Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

March 14, 2008

Should We Thank Veterans For Our Freedom ?

by Doug Mataconis

A reader passed on to me a link that asks a question with what would seem like an an obvious answer, but at least one libertarian thinks the answer is no:

Why not? Because no living veteran of any US foreign military incursion has done anything to protect a US citizen. “Gee, Joe, you’re a heartless bastard. How can you say that?” Because no US war since the Revolutionary War has been a just war.

First is that really true ? Yes, the history of America’s war has been rather unpleasant. It’s hard to find real justification for the Spanish-American War or the Mexican War, for example, and America’s involvement in World War One may be among the worst foreign policy decisions ever made by a President — yes, I would argue, even worse than the Iraq War.

But not all of our wars have been unjust.

World War II, after Pearl Harbor, would clearly seem to have fallen within the category of just wars. The War of 1812, which was initiated after the British Navy was intercepting American shipping and kidnapping American sailors and merchantmen, would also seem to fall into that category. So, under the analysis of the author, the veterans of those wars would be worthy of respect. For different reasons, I would argue that the first Gulf War, and possibly the Korean War, could also be considered a just war.

But that just raises another question.

Why should the respect that is owed a member of the military be affected by whether or not the war he fought in was “just” by someone’s standards ?

Members of the military don’t make a decision to fight a particular war, they take orders from the civilian leaders who make those decisions. Why should they be held responsible for bad decision making in Washington ?

Moreover, up until the draft was ended, most of the men who fought in America’s wars had no choice. They were drafted in to the military and they did what was asked of them. Why shouldn’t they be thanked for that ?

And what about veterans who served in peacetime ? They certainly cannot be tarred with having fought in an unjust war and, to the extent that they were acting in defense of the United States, they were, in fact, protecting American citizens seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.

I’ve known many members of the military, including family members and a Great Uncle who was among the first group of Americans to cross the Rhine River into the Third Reich itself, and they’re not evil people. Branding them with the responsibility for decisions they had no role in making is as bad as when people spit on Vietnam Veterans when they returned home.

America can do better than that.

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  • oilnwater

    who would logically compare one of the world wars with either vietnam or with iraq, esp regarding motive and importance to our country…

    the gulf of tonkin was officially declared fake in 2005. look at how iraq started. i dont care what lack of choice a veteran had in participating. this military has nothing to do with me other than taking my money and future.

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    You’re obviously not reading what I said.

    What I said was that Woodrow Wilson’s decision to become involved in World War One was one of the worst foreign policy decisions an American President has ever made. Who cares what his motive was ? There was no reason to send American troops to France to get involved in what was essentially a European civil war.

  • oilnwater

    using a rationale you’ve used before regarding iraq, a mataconis of 1914 would easily be swayed by the argument that the Kaiser would get America if we didnt go “over there….over there….”

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Cite an example, because I don’t think you can.

    I don’t support the Iraq War and think we need to get out of there as soon as practically possible.

  • oilnwater

    yeah in the past, i pointed out where you were terrified of pulling out of iraq for the ‘theyll come over here’ argument. actually did look through your posts to do that, but i wont go through the trouble a second time.

  • Ben

    I think the important thing is that they are always there and ready to defend our freedom. If some country attemtped to invade America our armed forces would be ready and that is why they deserve thanks.

    One reason I would never join the military is that I couldn’t personally justify risking my life for excursions like Iraq that I consider unnecessary and immoral.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Doug,

    Why should the respect that is owed a member of the military be affected by whether or not the war he fought in was “just” by someone’s standards ?

    I’ve thought a lot about this topic myself and my answer would be no, I don’t think the respect that the soldiers receive should be contingent upon whether or not it’s a just war. As you’ve pointed out, once they’ve signed the contract with the military (a contract which can be notoriously one-sided, by the way http://usmilitary.about.com/cs/joiningup/a/recruiter4.htm ) they don’t really have any control over the foreign policy they’re tasked with implementing…being as that authority resides with the civilian leadership. Soldiers are just people doing a dangerous, stressful and often unpopular job, same as repo men or debt collectors or jail guards are just trying to do their unpopular jobs, except that soldiers have less leeway in being able to refuse to do the tasks they’re ordered to perform or quit their job when the people giving the orders turn out to be lying bastards. Some soldiers are professional and do excellent work, some are scumbags who cause problems, some are just doing their time…but that’s a distinction based mainly on the individual, not the profession.

    For the respect for the profession itself, I can understand why some people hate the idea of a military (particularly the anarchists). While I sympathize with their reasons, I don’t agree with them because I believe that it’s necessary to have a military to protect our country (because it’s the best means of insuring that our Constitution is able to survive) and while I don’t believe it should be required that people have respect for the military (because it is a free country and disliking the military is an opinion people are entitled to) I tend to take umbrage at people who lump together those who are actually responsible for creating and giving orders to implement bad policy (Bush administration) with the people who have merely sworn an oath to carry out the orders of the sitting President (the military) regardless of whether they personally agree with that President’s party affiliation or personal beliefs. Basically, I don’t believe that the soldiers should be demonized for carrying out the unpopular (or sometimes even unlawful) orders given to them from on high* while I also don’t believe they should be overly lionized for just doing their job in popular conflicts (since they are reasonably compensated for their services…albeit with some exceptions).

    Moreover, up until the draft was ended, most of the men who fought in America’s wars had no choice. They were drafted in to the military and they did what was asked of them. Why shouldn’t they be thanked for that ?

    I do think that conscripts got a raw deal in that they usually had little or no choice on whether they served and were poorly compensated for the service they rendered, but I don’t know that it means they deserve any more or less respect than the professional military since they weren’t acting of their own volition. I think we should be more sympathetic to their circumstances when judging their actions, but I don’t think that being forced to serve makes conscripts any better or worse as individuals than those who choose to enlist.

    *This is not to say that I think soldiers should not be held accountable when they commit war crimes and human rights violations either of their own volition or in the process of carrying out clearly unlawful orders…I very strongly believe that they should. But that’s a very grey area that probably merits its own discussion thread.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Ben,

    I think the important thing is that they are always there and ready to defend our freedom. If some country attemtped to invade America our armed forces would be ready and that is why they deserve thanks.

    I agree with you completely on that.

    One reason I would never join the military is that I couldn’t personally justify risking my life for excursions like Iraq that I consider unnecessary and immoral.

    I can and do respect that opinion (it’s one of the reasons I chose not to re-enlist), and I think if you’ll check out websites such as Iraq Veterans Against The War you’ll find that a significant number of veterans do disagree with the orders of our civilian leadership while they’re in uniform. That said, while they’re in service they did sign a contract and swore an oath so they’re still obligated to carry those orders out whether they agree with them or not. Their only real recourse to object is to leave the service (which can actually be a significant tool of protest if the war is unjust and unpopular enough). And I think that’s the way it should be…I doubt that any of us would prefer to live in a society where the military decided that it could pick and choose which lawful orders of our elected government they wanted to follow.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Doug,

    Branding them with the responsibility for decisions they had no role in making is as bad as when people spit on Vietnam Veterans when they returned home.

    By the way, Slate did a piece on that awhile ago and was unable to come up with any verifiable incidents of people spitting on Vietnam veterans. Anecdotal evidence indicated that it did happen on a couple of occasions, but it was an urban myth that it was a widespread practice.

  • Ben

    I think we agree with each other UCrawford. Part of being in the military means killing for or dieing for what your superiors tell you to.

    My point is that I simply don’t trust them to only order me to kill or die for things that I agree with, so that’s one reason I would never sign that contract to join the military.

    I have little faith in the people in major seats of power in this country.

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Ben,

    My point is that I simply don’t trust them to only order me to kill or die for things that I agree with, so that’s one reason I would never sign that contract to join the military.

    Again, an entirely reasonable and understandable position. That’s why I so greatly appreciate the fact that we have a volunteer military…if a cause is just and supported by the people you’ll usually find enough willing to sign up and fight for it of their own accord, if not then it starts getting tougher for politicians to do what they want. It’s a good check on the whims of those in power…and the primary reason I would vehemently argue against re-instating the draft.

    I have little faith in the people in major seats of power in this country.

    You’re always going to have bad apples in politics, even in the best of times (but good ones too, and it’s important to remember that). But I agree that lately our legislative and executive branches seem overly populated with shitheads…particularly in the executive branch.

  • ed42

    DO I understand you correctly? Here, kid, is some money to go kill a (sub)human. Bang! I’m only following orders

  • Justin Bowen

    Branding them with the responsibility for decisions they had no role in making is as bad as when people spit on Vietnam Veterans when they returned home.

    America can do better than that.

    I think you’re putting words into the mouth of Mr. Pulcinella. He’s not suggesting that we start calling the troops ‘baby-killers’ and spitting on them. He’s simply saying, as I understand his comments, that we troops don’t deserve any more respect that the next person. There is a difference between giving a person respect, not giving a person undeserved respect, and disrespecting a person. He’s choosing to do the second of these three options.

    I’m going to assume that he doesn’t thank a banker for being a banker, a journalist for being a journalist, or a police officer for being a police officer. Yet, all of these people are indispensable to our way of life. At the same time, these people can be used by policy-makers to oppress people both at home and abroad in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. It is certainly possible for him to go about his daily life without even thinking about these people, recognizing their contributions to our society, or feeling the need to thank them for anything that they do.

    The same principle can be applied to his feelings about the troops. Many of us are simply people who go to work every day (or two days per month in my case) and try to find a way to do as little work as possible for what we earn. There’s nothing special about what we do.

  • UCrawford

    Justin,

    Well put.

  • http://www.no-treason.com Joshua Holmes

    Why should the respect that is owed a member of the military be affected by whether or not the war he fought in was “just” by someone’s standards ?

    Why do I owe them any respect? I don’t respect the mafia’s hitmen.

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