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In search of honor

Terry Garlock's picture

On Nov. 11 many spoke kind words for our troops on Veterans Day, but speeches do little when actions that matter most are in painfully short supply. Bear with me if I remain disappointed in our country’s real support of the men and women who wear the uniform.

Just to be clear, I’m referring to veterans-in-process, the 1 percent who currently fight the wars we conveniently ignore until TV news forces on us a few uncomfortable moments. But never mind, because we are practiced in studiously returning our attention to the economy, rising tuition cost at universities and the juvenile maneuvers that pass for politics in our nation’s capital.

When you consider the stark contrast between the worker bees in our armed forces and the clowns we elect to serve as our leaders, it almost seems that America has forgotten the meaning of honor.

If you believe there is no honor in war, I would differ no matter what I think of the war itself. Every time one of our combatants leaves family behind to deploy, he or she is putting duty above self. Every time he willingly puts himself in danger to protect his comrades, a routine daily occurrence in combat, he is sacrificing his own interest for a larger purpose. That is the very meaning of honor to me, no matter what the dictionary says. The sad thing is we at home do not reciprocate. It seems we don’t even try.

When President George Bush pulled the trigger of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were no spending cuts or tax increases to pay for the war. In keeping with his predecessors’ practice, he sent the bill to our children in the form of debt, thereby avoiding the backlash of public opinion that is predictable when we dip into voters’ pocket. Our troops did a masterful job fighting as directed and some died doing their job. Tell me where the honor lies.

When President Obama’s generals recommended a surge of troops in Afghanistan the President straddled two opposing political camps, authorizing most of the requested troops while at the same time announcing to our enemy when our troops would begin their withdrawal.

Most sixth graders could tell you why you don’t disclose to an enemy when you plan to stop fighting, and our troops in combat have borne that disadvantage now for over a year. Playing politics with the lives of our troops is devoid of honor.

While presidents, admirals and generals plot the doomed strategy of turning a 7th century wasteland into a functioning democracy, it is our men and women whose boots are on the ground paying the price. Their family lives are sacrificed as they are sent to war zone tours three, four or five times to get the job done while we at home spend our time griping about falling real estate prices or plotting where and when to hit the next sale before Christmas. Who earns the honor here?

At the highest levels of the White House and Pentagon, rules of engagement are created to ensure a more gentle war, tying the hands of our troops in combat, withholding the overwhelming force that victory requires since success is measured these days by public relations yardsticks.

Our troops are required to take elevated risks in order to protect civilians, holding fire on an enemy using human shields, long delaying close air support in a firefight while remote lawyers go through their checklist, demonstrating to the locals our compassion in many ways even though they see it as weakness. Flag-draped coffins coming home to Dover are apparently just part of the cost of positive world opinion. Who earns the badge of honor by your measure?

Now Washington is rolling steadily toward the abyss of making radical cuts in the Defense budget, triggered by failure of the deficit commission to reach agreement on deficit reduction. Dishonorable is too kind a word here for the scoundrels who use your money to buy your vote with promises, all so they can remain in office. With the background thought of our troops doing their duty in a shooting war, consider these events while keeping a close watch on your gag reflex.

This President’s spending spree bloated America’s already-excessive spending by 25 percent, but he squalls like a stuck hog at the very notion of spending cuts.

His mantra that the rich need to pay more is predictable as a Democrat tactic of pitting the classes against each other to gain favor with the largest number of voters. But it is particularly egregious since nearly half of Americans pay no income tax at all, receiving subsidies instead.

It is human nature to demand more-more-more from government, and politicians are either too dim-witted to realize we are sliding down a slippery slope, or do not care so long as their own re-election is secured. Anybody see any honor here?

While politicians play games at home serving themselves, there are young Americans sweating, grunting, straining in the field under oppressive weight as they come under fire and must patiently wait for approval to shoot.

Our news media is transfixed on the political tug-of-war between parties over this budget mess, and I must say the Republicans’ only virtue is they don’t stink quite so bad as the Democrats. But think about this.

If the Republicans suddenly prevailed on everything they are asking for, it won’t solve a thing, they are just tinkering at the margin, only trying to reduce the deficit slightly, which would merely slow down by a tiny bit the pace at which America is hurtling toward fiscal Armageddon.

Republicans are not guilty because they refuse to compromise with Democrats to raise taxes. They are guilty because they are not fighting harder to rip the guts out of horrendous and wasteful spending. They are part of the problem, too. No honor there either.

The threat of decimating the Defense budget in the middle of a war looms while mountains of our money are poured down ratholes. In March the GAO issued a report of massive budgetary waste, duplication and overlap, like 15 different agencies dealing with food safety and over 80 federal programs pouring money into economic development efforts, just two samples among many. Among all the duplication, overlap and waste, how many programs have been scrapped since that report? None. Not even a whiff of honor here.

I wonder if anyone else noticed the news media’s reaction to Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Cain’s plan is too simplistic to gain my confidence even though it would likely be a heck of an improvement over the status quo. But the news media was quick to disparage that plan because for the half of Americans who pay no income tax, this plan would be a tax increase, as if they are entitled to their free ride.

There seems to be a mental ratchet effect on entitlement expectations in America, perpetually upward. Perish the thought that everyone should contribute something so we all have some skin in the game.

With generations conditioned to angrily demand, “Where’s mine!” and “I want more!” and the cowardice of politicians unwilling to tell voters we have to curtail all our entitlements or suffer the fate of Greece, what possible chance do we have of keeping our military strong? I won’t insult you by asking where the honor lies here.

To cap it off, the Veterans Administration is apparently focused more on self-preservation than serving vets who deserve VA benefits. The VA system is rife with frauds and phonies receiving benefits, both medical care and disability compensation, draining resources that should go to the ones who have earned benefits.

As just one small example that should be relatively easy for the VA to repair, there are about 300 “veterans” receiving special VA benefits for POWs from the 1990 Gulf War even though we had less than 50 POWs in that war. How hard can it be to separate the real POWs from the frauds in that war?

But the VA resists all attempts by Congressional investigators and its own inspector general to ferret out frauds and phonies, by all appearances protecting its “customer base” as the WWII generation is rapidly dying, the Korea and Vietnam generations seriously aging and the rest are smaller in number from an all-volunteer force.

You would think the service organizations would encourage the VA to crack down to preserve resources for those who deserve benefits, but they also are protective and loudly protest any such effort. Meanwhile, Congress is cowardly as usual, loathe to press the matter since a backlash would accuse members involved of being anti-veteran.

I take no pleasure in telling you this story as the VA has given me very good medical care, but the stink stacks up with no honor in sight for the VA.

Our troops in uniform have been over-used and over-exposed to personal risk, now the most combat experienced ever. They deserve the best from us, but we give them politically-driven wars to fight, we give them rules of engagement that sacrifice their safety in favor of civilians who would turn on them at the slightest provocation, we value world opinion more than our own troops’ lives, and while they sacrifice and risk death to do the duty we assign them, we can’t even manage our budget at home to make sure they are adequately funded. We even let the VA fund frauds and phonies, draining the pool of benefits that should be available to the real vets.

But we do make supportive speeches on Veterans Day, completing our obligation for another year.

Have you felt your nausea rising along with mine? Pardon me, I need to quickly find a secluded place to puke before I resume my futile search for honor here at home in America.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is]


kcchiefandy's picture

...and a testament to the danger our lawmen face everyday. Going home, off DUTY, he stopped to help/investigate, and this was his reward for going above & beyond:

God bless our protectors.

Can't help but wonder what kind of weapons control procedures are in place these days.

kcchiefandy's picture

...its more about the person behind the gun, IMHO. Education and guidance in courtesy, respect, responsibility, and self-control are becoming in short supply in this country...

Understand and you're right but the guy was obviously nutso. And I don't think you and I were ever allowed to wonder around with our assigned wpns & ammo to boot--I know I wasn't--except when I was in a combat zone.

kcchiefandy's picture

...can one purchase an M4 carbine freely? I can't imagine this being his assigned weapon, esp. as he was just @ Ft. Gordon for reclassifying. He was TN NG, though, so maybe his unit just let him take it with him! (for those who don't know reading this, the Army keeps TIGHT control on their weapons, esp. in CONUS - Soldiers don't just walk around willy-nilly w/ them!).

**caveat: yes, I found several online for sale for about $1000 avg.**

I read another account of the incident that said Ft Gordon officials had determined that the M4 did not come from Ft Gordon. Girlfriend said he was drunk and pulled the M4 out of the trunk when she made him pull over to the side of the road. 26 yr old with a Cadillac who apparently did serve one tour in Iraq. Had also been in the GA Guard. Sad & tragic ending.

You say that Bush “in keeping with the practices of his predecessors” funded the Afghanistan and Iraq wars with borrowed money.

Wrong. Bush & Cheney took the idea of war debt to a whole new and I would argue irresponsible and immoral level.

Yes, we have taken on debt in all our major wars. But in all of them before these, we took some kind of steps to raise revenue and/or cut other spending as well. The first income tax was instituted during the Civil War. Taxes were raised significantly in WW2, and top marginal rates were at 90 percent for some years afterward, in part to pay off debt. Even in the later years of Vietnam there was a 10 percent income tax surcharge so that people at home bore some cost while you and others risked your lives.

Contrast that with Bush/Cheney. In launching the wars they first downplayed and dramatically underestimated the costs. Then they cowed Congress into passing a long succession of off-the-books supplemental appropriations consisting entirely of borrowed money. There was no plan or even discussion for paying even a symbolic piece of the cost.

But they didn’t stop there. In 2003, having just won the midterms and kept a GOP majority in congress, they implemented Phase 2 of the Bush tax cuts despite knowing that we were taking on hundreds of billions in unfunded war costs. This was unprecedented in our history. I guess they felt the tax cuts were needed to keep the credit-bubble economy going long enough until they left office. It almost worked, too.

Instead, it helped explode the national debt and set the tone for where we are now. If we as a society won't even pay for our own wars, what will we ever pay for?

I can't think of a more cowardly or ruinous public policy in my lifetime.

Gort's picture

even if Terry Garlock answers he will run away when the going gets too tough for him. I could hardly read a paragraph of his without rolling my eye in my head.

Besides, what do you expect from a guy that thinks Squirmin’ Herman Cain’s, 999 tax plan was a serious proposal? Maybe it works in the video game but we don’t live in SimCity do we?

IMHO, If Terry Garlock is “In Search of Honor,” he could start by not using the sacrifice made by our servicemen as a backdrop to preach his political point of view.

Remember: If you think Social Security and Medicare are worth saving, vote for the Democrat.

NUK_1's picture

Instead, it helped explode the national debt and set the tone for where we are now. If we as a society won't even pay for our own wars, what will we ever pay for?

The idea that the typical American citizen can have a "pain free war" that involves only sacrifice by others/military is just craven politics. Of course it helps garner support for war efforts when it doesn't cost people anything except whatever bumper stickers they buy to put on their cars. Sure, some of the average American citizens may have family in the military that is directly affected, but the vast majority doesn't so launching wars and adding another trillion+ to the deficit is someone else's problem, as is the heartbreak of those sacrificed or maimed.

You are 100% correct that this has set a tone that is corrosive. Obama and the Dems had a couple of years of complete control and did nothing to stop this policy of simply borrowing money to fund war efforts and the "no sacrifice for most!" policies, so they are hardly blameless either nor is this all Bush/Cheney/neo-cons. Spineless politicians have discovered that ANY policy including wars can get support as long as "their" constituency isn't directly affected and nothing is asked whatsoever of them.

The mentality of 2012 is disgusting and one that thankfully was not present during WW1 and 2 or the whole world would look a lot different and it wouldn't be pleasant.

The cowardice is bipartisan – and in fact extends to the populace that validated it in elections, imho. As you note, driving around with a made-in-china ribbon on your car is a pathetic substitute for actual support. In fact it’s pretty hypocritical when you’re on your way to the mall or restaurant to spend your tax cut.

That said, I find it especially galling that the GOP, which pretends to be the party of fiscal responsibility, so willfully moved the country in the direction of gross irresponsibility in this case. This was a major fork in the road and they were driving.

kevink's picture


As Bowser pointed out, The Bush war doctrine manifest by an unpaid for pre-emptive war in Iraq was UNPRECEDENTED. President Bush certainly did not drqw on the precedent of a balanced Federal budget at the hands of President Clinton and the Republican Congress.

Far worse than this attempt to rewrite history is the political cartoon of Glenn McCoy. Mr. McCoy actually has the nerve to depict Occupy protesters pepper spraying, or in the opinion of Fox News, spraying essentially a "food product" on banks and investors and employers.

The FACTS, as we ALL know, are that government forces in the form of campus police sprayed pepper spray copiously over students who were sitting, still and unresisting. Those are the facts which Glenn so dishonestly attempted to twist inside out to make banks the victim.

What a sad day for "journalism."

Vote Mytmite in 2012!

Robert W. Morgan's picture

The missing piece is very important. Don't send our armed forces into harms way without a clear, measurable, easily-defined objective. In other words, how do we measure victory? How do we know that we have won?

Only thing we did right since WWII was the first Gulf War where the objective was to kick Sadaam out of Kuwait. We did and didn't do much more - and of couurse there are those that will argue that we should have gone further, but I digress.

I just finished your book on Vietnam and I certainly agree with the basic premise that the troops served with honor and many generals and politicians had a hand in turning it into a losing effort. Same thing - how do we define victory there? When the last enemy soldier is dead? We would still be there using that yardstick.

I think the lack of a measurable, definable victory also explains the actions of the so-called press corps. To their credit they sometimes ask what are we trying to accomplish and when our leaders can't answer it makes them easy to ridicule and paint everyone with the same broad brush.

Live free or die!

I find it hard to argue with what is known as the "Powell Doctrine",which, while named such by Journalists, deserves serious consideration for adoption & action/nonaction by DOD & the Executive Branch.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

I really don't think the press has a right to shape the argument when it comes to waging war. They certainly have a right and even an obligation to report the war, but the opinions of the reporter should be irrelevant. Sadly the dorks at Columbia and elsewhere that teach "journalism" feel that pushing an agenda (usually liberal) is the reporter's job. So of course they go out and do it.

Anyway, back to the real point - what the heck is the goal of a war? Take the dinks back to the 38th parallel? Kill all the Somalians? Make the Taliban repent?

Get a reasonable goal and tell everyone what it is. Then if you are going to go to war do the very best you can to achieve that goal. OK? Otherwise - forget it - or as I tell my dog when sniffing another dog's poop or butt - LEAVE IT ALONE!!! Which of course means - not your problem.

Live free or die!

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