'It feels like Vietnam'
When the news began reporting on the current situation in Iraq, a friend who was a veteran of a previous war sadly said, “It feels like Vietnam all over again.”
I knew what he meant. In the waning days of the war in Vietnam, when politicians were “winding down the war” and pulling U.S. troops out as fast as they could (and abandoning their South Vietnamese allies), it was no secret that disaster was coming. And come it did.
What followed in the aftermath of the takeover of the South by the North was a brutal slaughter. Scores were settled, people who had cooperated with the United States were arrested and/or executed, and the land and its people were laid waste.
Some people tried to claim that the U.S. didn’t abandon South Vietnam. But we did. The war was unpopular at home and, if people were going to die, better them than us. And so it was.
And now there is Iraq. The insurgents, having been notified months earlier that the U.S. was going to do a repeat of the Vietnam withdrawal, were able to plan, gather supplies and arms, and simply wait for the opportune time.
And now, Iraq is being overrun. Our politicians bluster in righteous indignation and complain bitterly about the situation but everyone knew what would happen. And so it is happening. Again.
What is one to say to the parents, spouses, and families of the 58,300 young soldiers who died in Vietnam? What is one to say to the parents, spouses, and families of the 4,500 who were killed in this most recent manifestation of the wars in Iraq? What are we to say to the tens of thousands who were maimed in the doing of their duty?
When I was in high school, I was visiting a friend who had served in Vietnam and had been terribly wounded. I saw some medals on the chest of drawers in his bedroom, picked them up, and asked, “What do these mean?”
He snatched them away angrily, threw them in a drawer, and said, “They don’t mean nothin’!”
Is that what we are to tell the veterans of the wars that the United States refuses to win? Our dedicated soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have the courage, the patriotism, and the guts to go do the job. And, like the people of South Vietnam and Iraq, the rug was pulled out from under them.
Did their service, their sacrifice, their bravery, their commitment mean nothing? Was their service and their sacrifice in vain?
The simple truth is that those who served were honorable men and women. Their country called and they responded. What they did does mean something.
Police officers have to reconcile themselves to the reality that, if they catch the bad guys, they have done their duty — even if the prosecutors and the judicial system fail to do theirs. Every cop knows that the criminal he arrests today may be back out on the street tomorrow.
Whether it is right or fair is not the point. The point is that honorable men and women do their duty — even if a system that often knows no honor lets them down.
It may not be much, but it has to be enough. Otherwise disappointment, anger, and bitterness can invade and take over. When it does, what is left is the belief that all the duty, sacrifice, and shed blood that hundreds of thousands of young Americans expended in a great cause “don’t mean nothin.’”
The soldiers, the veterans, all those who served their country were honorable and good. It is the promises, and assurances, and words of the politicians that “don’t mean nothin’.”
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]