Soldiers are trained to subscribe to a common set of beliefs during their service in the military. But as veterans, their seemingly similar experiences as soldiers frequently translate into distinct views on what conduct is appropriate on the home front during a war and what legitimizes a war.

Recent protests against the war with Iraq have elicited different feelings in veterans. Ken Rogge, who served in the military for 30 years, said he worries that soldiers’ morale may suffer when they hear about anti-war demonstrations, similar to what happened to him as a soldier in Thailand during the Vietnam War.

“It was demoralizing. You are over there doing the job you are supposed to be doing and the people back home are undermining us. … All they are doing is giving Saddam Hussein strength and encouragement,” Rogge said.

Rogge likened anti-war protests to a presidential election. Once the election is over, he said, everyone should support the winner – regardless of who they voted for.

“I am against anti-war protesters once the war has started. If you want to protest before the war, that is OK. But once the war has started, they ought to shut up and stand behind the president,” Rogge added.

But, Larry MacGuire, who served in the Army from 1959 to 1962, recently returned from a trip to Washington, where he participated in anti-war demonstrations and teach-ins. He said no matter what effect it has on troop morale, hearing about protests is vital for soldiers.

“The best way I can support the troops is to tell the damn truth,” MacGuire said.

Brave soldiers are assets to America, but when they are transformed into pawns of a politically and economically corrupt government, the psychological damage can last a lifetime, he said.

“You got to help this guy see his situation. In the fog of war, he can’t see his situation. Maybe he will hate me now,” MacGuire said. “But when he is home looking in his kid’s eyes … he (will feel) a certain unease and shame because he knows against his intention he was complicit in a lot of cruel things.”

Mark Lindke, director of Washtenaw County Veteran Services, said soldiers abroad hear about protests. He said he remembers hearing about anti-war demonstrations while was serving in Thailand during the Vietnam War.

“There was awareness, but people tried to minimize it. … When you are involved in a firefight it is an issue of surviving,” Lindke said.

However, current anti-war protests could be having a demoralizing effect on troops fighting in Iraq, Lindke added.

The veterans’ time in the military has given them unique perspectives about when it is appropriate to send troops into battle.

“Elective war is always wrong,” MacGuire said, adding that waging war is only just if the nation is facing an imminent threat or if its goal is to prevent genocide in another country. Without those conditions, the loss of both military and civilian life cannot be justified, he said.

“When you add up the numbers, who gets killed in these wars? Who gets maimed in these wars? The largest proportion (of the dead) are civilians – smart bombs or not,” MacGuire said.

“Our policies try to get the hostage taker by killing the hostages,” he added.

But Lindke said he sees the conflict differently. He said the current war is not optional, but necessary.

“It was apparent that we weren’t going to get any further with the inspection process. … I have never lost sight of the fact that we as a nation were attacked. I have little difficulty accepting the fact that there is a link between terrorism and that regime,” Lindke said.

Lindke is also confident weapons of mass destruction will be found, he said.

Although Rogge admits he is ambivalent about whether the war in Iraq is necessary, he is unyielding on one point – Americans must support the troops.

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