Boots on the Ground

Come you masters of war. You that build all the guns. You
that build the death planes. You that hide behind walls.
You hide hind desks. I just want you to know I can
see through your masks.
-- Bob Dylan

A couple of years back I spoke at a dinner of the Rotary Club in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As speeches go it was not my best.

Since I am generally considered an accomplished public speaker (four speeches published in Vital Speeches of the Day), I can't tell you why I came up short that night, but I did.

But my disappointing performance, notwithstanding, I said in my speech something for the first time; said by design; something I have returned to many times since.

That "something" is this:

"If you live next door to a family with sons or daughters fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan but would oppose your sons or daughters fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, you are guilty of moral duplicity."

I am willing to concede I am wrong about many things. I am not wrong about this.

To support our troops fighting in faraway places in our world while opposing your sons or daughters in similar service to America defines moral duplicity.

In the complexity of life I normally dismiss either/or choices; but this is not an either/or.

This comes forcibly to mind amid our current presidential campaign; one that finds some arguing for America to put "boots on the ground" in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The biggest hawk among Republican candidates pushing for U.S. Troops is South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, who has called for sending 20,000 to fight the fanatics of the Islamic State.

On CBS' Face the Nation, Senator Graham said, "President Obama's strategy to destroy ISIS is failing miserably. You can't do this from the air. The Kurds are not the ground component we need to go into Syria. Without Syria being fixed, you're never going to fix Iraq. And they're coming here."

In terms of troop numbers the senator's proposal is the most radical; other Republican candidates, however, have not come forward to join his call for such a dramatic break with American policy in the Middle East; but understand, they like his idea, even while refusing to embrace publicly his numbers.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, in what was promoted as a major foreign policy speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, called for a more vigorous response to ISIS, saying, "more U.S. troops may well be needed."

Dan Roberts and Lauren Gambino in the Guardian of England, reporting on a speech Hillary Clinton gave before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, wrote, "She is distancing herself from Barack Obama's strategy for defeating Islamic State extremists", wanting, they implied, "greater use of American ground troops and an intensified air campaign.

"Though ruling out deploying the tens of thousands of U.S. troops seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the former of secretary of state made clear she would take a notably more hawkish approach than the current administration if she is elected president."

"The United States has been conducting this fight for more than a year, it's time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts", she said.

Even though the foreign policy establishment gave the secretary high marks for her speech, it was sufficiently nuanced to provide, were she president, options to broaden and increase our military presence in a place where 4,487 sons and daughters of American mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, family and friends, have already died in defense of, we're told, our freedom.

Any proposal calling for additional American troops in Iraq - remember we already have 3,500 working now with Iraqi military and the Kurds - is alarming to me.

It doesn't matter the presidential candidate, I will oppose as immoral any such policy, unless national subscription is included.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by one percent of our people; many of whom have done, not one or two tours of duty, but four, five and six.

But while 6,840 men and women and their families have paid the ultimate price in those two distant countries, 99 percent of the rest of us have paid no price; living our lives as if the world were at peace.

But the world is not at peace, as 3,039 young Americans, ages 20-24, and another 1,666, ages 25-29, in the flower of their youth, have discovered; their dreams destroyed in the burning sands of Iraq and in the cold, icy mountains and plains of Afghanistan - dead from bullets, bombs, and IEDs.

But while those 4,705 were defending and dying, 70-million of their peers, ages 20-29, were pursuing their hopes and dreams.

Numbers that do not include the tragic fact that more than 540,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from Post Dramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or the more than 8,000 veterans who commit suicide every year after their return to civilian life. (See: http://veteransandptsd.com/PTSD-statistics.html.)

And it all began when two draft dodgers, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, lied to the American people about "weapons of mass destruction"; and started a war without end that has killed hundreds of thousands (Iraqi and U.S.) and gave the world, ISIS; from which has resulted a massive immigration crisis in Europe and terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali, and God knows where it will end - if it will end.

In the argument I made that night in Weymouth, and have made many times since, I have yet to find anyone in disagreement that sending some young men and women to fight our wars while giving millions more a pass, is immoral - and stands as an indictment against the USA's professed beliefs.

The requirement through national subscription that every young man and woman at age 18 would give two years in service to America, would likely end the idiocy of thinking we can save the world when only one percent of us are committed to that goal; when only one percent of us wholly believe in its mission.

While we are safe at home (for now); safe while "hiding behind our walls", safe while "hiding behind our desks", but others know a different reality - the reality of never coming home again.