In an op-ed piece in Thursday's USAToday, Jack Valenti decries the lack of appreciation that the younger generation possesses for the sacrifices of our soldiers in battle. He says, "watching [Flags of Our Fathers, the new Iwo Jima movie by Clint Eastwood], watching ordinary young men performing extraordinary feats of heroism, broke my heart. They put to hazard their own lives not to win medals, but because their country was in danger. Why, then, a casual indifference to this story by so many young people? Maybe it's because we have been so benumbed by war, particularly this Iraq war, and because so few youngsters have worn a uniform. A movie about a battle a half a century ago carries no umbilical connection to them. That's understandable. But it ought not to be."
Jack's lamentation that the younger generation lives with this indifference is in a crucial application of the words he chose: "their country was in danger." Yes, in WWII, the USA was in danger from the Axis powers, threatened by both the Nazis from the Atlantic and the rising Japan empire at the Pacific. However, there is nothing dangerous about the wars we wage today. Iraq did not pose a danger to the United States. The UN inspectors found nothing in the way of weapons of mass destruction, and despite occupying the country for over three years now, we similarly have found no evidence to suggest Sadam was an imminent threat to our country's survival and prosperity.
Thus, to pour billions of dollars, thousands of deaths of our service men and women, and all the diplomatic shame that this war has incurred upon us, is it any wonder that the average 20-something American doubts the valor of battlefield feats? This was not a war in which we can look to and be proud of our involvement, which is a key distinction between Gulf War II and WWII. We had reason to be proud of our actions in Europe and Asia. We were securing our future, while liberating allies who were at the mercy of a Fascist who wanted to rule the world. Those were noble goals. Iraq was removing a second-rate despot, and then plunging the country into confusion and rebellion.
There should always be respect paid to those people who lay down their lives in the line of service, even if we disagree with why they are there in the first place. And there is no doubt that the feats performed by the generations who fought in the world wars deserve a place of honor and respect in our hearts, for they worked to preserve liberty at home and abroad. But with the quagmire that we are finding ourselves in with respect to Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan), it should prove no suprise that impressionable people are having their glasses tinted in a way that strikes against the gung-ho military viewpoint carried by some previous generations. That is not to say we don't respect people in service. Far from it. It means we demand more from our armed forces than rushing into a situation guns blazing. Modern warfare, especially at the outset, requires planning, reconstruction, diplomacy. This is not the 40s, this is the 21st century. Update our military accordingly.