A diminishing few, but always the greatest Americans

Posted: May 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Memorial Day, the war on terror, Bush, Kerry, a mainline press that does not so much inform as inflame: They're all intertwined, all of a piece. And the same elements, or elements like them with different names, have coalesced before. This isn't the first time.

We'll come back to Memorial Day and what it means.

First, recall these things:

In the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts, battlefield successes cast as mistakes. Genuine mistakes - Abu Ghraib, under-manning, underestimation of Iraqi (and Afghan) readiness for self-government, insufficient rhetorical rallying of the American people - played up. Defeatism. Doubts about the mission and whether the reasons for it (e.g., WMDs) were genuine or bogus. Doubts about the reliability of post-Saddam Iraqi forces. The curiously short shelf-lives of the grim deaths of Mike Spann, Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg; a sarin-filled rocket; the Chalabi betrayal; Saddam's mass graves.

Mounting pressure from the ideological opposition to cut and run. Questions about whether the prize is worth the cost in body bags. Dissension within the military ranks (now regarding who is responsible for Abu Ghraib - officers vs. enlisted, the military vs. the intelligence community). The Get Rummy brigades, whose ultimate goal is to get Bush. John Kerry making Vietnam a central element in his presidential campaign. Opposition to Bush's handling of Iraq up to 58 percent nationally, and up to 60 percent among California's registered voters. Kerry campaign surrogate Teddy Kennedy proclaiming Iraq to be Bush's Vietnam.

Now think back further to these things:

In Vietnam, battlefield successes (e.g., Tet) cast as losses. Genuine atrocities (My Lai) played up. Defeatism. Doubts about the viability, even the readiness for democracy, of various South Vietnamese regimes. Doubts about the rationale for the U.S. mission and the contrived pretext (the Tonkin Gulf Resolution) for going in. The sham distinction between the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese communists. Demands for elections. Doubts about the reliability of South Vietnamese forces.

Mounting pressure from the ideological opposition to cut and run. Draft-dodging. Dissension between the military in the field, the politicians in Washington and the Pentagon (McNamara) as to how to run the war - even what targets to hit; dissension within the military itself. The "anti-war" movement and John Kerry leaving his tour in Vietnam after four months to throw his (or someone's) medals or ribbons (or something) away and join Jane Fonda et al. in its front ranks. The exploitation of sentiment hostile to the U.S. effort in Vietnam to defeat Lyndon Johnson and to try to defeat Richard Nixon.

Regarding Afghanistan and Iraq we are seeing a good deal of what we saw regarding Vietnam: The manipulation of a strategic decision (to win the War on Terror or to stop communism) to achieve a domestic political outcome - and correspondingly enabling the battlefield enemy to win.

The passion against President Bush has not been seen since the 1972 McGovernite passion against President Nixon. The press, now "the media," may not be quite so whacked-out leftist as then, but it still plays a key tactical role in fueling hostility to the strategic goal by giving a platform to what Unabomber victim David Gelernter of Yale terms "every two-bit moralizing moron in the universe."

Which brings us to Memorial Day...

It memorializes those who died in America's wars.

Vietnam began as John Kennedy's war. When the left had finished its manipulations, it ended as Nixon's war. Now the left is casting Iraq as Bush's war. In truth, both remain what all the others were: America's wars. Those who fought in them, those who survived and those who did not, did so in most cases because they believed deeply that what they were doing was right. That's the same thing Mike Spann and Pat Tillman and their marvelous kind believed when they were killed in Afghanistan. It's what those serving in the military, practically all of them, believe now - the urgency of seeing the enterprise through to victory and vanquishing the malign.

And so, thinking about Vietnam and the War on Terror: To weigh the virtue of a particular war is to trivialize the service of those who put their life on the line to win it. This means not simply those of "the greatest generation" in World War II. Rather, it means all who believed in the cause at the time no matter what anyone may think of that cause today.

These are the greatest Americans of every generation - those who step forward and say, "I wish to be useful," even unto giving their lives in the American cause of the hour. They understood, and understand, that infusing every American war is in fact the ultimate cause - still known by a diminishing few still willing unquestioningly to defend it, as liberty.