dim-witted to realize we are sliding down a slippery slope, or do not care so long as their own re-election is secured. Anybody see any honor here?
While politicians play games at home serving themselves, there are young Americans sweating, grunting, straining in the field under oppressive weight as they come under fire and must patiently wait for approval to shoot.
Our news media is transfixed on the political tug-of-war between parties over this budget mess, and I must say the Republicans’ only virtue is they don’t stink quite so bad as the Democrats. But think about this.
If the Republicans suddenly prevailed on everything they are asking for, it won’t solve a thing, they are just tinkering at the margin, only trying to reduce the deficit slightly, which would merely slow down by a tiny bit the pace at which America is hurtling toward fiscal Armageddon.
Republicans are not guilty because they refuse to compromise with Democrats to raise taxes. They are guilty because they are not fighting harder to rip the guts out of horrendous and wasteful spending. They are part of the problem, too. No honor there either.
The threat of decimating the Defense budget in the middle of a war looms while mountains of our money are poured down ratholes. In March the GAO issued a report of massive budgetary waste, duplication and overlap, like 15 different agencies dealing with food safety and over 80 federal programs pouring money into economic development efforts, just two samples among many. Among all the duplication, overlap and waste, how many programs have been scrapped since that report? None. Not even a whiff of honor here.
I wonder if anyone else noticed the news media’s reaction to Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Cain’s plan is too simplistic to gain my confidence even though it would likely be a heck of an improvement over the status quo. But the news media was quick to disparage that plan because for the half of Americans who pay no income tax, this plan would be a tax increase, as if they are entitled to their free ride.
There seems to be a mental ratchet effect on entitlement expectations in America, perpetually upward. Perish the thought that everyone should contribute something so we all have some skin in the game.
With generations conditioned to angrily demand, “Where’s mine!” and “I want more!” and the cowardice of politicians unwilling to tell voters we have to curtail all our entitlements or suffer the fate of Greece, what possible chance do we have of keeping our military strong? I won’t insult you by asking where the honor lies here.
To cap it off, the Veterans Administration is apparently focused more on self-preservation than serving vets who deserve VA benefits. The VA system is rife with frauds and phonies receiving benefits, both medical care and disability compensation, draining resources that should go to the ones who have earned benefits.
As just one small example that should be relatively easy for the VA to repair, there are about 300 “veterans” receiving special VA benefits for POWs from the 1990 Gulf War even though we had less than 50 POWs in that war. How hard can it be to separate the real POWs from the frauds in that war?
But the VA resists all attempts by Congressional investigators and its own inspector general to ferret out frauds and phonies, by all appearances protecting its “customer base” as the WWII generation is rapidly dying, the Korea and Vietnam generations seriously aging and the rest are smaller in number from an all-volunteer force.
You would think the service organizations would encourage the VA to crack down to preserve resources for those who deserve benefits, but they also are protective and loudly protest any such effort. Meanwhile, Congress is cowardly as usual, loathe to press the matter since a backlash would accuse members involved of being anti-veteran.
I take no pleasure in telling you this story as the VA has given me very good medical care, but the stink stacks up with no honor in sight for the VA.
Our troops in uniform have been over-used and over-exposed to personal risk, now the most combat experienced ever. They deserve the best from us, but we give them politically-driven wars to fight, we give them rules of engagement that sacrifice their safety in favor of civilians who would turn on them at the slightest provocation, we value world opinion more than our own troops’ lives, and while they sacrifice and risk death to do the duty we assign them, we can’t even manage our budget at home to make sure they are adequately funded. We even let the VA fund frauds and phonies, draining the pool of benefits that should be available to the real vets.
But we do make supportive speeches on Veterans Day, completing our obligation for another year.
Have you felt your nausea rising along with mine? Pardon me, I need to quickly find a secluded place to puke before I resume my futile search for honor here at home in America.
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]