When I was a boy, growing up in the heartland of Midwest America, I was raised on a steady diet of patriotism. For me, that meant watching John Wayne movies, playing army with the neighbor kids, and watching the nightly news with my father. In my home in the late sixties, almost any sin could be forgiven. Break a lamp – no problem – you get a spanking. Get home late for dinner – you’re in trouble, but it could be worked out. But there was one unpardonable sin. “Never step between my father and the television during the nightly news.” That transgression would inevitably bring this angry admonition from my Korean War, battle-hardened father: “You make a better door than you do a window!” I always got out of the way – and fast!
I grew up watching the Vietnam War on television with my dad. He’d fought the commies in Korea, and he hated them. I quickly realized that I too would someday fight the communists. I grew up believing it, and by age ten I’d accepted this imminent fact: when I graduated from high school, I would join the military and fight in Vietnam. Every day I watched the newsreel footage of Americans fighting and dying. I watched the body bags being unloaded from cargo planes with pomp and circumstance.
And secretly, deep down inside, I was rooting for the long-haired, hippy, dope-smoking freaks protesting against the war. At twelve years old, I wanted the freaks to win.
Did I respect them? No. Even back then I understood many of them were just self-absorbed cowards. I’m sure some were young idealists who truly believed in the righteousness of their cause, but I’ll let God sort out the righteous from the damned.
Honestly, I just didn’t want to die facedown, blown apart in a rice paddy. It didn’t make sense to me. Why were we there? Sure, today, as a grown man, I’ve studied history and understand the domino theory. I comprehend the evils of communism. I get it. But I still don’t like it.
Since then we’ve had other wars big and small: Panama, Grenada, the Gulf War, The Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. War is like the poor; it will always be with us. There will always be a leader who is eager to exploit another human for power and gain.
But I think America has grown tired of dying for the freedom of others.
I started out in favor of the invasion of Afghanistan. It made sense to me. The people there had killed 3,000 Americans by crashing into the Twin Towers. Someone had to pay, so we were obliged to head over there and kick some ass. We did it. That was in 2001. But now, twelve years later we’re still there. Why?
I don’t believe in fighting political wars. I believe the most powerful military in the world should never use its force except in a righteous and just war. For me, that includes self-defense, stopping genocide, and keeping lunatics from conquering the world. It doesn’t include defending America’s interests abroad. Are we still fighting in the Mideast to guarantee the free-flow of oil to America, a country with the largest untapped oil reserves on the planet?