War and Warriors – Now and Then
Several interesting reads about Iraq, Vietnam and warriors:
Frederick Kagan: Al Qaeda in Iraq – How to understand it. How to defeat it.
Victor Davis Hanson: The Former-Insurgent Counterinsurgency
Robert Kaplan: Rereading Vietnam (h/t Instapundit)
The Kaplan article is a particularly rich piece and worthy of a close reading. Here is what Villainous Company writes about it:
Glenn Reynolds points to an outstanding article on Bud Day and other unsung Vietnam-era vets.
If you read nothing else this week, make time for this. And if you don’t have time now, bookmark it and come back to it when you do have a free moment. You owe yourself that much. Last week I remarked that names like Bud Day, Leo Thorseness, and Jeremiah Denton ought to be household words, but aren’t.
It’s not so much that their courage and devotion to duty has been overlooked that troubles me. The disturbing thing is that a piece of our history – an important piece – has deliberately been airbrushed out of existence. These men’s stories carry a vital message for future generations; an inspiring message, a message of hope. The media seem predisposed to portray America as weak; a passive victim of random forces we cannot control. But these stories show that even under the most painful, hopeless, and degrading of conditions the human spirit can soar to undreamed of heights. They show that nobility of spirit can breach the most unbridgeable divide:
“I experienced what I couldn’t imagine human nature was capable of,” Denton said. “I witnessed what my comrades could rise to. Self-discipline, compassion, a realization there is a God.” He also experienced periodic compassion from the North Vietnamese. Sometimes the guards would weep as they tortured him.
One experience, he will never forget. Denton kept a cross, fashioned out of broom straws, hidden in a propaganda booklet in his cell. The cross was a gift from another prisoner. When a guard found the cross, he shredded it. Spat on it. Struck Denton in the face. Threw what was left of the cross on the floor and ground his heel into it. “It was the only thing I owned,” Denton said.
Later, when Denton returned to his cell, he began to tear up the propaganda booklet. He felt a lump in the book. He opened it. “Inside there was another cross, made infinitely better than the other one my buddy had made,” Denton said. When the guard tore up the cross, two Vietnamese workers saw what happened and fashioned him a new cross. “They could have been tortured for what they did,” Denton said.
Contrary to the countless media stories of crazed vets returning with PTSD, these men are not broken. They endured horrors vastly worse than the average soldier or Marine in today’s conflict. Jeremiah Denton survived nearly eight years in a North Vietnamese prison camp and went on to become a United States Senator for his home state, Alabama. How many people know that?
There is hope. Beliefs matter, but what is more important, standing up for your beliefs matters. The support and respect of your peers matters. But even if you are spat upon when you come home, even if your heroism is never recognized, even if your service is forgotten by a biased press that distorts history, you are not defeated, you are not shamed, you are not broken unless and until you decide to be…
Also from the Kaplan article:
“Character,” writes the younger [John] McCain, quoting the 19th century evangelist Dwight Moody, “is what you are in the dark,” when nobody’s looking and you silently make decisions about how you will act the next day.