Sunday, December 23, 2007

Home By Christmas, and Other War Myths

Anyone who is even a casual student of military history has hardly to hear the words before letting a laugh escape. "Home by Christmas" simply cannot be taken seriously by anyone who knows their stuff. Why, you ask? Because it's an all-too-common promise, and one that, judging at least by the wars I've studied, has rarely if ever been fulfilled.

George Washington believed, in June of 1775, before the now-famous Declaration of Independence had even been signed, that he and his troops would be 'home by Christmas', even in the fall-though admittedly, it was before he had fully taken charge of the Continental Army and knew what he might have to expect. One can imagine he tried to share this optimism with his soldiers-but the very belief in a short war hurt morale by the time winter had actually come, with desertion rampant. (The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2007.)

When the Civil War first broke out, proud sons showing off their new Confederate Army uniforms were only too happy to tell their mothers, "We'll be home by Christmas", as did young men in blue kissing their wives and girlfriends goodbye and heading for the Union camps. After all, Lincoln and Davis had both told each of their sides that the war would take only a few months. Each mobilized only enough troops to last until summer. Both sides, encouraged by their leadership, thought that their fighting spirit and ideals would be enough to get the job done. Instead, they would be plunged into terrible fighting, brother against brother, for inch after painful inch. They would learn deprivation and starvation, while war profiteers on both sides rejoiced, often sending moldy food and uniforms already decrepit in their boxes.

In 1914, in Flanders, troops who had been told by the British government that "our boys will be home by Christmas", only to find themselves fighting protracted trench warfare , improvised the well-known "Christmas Truce", where the two sides simply stopped shooting at each other for days. The leadership on both sides had already rejected the idea of a truce, proposed by the Pope, as 'impossible'. But the soldiers, tired of a war begun by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, had other ideas. German and British soldiers alike joined in No-Man's-Land to play games, exchange gifts, and shoot at the stars when their hysterical generals forced them to shoot at something. They tended to their dead, and dreamed of a time when they would, in fact, be home for Christmas. That day would be, despite optimistic promises, four bloody years in coming.

Though no one in Europe would be foolish enough to say it, Americans in World War II also thought that they would be home by Christmas-at least the second one, if not the first. Delaying years into getting involved in the second Great War, once Pearl Harbor was attacked, soldiers, sailors and marines all believed that their might alone, the grand United States entering the field, would rescue our allies and have everyone. Not in the mere 18 days after Pearl Harbor, of course, but surely by the next year. Again, after the landing at Normandy, it was believed that the war would be over by Christmas. No such luck, again-World War II took an atomic bomb to bring V-J day about (Victory in Japan). Meanwhile, the other side sent taunting leaflets about the false promises, bringing sorrow rather than family and joy each Christmas, reminding the GIs that they were, in fact, still enduring hardship rather than being home.

And the Korean War, too often forgotten by the people of today. General MacArthur promised in November of 1950 "tell the troops that when we get to the Yalu River they can all go home. You will be home by Christmas" as he started the "Home for Christmas" offensive. Of course, the Yalu offensive had just started, when November 25 proved him wrong-Chinese troops attacked the Eighth army and X Corps at Chosin. It was only to get worse-for anyone who is unaware of this fact, the Korean War was never actually won. In fact, the Korean War is still not over-an armistice was declared, but no peace. That is why we still maintain American soldiers at the demilitarized zone, pointing weapons back at the North Koreans. Currently, we maintain a force of-erring on the low side-roughly 26,000 soldiers in Korea. Our current President says he would like to turn Iraq into a situation similar to Korea, which is truly frightening when you consider that number. That is a large-scale permanent commitment, and means that roughly 1/5-1/6 of the forces currently in Iraq would be likely to still remain. It is over fifty years later, and we still maintain that the South Korean military is not strong enough to oppose them unaided. How long must it then be for Iraq? Will our children and our children's children still see money, resources, and fine military personnel sucked away into that place of eternal turmoil?

Let's look at Vietnam now, during which war was said, ""It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and be home by Christmas" (Ronald Reagan, interview in the Fresno Bee, 10 October 1965) Instead, Vietnam, too, was a long, bloody war, a war in which civilians could as easily be the enemy, a war in which most soldiers did not live through their tours and entire platoons could be decimated by a single engagement. It was said to be waged to prevent the "Domino Effect", and the Gulf of Tonkin incident ensured that a revenge-hungry public would be eager to send their boys. And indeed, the American people cheerfully sent their sons, husbands, and brothers to that war-but when the casualty figures began to rise, realized what it was they had given their authority to and withdrew it. Would the American people have knowingly given their approval to a protracted and difficult war? We'll never know-they were never offered the opportunity to decide with clear eyes.

Does anyone remember Kosovo? We were originally promised that the troops in Bosnia would be gone by Christmas 1995. What year is it? Does anyone remember? Can anyone tell me: Are the troops all gone? Can anyone say "Camp Bondsteel"? It surfaced briefly in the news, there's at least a chance for people to remember it. That's right, it is now 12 years after the Christmas troops were promised to be all gone. It still hasn't happened yet, and I'm not sure it ever will.

In May 2003, just two short months after the Iraqi conflict began, George W. Bush stood in front of an aircraft carrier and declared "Mission Accomplished". Of course the troops would be home by Christmas. How could they not? Photographs and video of the Iraqis tearing down Saddam Hussein's statue were shown all over the world. Hopes were high among an ill-educated populace that the soldiers would return soon, after heroically defeating an oppressive regime. Few if any knew of the complicated internal politics that the United States would soon wade into-and few had any idea of the severe violence about to erupt.

"Home by Christmas", and other promises of a short war, do more harm than they help. They, and other similar expressions by leadership, are used to excite the troops and citizens. Citizens are eager to send their loved ones off to a war which will be over quickly, the soldiers returning covered with glory. Were the citizens of the United States told that they were about to enter into a war, a war which might take years, with little or nothing to show for it, they might think twice. They might even question their leadership. But the promise of a short war makes them believe they are resisting foolishly-after all, little or no danger or hardship will actually erupt.

The American people were promised a short war. They were promised a war in which the United States soldiers, by virtue of their outstanding training, and superior weapons-power, would accomplish their goals and be home shortly afterwards. They were promised a war that could not, would not, take place. Instead, American soldiers are ill-trained and ill-equipped for this prolonged war-and serving two or three combat tours apiece, only 5,700 of them are promised to be "Home By Christmas".

We can only hope that they will learn from this expensive, and costly, mistake.

And for fellow troops currently serving far away from home who are not permitted the luxury of leave to be with your family-God bless you all, may your Christmas be as easy as it may, and may you soon return.

The Army Values Support IVAW

A lot of people question how I can be a sergeant in the Army, giving my oath true weight, and believing in its values, and still be a member of IVAW.

It's easy. I believe in the Army's purpose-it is to defend our country and protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I don't think its purpose is foreign wars we can't win. Its true purpose is noble, and has been subverted by armchair soldiers, politicians who have never had to serve. They don't know these values, and they don't live them-but I do. And here's why they support, rather than contradict, what I'm doing now as a member of IVAW.

Loyalty: Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit, and fellow soldiers.

Nowhere in this list does it say "the current leadership of your country, and their political decisions". I am loyal to my fellow soldiers; I do not want them to die in a purposeless war. I am loyal to the Army; I do not want it to be weakened on multiple fronts and taken away from its true purpose, defense of the nation. I am loyal to the Constitution; a Constitution which is under attack by men who have not sacrificed to protect it. I bear true faith and allegiance to these, most particularly the Constitution which founded our nation.

Duty: Fulfill your obligations

Our highest obligations as soldiers is our obligation to our country and the flag we salute. Our obligation as citizens and patriots compels us to defend our country in any way we can-against its destruction as well as its dishonor. The Iraq War, and the way it is being prosecuted, dishonors us in the eyes of the world, and even worse, dishonors us to ourselves.

Respect: Treat people as they should be treated.

Treat the people of the United States as well as the people of Iraq with respect. They deserve to be treated according to their status: if they are prisoners of war, then treat them with the full dignity accorded POWs. If they are criminals, then give them trials. Innocent until proven guilty: we do not lose our values when we step away from our shores.

Selfless Service: Put the welfare of the Nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.

Being a member of IVAW is hard. It is hard to stand up, to devote effort and time to an organization committed to what is right, when your leadership so firmly believes that it is wrong. It's hard to face the intimidation and harassment that many members of the active duty military face when they begin to speak out on what they feel. It's hard to stand up and tell your higher ups that they are committing crimes. But the welfare of the Nation, our continued survival as an honorable country, and the continued survival of the Army depends on some of us standing up, and saying, "Sir, no Sir!" That we will not participate in illegal acts, and we will report them when and where we see them. We will not train our soldiers to commit them, and will train our soldiers to follow the honorable path. And the honorable path now, the hard service, means standing up and speaking the truth, so that legislators can begin to realize it, and bring us home.

Honor: Live up to Army Values

Honor is living up to all the Army Values, but it is even older than that. It is the thing you have when you have nothing else left. It is all you need: it should be the cornerstone of a soldier. It is phrased as living up to all the Army Values, because if you lack even one, you cannot be an honorable soldier. It is the ability to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you have done all that you can, and that you have not had to reproach yourself for anything.

Our leadership is currently dishonorable. By their bending of the torture legislation to allow what they want to take place, they are attempting to put a stain upon our honor that will take at least a generation to erase. As soon as our soldiers have fulfilled their usefulness to them, leadership shuffles them away, with "personality disorders" instead of PTSD treatment. Benefits are cut, while contractors reach huge rewards. This is not taking care of the people who have given their all to the country. It is dishonorable, and the only way to restore that honor is to stand up against the people who are doing so and will do so again.

Integrity: Do what is right, legally and morally.

The things that the political leadership of this country are trying to do right now are neither legal nor moral. The acceptance of torture, the belief that once Americans go beyond their borders, they no longer have to hold to the beliefs that shaped our nation, 'baiting' with weapons caches, and other such tactics at the very least skirt the fine line of legality: they are definitely not moral. Claiming that it is okay to treat people dishonorably because they are not an organized force fighting against us is simply wrong, as is the argument that they are not citizens and therefore do not deserve the protections of the Constitution. We are the good guys! We do the right thing, even if others don't, and if our leadership does not understand that, it needs to. It needs to pull out of this war, and cease its immoral actions, to bring itself in line with the country's beliefs and principles.

Personal Courage: Face fear, danger, or adversity (physical or moral)

It does not take physical courage to stand up and fight against injustice in this fashion. Most members have not been physically attacked-the cowards who attack people for their beliefs have gone after a father of a dead servicemember instead (Carlos Arredondo). But it does take moral courage. It takes moral courage to stand up for what you know to be true and right, moral courage to say that the country is steering in the wrong direction, and you are committed by your oath to turn it around. It takes moral courage to resist a war that your leadership believes in, or to stand against your entire platoon and state that you will not treat a prisoner with anything less than full dignity. And it takes moral courage to be counted, here, to let people insult you for perceived cowardice, when the truth is that you, like I, may not be against all wars, all places, all times.

But hopefully you, like I, like many committed and dedicated members of the military community, are against this one.