Thank God for Wikipedia. Without it, I would have mistaken Andrew J. Bacevich for a New Republic intern who just graduated from Brown, and I would have torn into his opinion piece in the Washington Post accordingly.
Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know he is a retired Armor Officer (Col.) who lost his son (also an Army Officer) in Iraq in 2007. So I will temper my comments with my sincere, heartfelt condolences and thanks to him.
But I still find his comments, well, disturbing. Let me quote:
"Speaking for myself, I believe that the troops would do well to ratchet down the self-regard. And when it comes to interpreting yellow ribbons and other “thank you for your service”testimonials, they might want to exhibit a bit more skepticism.
But there’s another question on which I’d be interested in hearing from younger veterans. It’s this: The world’s best military establishment didn’t win in Iraq, and it won’t win in Afghanistan. Why is that?"
I almost can't believe I have to explain this to a man of Mr. Bacevich's personal and professional experience, but most Americans understand the value of a standing army, even if they don't agree with a particular mission, a particular commander-in-chief or a particular war. If a tip and a thank you is appropriate for the guy that serves you fish fillet at Red Lobster, the occasional parade or yellow ribbon isn't too gratuitous for the men and women volunteering to be away from their families, killing and dying, if need be, for our flag, is it?
Because both officers and enlisted serve the same flag, I hate to bring up the difference between them unless necessary, but, well, maybe it's necessary here. A full-bird Colonel's pay is a lot more than those of us wearing a few stripes. Maybe O-6's are compensated enough that they could care less about a friendly handshake, a politician's shout-out or a free beer at an airport bar. But the young troops I've led sure appreciated it.
When Mr. Bacevich tells troops to put a lid on their "self-regard," I'll be honest - it's hard for me to kick away the soapbox. I am tempted to think that this is the kind of elitist, out-of-touch attitude so many enlisted guys hate about West Point grads. Where would we be without the kids who enlist out of high school, ignore the nay-sayers and the cool kids, just for the low-paying chance to be a part of something greater than themselves? Their self-regard is well-earned. All the moreso if they get a combat patch, earn a Combat Action or Infantry Badge, a Ranger tab or, God forbid (that is a joke) decide to become an officer.
My dad used to tell me that in World War II, girls used to look down on guys that hadn't served. Young men living stateside from 1941-1945 had better have a pretty good reason for not being overseas. Not so, now. Speaking from first-hand experience, you give up a lot when you join the military. It's not a great dating scene. You can't look at your friends' Facebook posts and compare lives with them - it's a lot easier to get married, buy a house and raise your family with weekends off when you're not in the Army.
When I graduated from Basic Training, the first phone call I got was from my bank telling me they wanted to repo my truck (fortunately, I'd stashed it in the high desert and they couldn't find it). That's how broke I was - I was losing money being in the military. But I believed in the mission and I felt called to serve my country. When I got on the plane from Basic Training to head to Advanced Individual Training a rabbi handed me two twenty dollar bills. Was I grateful? Fuck yeah I was. I actually teared up. Does Mr. Bacevich really think that I don't have a right to puff my chest out a little farther than those that spent the last thirteen years watching Family Guy and smoking up?
The way Mr. Bacevich ends his piece is a fine bit of nihilism. And it's bullshit. We did win in Iraq. I'm sorry, but Mr. Bacevich's son did not die in vain. That Barack Obama and Joe Biden failed to secure a status of forces agreement to ensure the peace dividends of our victory, is a travesty and a dishonor to both of them. Ditto for Afghanistan, which we should secure indefinitely.
Much like the preacher character in Zulu who uses Christianity as his lure to convice the outnumbered soldiers to abandon their post and their comrades, Mr. Bacevich is using misinformation, academic aloofness and the guise of common sense to cloak a callous frontal assault on the integrity, honor and legacy of troops he used to command. Why?
I'm not Mr. Bacevich's priest, mother or shrink, so I don't know.
I hope he does. Because if he is simply acting out of personal grief or professional anger then he has put a lot of troops in the crossfire of his intended targets. An officer should know better. A gentleman would.