When will they ever learn?

Growing up in the 1960s, no one could miss the plaintive refrain of "Where have all the young men gone?"  Now, some sixty years later, I too wonder where many of my friends and comrades in arms have gone.  I've realized that, as the old Peter, Paul and Mary song indicates, they have "Gone to graveyards, every one" — or at least, almost every one.  

Over 50,000 men and women died in Vietnam.  Today, many veterans still struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  We experienced over 1,000 deaths in Operation Desert Storm.  Most recently, America lost over 2,400 troops and sent home almost 20,000 wounded men and women in Afghanistan, thanks to the ongoing debacle formerly known as the Afghanistan theater in Operation Enduring Freedom.

In all these conflicts, many young American men and women willingly served and, without question, followed our political leadership, only to have those politicians in office cut and run when the going got tough.  In addition, we've learned that these conflicts were initiated based upon either deliberately false or contrived information that Democrats generated.  The Tonkin Gulf "incident" was the pretext for our disastrous involvement in Vietnam.  We only learned later that the State Department and other government personnel ignored concerns about the veracity of aspects of that incident to justify escalating American involvement in Vietnam.

Almost four decades later, George Tenant's "slam dunk" claim about weapons of mass destruction was used to justify our invasion of Iraq.  That war led to ISIS's rise and the further destabilization of the Middle East, with drastic consequences for Europe.

While we will debate for decades how those wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan were mismanaged, one thing remains crystal-clear: our American troops' bravery in the face of adversity is a constant reminder of who we are as a nation.  Their selfless and unquestioned sacrifices represent what our country is all about.  Irrespective of our thoughts about the war or politics, making sure our troops know nothing but everlasting gratitude for those sacrifices should come before anything else.

In addition, those in both civilian and military positions of leadership responsible for the current debacle should be held accountable for their inability to lead and myopic strategic vision.  Many uniformed commanders in Afghanistan, having retired, are now reaping the rewards for their service as CEOs of large defense corporations while those in the trenches struggle to make it to the next day.  Shame on them!

Yes, in the words of Peter, Paul and Mary, when will we ever learn?  The graveyards are full.

Image: Graves at Arlington National Cemetery.  Public domain.

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