I will never believe they were ‘losers’

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By Scott Graber

It is Wednesday, Sept. 9, and its still dark in Port Royal. I’m sitting at my dining room table where, sometimes, I can hear the recruits on Parris Island trying to win their first badge — marksmanship.

These young men and women have chosen a path that has gotten them out of inner city, free fire zones; out of higher education now characterized by virtual, distanced teaching; out of small, foundering towns awash with oxycontin. They have traded an uncertain future for push-ups, red-faced drill sergeants and getting their teeth fixed.

A certain percentage of these young recruits will end up shooting at other young men (and women) in Syria and Iraq. They won’t be part of a large, tank-led division defending the Fulda Gap; more likely they will patrol Africa’s Sahel or look for terrorists in South Sudan.

This morning also comes with a Wall Street Journal and a column by Holman W. Jenkins. He writes, “Americans want to treat every war as World War II, but most aren’t. These are imperial wars or wars of geopolitical maintenance. Our world makes such wars necessary. We need soldiers to fight them.”

And, yes, when we lose one of our young men or women in Niger we grieve notwithstanding the fact that we don’t quite understand why we have troops in SubSaharan Africa. There is the widespread notion these Islamic-centered insurgencies are not good, and destabilizing, but Holman Jenkins is right when he says that these conflicts don’t give us the “good versus evil rational” that World War II gave our mothers and fathers.

In my view there is a parallel between what we are now doing in Korea and Niger; and what Kitchener was doing in Sudan in 1900. Actually the British were in Afghanistan, Burma, Fiji and a hundred other places maintaining a remarkable, if imperfect, stability. Moreover, the Royal Navy was then the guarantor of worldwide navigability.

In the process of tamping-down the local hot-heads who resented the British presence, the UK fought a series of small, successful wars in South Africa, India and China. They would, on occasion, lose a battle with the Zulu, but for the most part their Maxims and their discipline under fire won the day — keeping the peace in most of the world.

But Jenkins goes further, deeper in his essay.

“But what’s in it for them?” 

His question echoes our Commander in Chief who also asked that question and then, apparently, answered his question by saying those killed in these wars — or in any war — are “losers.”

Jenkins says, “Mr Trump is a self-obsessed blowhard, as Americans were advised before they elected him. But things he says don’t come from nowhere; they come from a 74-year-old man’s saturation in his own way of thinking about things. Not for the first time I’m impressed by the universal reflex of commentators to condemn an alleged failure, even in a private moment not meant for public consumption, to speak in the calculated, sententious and hypocritical way that public life necessitates.”

Alright, OK, Holman I get it.

I understand the one can think these things, but our nattering press should give Trump a pass and protect him in the way that it protected JFK and his serial infidelity.

Still, the articulation that every decision in life is a “transactional event” where every outcome should represent “gain,” must come as a stunning revelation to even the most hardened supporters of the President.

It is a revelation that trashes the concept of loving one’s country, or service over self or, importantly, one generation telling another, younger generation that this particular fight is worthy of jeopardizing one’s young, unfinished life.

Our fathers’ generation told us that Vietnam was such a worthy cause.

And I happen to believe that these aging World War II veterans believed that a communist take-over in Vietnam was a bad thing. (Obviously most contemporary historians now believe that Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson and the “Greatest Generation” were dead wrong in their calculations.)

I did not fight in Vietnam, but my generation did go into those jungles.

I did not shoot a rifle or demonstrate my marksmanship, but most of my Citadel classmates did.

I will never believe that any of my classmates, made a bad “transactional” bargain. I will always believe that each of them went because they believed their fathers; loved their country; and believed it was their honor to defend their country.

I will never believe they were “losers.”

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.