Early this morning I came across an article in my local Baltimore Sun newspaper, entitled, "The problem with turning soldiers into heroes" written by Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist and Viet Nam veteran.
A paragraph that "jumped off the page" (for me at least) read, "We owe a debt to those who have borne the battle on our nations behalf. They are in general, neither heroes nor villains. They volunteered to be where they are and do what they do. Whether they made the right decision, only they can say."
It was those words that prompted me to reflect on my own beliefs regarding our men and women in uniform that "choose" to fight in our nations wars.
To "choose" is the operative word. Our men and women "choose" to join the military. And when they "choose" to join and fight in that nation's war, it becomes their war.
For those in uniform before a war is started also have a "choice", particularly if they don't agree with that war. They can "choose" to resign (it is presumed commissioned officers have that choice) rather than be sent to that war zone, others (NCO's) could "choose" not to be sent to the war zone, (which could mean incarceration) OR each could "choose" to go to war (even if they didn't believe in that war).
When a war is morally, ethically and legally wrong, as our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are, our soldiers are just the lethal end of those wrongful wars. They certainly are not heroes. They are pawns of those officials who "chose" to authorize those wars.
The idea of extolling those serving in our military and making them out to be heroes in morally, ethically and illegal wars is an anathema to me.
When you "choose" to go to war, it's your war; because you can "choose" not to fight it.
From here, the ONLY ethical, moral and legal justification for war is in defense of the country when it is in imminent danger of being attacked or is already under siege.
The events of 9/11 were attacks by 20 terrorists. It was not an invasion by some imperial power capable of threatening the nation. These were criminals who commandeered some commercial airliners and crashed them into two commercial buildings and the Pentagon. It was a criminal offense that deserved to be seen as premeditated murder. But it wasn't a military "blitzkrieg" with a subsequent invasion and it certainly didn't justify invading and occupying Afghanistan in retaliation.
If there had been an investigation immediately following 9/11 and it was clearly determined that the perpetrators were being sheltered and in sanctuary in Afghanistan, it would have been our legal right to ask that country to extradite those accused as responsible. In the event that country refused our request then further measures could have been considered. But that is all a matter of conjecture and what ifs. It certainly wasn't the road taken by the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11.
The path we did take, invading, occupying and overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was legally wrong but could be defended as justified to go after the perpetrators of 9/11. But once that task was accomplished, there was no moral, ethical and legal justification to remain in that country.
The last war that could be possibly defended on moral, ethical and legal grounds was W.W.II when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That was clearly an attack on the country by an imperial power. Joining and fighting to defend America after Pearl Harbor could be seen as a justified moral and ethical decision.
All our wars since can not be justified on moral and ethical grounds. Korea could be justified as legal as it was fought under U.N. authorization. No war since can be justified as legal.
But returning to the soldiers in our wars; "choosing" to fight in a war is a matter of conscience and a conscious choice. Again, when one "chooses" to fight in a war, it becomes their war, as one can "choose" not to fight in it.
I believe there is a popular assumption that a soldier has no "choice" but to fight in whatever war our "leaders" decide to engage in. That is a fallacy i.e., "Well he had no choice but to go and fight". That is nonsense.