At a bar this past Thursday night, I ran into a friend who serves in Michigan’s division of the Navy’s R.O.T.C. Having spent the past day with mixed emotions of concern about the war and my brackets’ miserable performances in the first day of the NCAA Tournament, I was interested in hearing his perspective on the situation in Iraq.
We spoke for a few minutes, his side of the conversation a mix of concern and confidence. Eventually, I asked him how he felt about the anti-war protests that had taken over our campus earlier in the day. Without even giving it a moment’s thought, he responded in a manner that impressed me:
“Isn’t that what we fight for?”
I told him that I disagreed and the conversation moved to how long it would take before Kansas is once again exposed as the ultimate tournament choke team. (My guess, for the record, is this weekend against the weakest Duke team in recent tournament history.)
Looking back, I do respect his opinion. But it irks me that the anti-war community on this campus is so determined to ignorantly dismiss the courageous actions taken by our troops, in this war and those that preceded it.
I am not pro-war. I am not a conservative. I hope that President Bush’s diplomatic failures that made this war a necessity will be the death knell to his re-election hopes. These are beliefs I hold firmly. And rarely, if ever, do I feel the need to reject them in any way.
Thursday, however, was one of those days. Watching as the bombs started falling Wednesday night, I began to thank God and everything holy that we don’t live in our parents’ generation; that graduating in a month does not mean that my draft card is on its way. I’m embarrassed to think this way, and it only makes me respect our troops even more.
A few weeks ago, a columnist on this page voiced what I consider to be a disgraceful opinion that our troops, who undertake actions that some don’t support, should as a result not be supported themselves.
Simply ludicrous. There are soldiers dying as we speak; kids our age, who probably are more like us than we can ever know. They’re dying because they raised their hand and asked their country to count them. They did what the rest of us wouldn’t.
This isn’t Vietnam, where hundreds of thousands of unwilling men were sent into the mess. These are patriots, who have voluntarily taken an oath to fight for this country, to fight for every one of us.
My God, if you can’t support that, what are you?
Maybe this war could have been avoided, I’ll never know for sure. But whether Saddam Hussein was removed by bombs or diplomacy, the one certainty in this matter is that the world is a much safer place with a new Iraqi regime. Despite my disdain for our president’s efforts in the past months, I have no trouble supporting that claim.
The anti-war protesters on this campus, though, are too caught up in organizing their rallies and making their signs to examine the way that issues change. Being “anti-war” is not an excuse for opposing every single thing about every single war. When America wins this war and Saddam is deposed, these people will hopefully never know the dangers that they have been saved from. They’ll never know what would have happened if Bush had listened when they told him to make love, not war. It’s disappointing that people get too caught up hating Bush, hating war or hating the idea of fighting at all to realize the justifications that do exist for this conflict.
Moreover, having an anti-war rallying group does not automatically mean that the first day of a war demands protest to the highest degree. These people are trying too hard to do what their parents did when they protested. But this is purely ignorant. Look at the history books – with Vietnam, it wasn’t really until 1970, years after the conflict started, that students began organizing en masse to end the war. It was only when it became completely clear that the war was hopeless and wrong. Why are we so unwilling to give this intercession a chance? Are we so desperate to live up to our parents?
The 38,000 of us who chose the University to receive our education are among the luckiest people in the world. We have rights and abilities that people our age in Middle Eastern countries haven’t even heard of. And as my friend astutely pointed out, one of those rights is the right to protest, the right to speak our minds against the actions taken by our government.
So I say protest all you want. Show the people who make up our government what you think about them. But I can’t accept doing it on the first day of a war. I can’t accept doing it less than 24 hours after kids like us stationed across the world got the order that would forever change their lives.
It’s about respect, about putting yourself in that position. My friend, who is as close to that position as anyone I know found a positive reaction. He told me that that’s what they fight for.
But what would you say? Hopefully, that’s a question you’ll never have to answer.
Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.