Thursday, October 11, 2007

Leave the Soldiers Out of It

Leonard Pitts in the Miami Herald:

What with refereeing the factions in a fractured foreign land and trying not to get killed by roadside bombs, they would seem to have enough on their plates. Is it really fair to ask them to take incoming rounds from Rush Limbaugh and

The former, you will recall, is under fire for denigrating as “phony soldiers” military men and women who question the war in Iraq. The latter angered many people last month with an ad in The New York Times condemning Gen. David Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”

I am in receipt of a mass e-mail from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, urging me to help hold Limbaugh accountable for his “insult” to “men and women in uniform.” If the senator sent a similar e-mail decrying the juvenile taunting of Gen. Petraeus, I must have missed it. Of course, politics is not an art much noted for its emphasis on moral consistency.

Still, it’s disappointing to see the diminution of soldiers become ever more a tool of political attack. Bad enough they questioned the patriotism of Sen. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam. Bad enough they accused Sen. John Kerry, a war hero with the record to prove it, of inflating his service. Bad enough they insinuated that Rep. John Murtha, a Marine for 37 years, is a coward. Bad enough they accused Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot who spent seven years in a Vietnamese prison camp, of betraying POWs. Now they impugn those who are still under fire.

And here, let me spend a few moments explaining what my point is not. It is not, for example, that Limbaugh and should be prohibited from saying what they wish. Both are well within their First Amendment rights. My point is also not that service members are infallible or exempt from criticism. I, for one, am skeptical of Gen. Petraeus’ claims about the efficacy of the surge in Iraq.

No, what my point is, is this: There’s a line between attacking someone’s opinion and attacking their honor. We — by which I mean civilians — forget that all the time in disagreeing with one another. But it seems to me especially painful when we forget it in disagreeing with soldiers.

The vast majority of us never have and never will know what it means to don the uniform of this nation’s armed services. Will never know how it feels to shiver under enemy fire. Will never know what it takes to run toward that which common sense and human instinct demand we flee. Will never know what it’s like to lay it all on the line for country.

So how dare any of us recklessly — i.e., absent clear and compelling reason — impugn the integrity, the character, the honor, of those who do?

Some of us are old enough to remember the mistreatment of soldiers who returned to this country from service in Vietnam. ”Baby killers” was one of the more printable epithets hurled at them. We had not yet learned to separate the war from the warriors; to the contrary, we transferred our anger over a controversial war to those who made no policy, made no decisions, whose only role was to serve as honorably as they could and try to get the heck out of there in one piece.

Remembering how shabbily we behaved then, you’d think we’d do better now. But we are people with short memories and a collective incapacity for reverence. We slap ”Save the Troops” signs on the bumper of every suburban SUV, but when it comes to the one thing military culture prizes above almost everything — honor — our ”support” turns watery and weak.

“Phony soldiers?” “General Betray Us?” I don’t care what your politics are, that’s shameful. Our soldiers are fighting terrorists and insurrectionists. They shouldn’t have to fight us, too.