Just over a week ago, on March 19, nine years had passed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. With the war now over and the troops either home or in a different theatre, it felt like a good time to consider what we can do to support our nationâ€™s veterans.
Throughout our history, soldiers have experienced vastly different homecomings; from the ticker-tape parades of WWII and the 1991 Gulf War, to the protests and misguided anger Vietnam veterans came home to. But the veterans of George W. Bushâ€™s war in Iraq came home much like they fought â€“â€“ invisibly.
This is not to say that the soldiersâ€™ monumental efforts and sacrifices were invisible, but they were largely overlooked by the vast majority of Americans who didnâ€™t serve or have family or close friends serving. To Americaâ€™s credit, this was intentional, as the Bush Administration proved it learned at least one lesson from Vietnam and deliberately controlled the access and tone of the press.
The Bush Administration controlled access by embedding journalists â€“â€“ giving what seemed to be unprecedented access to the press, while simultaneously creating a total reliance on the units the press was embedded with, limiting independent reporting.
To control the tone of the press, the Bush administration took a few measures.
First, to trump up support for the war, officials made false claims of surety about Iraqâ€™s WMD programs and repeatedly included Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the same conversation as 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, despite their lack of any real connection.
Next, the admin implemented a program that involved recruiting more than 75 retired military officers to spread the Pentagonâ€™s message through the retired officers contributing analysis to 24-hour news networks like CNN, Fox and MSNBC.
â€œMany [retired military officials] also shared with Mr. Bushâ€™s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nationâ€™s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war,â€ the New York Times found in 2008.
Finally, pictures of troops returning home in flag-draped coffins, having made the ultimate sacrifice, were banned from publication, removing this visceral reminder of warâ€™s harsh reality.
More than anything, though, the war was invisible because the sacrifice was spread so thin â€“â€“ with an all-volunteer military and less than one percent of the countryâ€™s population serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Never before in our nationâ€™s long history of war has so little been asked of so many, and so much of so few.
During WWII, entire industries were converted, around 10 percent of the population served and everyone sacrificed.
During Vietnam, the draft spread the sacrifice to all but those who found ways around serving or were lucky enough that their number wasnâ€™t pulled.
So Iraq (and Afghanistan), was fought, by design, far-removed from most peopleâ€™s daily life.
And now, with no major parades to welcome them home, and the ninth anniversary of the invasion passing, the war has only become more invisible â€“â€“ but its lessons, and its veterans, shouldnâ€™t.
As the drum-beat to war with Iran gets louder, the lessons from Iraq become increasingly important. So lend those military analysts a skeptical ear, as many of them are the same faces who shared their Pentagon-approved opinions on the war with Iraq not-so-many years ago.
Beyond that, each of us can do our part to make sure our nationâ€™s veterans know their sacrifice wasnâ€™t invisible. Send a check or volunteer with charities like the Fallen Heroes Fund, the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund or many others. (Make sure your money is going to good use, groups like CharityWatch grade charities to help people make educated donations.)
Thanking veterans doesnâ€™t take sending working with a charity, however. My mother-in-law walks up to, thanks and shakes the hand of everyone she sees in a military uniform. You donâ€™t have to be so forward; sometimes a look in the eye and a nod goes a long way.
Even better, send over a round, or pick up the tab when you see someone in uniform grabbing a drink or a bite to eat.
If youâ€™re in the position to hire someone, hire a veteran.
And when you see someone homeless, asking for some help, give it â€“â€“ because thereâ€™s a good chance (33 percent of homeless adults), that itâ€™s a veteran standing in front of you.
Jesse Benn is a senior political science major whoâ€™s wearing his hoodie up this week. His column runs Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.