As we have watched the war in Iraq evolve these past several years, a lot of parallels have been drawn to the Vietnam War. Even President George W. Bush recently made a comparison in arguing why it is important that we do not pull out of Iraq. Nevertheless, despite any similarities so far there has been one important way in which the current war differs from the one in Southeast Asia: that our troops are treated with respect. We must make sure that this respect continues, even as opposition to the war may remain strong among youth voters.
A recent San Francisco Chronicle article cited a Democracy Corps poll that showed the war in Iraq was one of several factors alienating youth voters from the president. In that June poll, nearly two-thirds of respondents voiced beliefs that the U.S. should begin withdrawing troops now and were against giving President Bush’s surge plan a chance at all.
Such opposition to the president’s policies is fine and a healthy element for a true democracy. And it is only to be expected that at the school named “most politically active” by the Princeton Review, students are likely to act on that opposition. GW students may write, give money or volunteer for candidates and organizations that work to end the war, and many may attend the upcoming D.C. protest. Yet through all of this activism, students must remember that it is not the individual troops who make the policies and decide where to send U.S. forces.
Protesters often seemed to blur that line during the Vietnam War, vilifying the soldiers who served as much, if not more, than the policymakers who sent them to Vietnam in the first place. Fortunately GW’s students, along with most college students across the country, have been vigilant thus far about separating the two parties. Students today seem to understand that the armed forces play a very different role from the president and Congress when it comes to perpetuating the war.
Yet words of respect aren’t enough. Simply saying that you “support the troops” doesn’t really mean a whole lot, no matter where your political allegiances lie. You have to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. Make sure that your representatives are pushing to get returning wounded soldiers the right amount of medical care, and that those leading troops on the battlefield are putting them in a position where they can make a difference. Give to an organization such as Fisher House or help out with one such as Soldier’s Angels.
And when situations get tough, don’t immediately write the troops off. Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said that the Marines involved in the killings at Haditha “killed innocent civilians in cold blood.” Now charges have been dropped against two of the Marines involved, and the investigating officer has recommended that they be dropped against a third as well. The troops in Iraq are under enormous pressure, and war is not a clean orderly thing. They are doing their best, and we should expect a high standard from them. Yet at the same time we must remember that mistakes and accidents do happen. And when a few truly decide to commit a terrible act, we must remember that they are not the majority and do not represent our military.
Sometimes we lose sight that many of those serving in Iraq are college-aged kids. While you and I may be at a party or visiting Manoush at 2 a.m. this weekend, there are kids our age thousands of miles away in Baghdad. Only they won’t be wondering about what’s in the GW sauce, but rather about which of their friends will be alive next week – for the next 15 months.
Even if you do not approve of what the soldiers are in Iraq for, it is hard not to appreciate their courage and dedication. So please, if you know a military family, offer to help out when one of the parents is deployed. Send a care package whether you know someone who is deployed or not. Don’t disparage veterans or those currently serving while you are opposing the war. And perhaps the most important thing that each of us can do is to say “thank you” if you pass a man or woman in uniform on the street.
The writer is a junior majoring in conflict and security.