Veter­ans de­serve your ser­vice

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Opinion -

Veter­ans Day and there­after is a good time for re­flec­tion on our mil­i­tary. This Novem­ber marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the armistice agree­ment end­ing World War I. Hor­ren­dous ca­su­al­ties in stale­mated trench war­fare dom­i­nated that con­flict on the Western front.

Com­bat killed mil­lions of men. Com­mem­o­ra­tion is vi­tal, and im­ma­ture po­lit­i­cal rhetoric should not dis­tract from the solem­nity and sig­nif­i­cance.

Ger­many was win­ning the war when the ar­rival of fresh United States forces turned the tide in 1918. Rus­sia, knocked out of the con­flict, sank into bloody civil war and a suc­cess­ful com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion. In the west, British and French troops were steadily be­ing driven back to the At­lantic Ocean when the Amer­i­cans ar­rived.

The ac­ri­mo­nious af­ter­math of the war in­cluded im­po­si­tion of con­fis­ca­tory set­tle­ment terms on Ger­many by the gov­ern­ments of Bri­tain and France. Amer­i­cans re­acted to that, and the shock of heavy ca­su­al­ties, by re­treat­ing to tra­di­tional iso­la­tion­ism. Chaos en­sued in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, and the Nazi Third Re­ich emerged in Ger­many, with fur­ther hor­ri­ble con­se­quences.

Be­fore en­try in World War II, most Amer­i­cans con­sid­ered our in­volve­ment in the ear­lier war to be mis­take. Only sev­eral months af­ter the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor did Amer­i­can pub­lic at­ti­tudes change.

U.S. lead­ers ben­e­fited from direct ex­pe­ri­ence in th­ese wars. Ev­ery U.S. pres­i­dent from Harry Truman through Ge­orge H.W. Bush was a vet­eran, in­clud­ing com­bat. That pro­vided in­sight cru­cial to ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship when the stakes were high­est.

The 1960 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign is es­pe­cially in­struc­tive. All four con­tenders, the vice pres­i­den­tial as well as pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, were com­bat veter­ans of World War II.

The Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., as a U.S. Navy lieu­tenant, com­manded a pa­trol boat struck by a Ja­panese de­stroyer. He led sur­viv­ing crew mem­bers to land, swim­ming for over a mile tow­ing a wounded com­rade.

Vice Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon, Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, also was a Navy of­fi­cer. He served on Bougainville, near New Guinea, and the scene of bru­tal com­bat un­til the sur­ren­der of Japan.

We never took Bougainville. Rather, U.S. forces hemmed in Ja­panese troops and con­tin­ued the drive north to Japan’s home is­lands.

Nixon was in an area bombed con­sec­u­tively for 28 out of 30 nights. He demon­strated im­pres­sive courage in res­cu­ing and aid­ing the wounded. Nixon’s ex­pe­ri­ence was less dra­matic than Kennedy’s but heroic.

Nixon’s run­ning mate was Henry Cabot Lodge, scion of a dis­tin­guished New Eng­land po­lit­i­cal fam­ily and grand­son of in­flu­en­tial U.S. Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, R-Mass. The younger Lodge was U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions dur­ing the Eisen­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Lodge spent years in the Army Re­serve as well as on ac­tive duty dur­ing World War II. In the last year of the war in Europe, he sin­gle-hand­edly cap­tured an armed Ger­man mil­i­tary pa­trol.

Sen. Lyn­don B. John­son, D-Texas, was Kennedy’s run­ning mate and his suc­ces­sor in the White House. Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, he se­cured ap­point­ment as a Navy of­fi­cer through po­lit­i­cal rather than reg­u­lar pro­fes­sional chan­nels, but he did serve.

Bi­og­ra­pher Robert Caro de­scribes vividly one in­ci­dent dur­ing a Pa­cific flight. John­son stood strad­dling a bay gun tur­ret in the air­craft as a Ja­panese fighter plane flew di­rectly at him, ma­chine guns fir­ing.

We should do more for veter­ans than ut­ter the pro forma “thank you for your ser­vice.” That mantra quickly loses sig­nif­i­cance when constantly, thought­lessly re­peated. Spend your time as well as money help­ing groups that sup­port veter­ans.

Our col­lec­tive mixed record in the 45 years since the end of the mil­i­tary draft makes this not only im­por­tant, but im­per­a­tive.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege and au­thor of “Af­ter the Cold War.”

Arthur I. Cyr

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