Today's armed conflict in the Middle East bears similarities to the Vietnam War.
As we’re in the first part of the New Year, I thought it appropriate to do something that I’ve tried to do every year since becoming editor.
That is to pause, reflect and compare the present war in the Middle East with the war in Vietnam. I’ve made it no secret I served in combat in Vietnam. My purpose in this column isn’t to talk about terrain, weapons or other such things and make a contrast between the two wars.
Let me begin by making a point with those who might argue that both military engagements aren’t a war, but an armed conflict. When you’re being shot at and the person who pulled the trigger is trying to kill you, you’re at war.
The war in the Persian Gulf region began Aug. 2, 1990. Our activity in Iraq has significantly reduced and we’ve moved it into Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and is still going on in present day.
Our military involvement began in Iraq and moved to Afghanistan, which means we’ve been engaged in war in that theater for 23 years. That is one generation of a family. A young man or woman who was in his or her early 20s in 1990 and had young children could have those children fighting in the same war their father or mother did. This has been going on longer than either of the two World Wars.
There is a danger to the length of this war. The administration, Congress and more importantly, the American people are tiring of it. When this happens, we have a repeat of what happened in Vietnam.
We withdraw and we leave our 23 years of fighting men and women wondering what they were sacrificing for. The recent book Duty by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks of President Obama’s lack of confidence in his strategy of handling the war.
I’m not condemning anyone, but I saw a similar thing occur at the end of the Vietnam War. You may be asking yourself how this relates to a veterans magazine. If you’ve noticed, the media coverage of the war on TV, websites and in newspapers has dwindled to only an occasional piece of news. This is how the end of Vietnam also began.
As soon as this mood gathers strength, the American leadership will find a reason to leave and we’ll have a huge mass of active duty people who will suddenly become veterans and seek the benefits they’ve been promised. History has proven that when the battle is over, the support declines and then we compete with every other federal program for money.
That is why Paralyzed Veterans of America and other veterans organizations must fight for what veterans will need and for the resources the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must have to take care of one entire generation, or in some cases two generations, of veterans who are seeking care.
This demand will come from a VA that is already under pressure to take care of the needs put on it by aging WW II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. The time required to process a claim for benefits will be unimaginable. We’re already so far behind in developing programs and facilities to deal with long-term care of aging veterans that promises made will never be fulfilled.
It’s sad to contemplate the picture I’ve drawn, but it’s real and approaching more rapidly than anyone seems aware. Meanwhile, we’re arguing about balancing the budget and other such things. I can give you a good idea where some of the money to balance the budget is going to come from. It’ll come from veterans’ benefits.
President Calvin Coolidge in a speech said, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”
We’ll see if these generations of veterans are forgotten or if our nation takes care of them as it has promised.
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