About that Ticker-Tape Parade for our Iraq War Veterans

I like the idea of expressing the nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices of the brave troops who served in Iraq by inviting 64 of them to a formal state dinner at the White House — “an unprecedented event by the White House, normally reserved for foreign dignitaries.”

Of course there are many who disapprove or who have reservations: “A politically motivated gesture by the President;” “What about the rest of the 1.5 million troops who served in Iraq;” etc.

There is also a large number of Americans who feel that the only appropriate way to honor our troops is by throwing one great, national ticker-tape parade or several smaller ones throughout the country.

But just as there are objections to the formal White House dinner, there are objections to and controversy surrounding the ticker-tape parade idea.

They run the gamut, from concerns about the costs to a still fragile economy (to which some answer: If we can afford two wars, we can afford a welcome home parade) to views that such parades would be “premature” (e.g. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg),or “inappropriate” (e.g. the Pentagon), while our troops are still in harm’s way in wars around the globe.

Two articles, one in the Washington Times and one in the New York Times, do a pretty good job of capturing and summarizing the opinions of Americans, politicians, organizations, veterans groups and veterans on this issue — both pro and con.

Just as I support the White House dinner, I support one or several ticker-tape parades for our returning heroes, preferably paid for by corporations, private organizations and individuals.

And while I may not necessarily agree with all of the opinions opposing the parades, I do respect them.

There are two opinions, however, with which I definitely do not agree and have not much time for.

I do not agree with those who support and view such a parade purely as a “victory celebration,” a vindication of the policies that took us into the Iraq war. Hey folks, the parade is not about the war, it’s all about the troops who so selflessly served in it and who sacrificed so much.

Neither do I agree with those who disapprove of such a parade solely because they opposed the war and fear that it would be viewed and interpreted as an approval of that war.

On this, the Washington Times says:

In the civilian realm, there are some that opposed the Iraq War and therefore do not support this campaign. They believe the concept of a nationwide parade stands as a testament to continued citizen denial regarding the conflict’s legacy and the public’s complicity with unlawful war. They assert that the past ten years have revealed terrible truths: that Iraq was invaded under false pretenses contrived by a corrupt administration willing to exchange American wealth and lives, not for Iraqi freedom but to secure defense contracts and oil futures for major corporations. They feel that the failure of civilians to hold their politicians accountable for deceptions to which veterans bore the brunt, deems the entire affair a charade of willful ignorance.

I agree in part. The war was unnecessary and waged under false pretenses “contrived by a corrupt administration.” We did squander our blood and treasure. But I have to say again, “The parade is not about the war, it’s all about the troops who so selflessly served in it — and who sacrificed so much.”

My opinion is just the opinion of someone who did not serve in Iraq, who did not support that war, but who did and does support and respect the troops who fought in it. What is really important, however, is how the Iraq War veterans themselves feel about such a tribute.

I have not seen polls or surveys on this, but the reactions and opinions of our veterans and veterans organizations seem to be mixed. Many of our troops, ever-modest about their service and sacrifice, claim that they “were just doing their jobs” and that the attention and the efforts and funds would be better placed and spent on improving the lot of our returning veterans.

The Washington Times attributes the following to a career active-duty Army officer planning to deploy to Afghanistan this year, and a member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA):

Civilians need to understand that we had dog and pony events in the military, so a parade is mostly for them. We’re starving, we’re homeless, and we’re unemployed. If millions of dollars in resources for nationwide parades are available, spend them wisely and not just on Iraq veterans.

On the other hand Paul Reickhoff, founder of IAVA, feels — and believes that most Americans feel the same way — that “if the Giants deserve a Super Bowl parade, so do the one million Iraq veterans who have served.”

An article by an Army infantryman who served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 drew my attention.

Colby Buzzell, author of “My War: Killing Time in Iraq” and “Lost in America: A Dead-End Journey,” writes in the Washington Post:

I’m not all that concerned with parades, not in a big city or a small town, at halftime or any other time. What concerns me is the day after the parade, the day after the Sept. 11 anniversary events, the day when the flags are put away and America stops cheering and it’s back to business as usual. That’s what scares me.

On the current debate over whether or not to have a national parade, Buzzell observes:

While all this arguing is going on, veterans are struggling. In this country, an average of 18 veterans commit suicide every day. The jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is as high as 15 percent. They are trying to find work despite having been labeled ticking time bombs, unable to assimilate back into society, plagued with post-traumatic stress.

Buzzell also has poignant opinions about the upcoming “Nation’s Gratitude” dinner, other war “victory” parades and, perhaps cynically, concludes that like many who served in Iraq, he has had his parade: one that Iraqis “kindly” threw for him when back in August, 2004 while driving down “Route Tampa” in Mosul, his “entire infantry platoon was ambushed by heavy AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenade fire coming from all directions” resulting in more than a dozen soldiers in his unit receiving Purple Hearts.

Read more of Buzzell’s opinions on this issue here.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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