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April 22, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I am an 8-year veteran of the US Army. I served from 1992-2000, 4 years on active duty and 3 years in the LANG. I was in the 3/75th Ranger battalion from 1992-1994. During those two years I lost friends in training accidents, in Somalia, and to suicide. I lost other friends to different incidents throughout my active duty service and even lost friends in the guard.

My question is simple: where were the anti-war activists during Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Rwanda? I see this "movement" against war that I feel is insincere. I believe, from my experience, that you people do more to damage the safety of others than help. For example, in Somalia it was a belief among the warlords that military blunders and US deaths would force us from the country. Their plan worked and starving people were left to fend for themselves against thugs and outlaws. Have you ever handed food to someone that was literally starving and suffering from the abuse of others?

New Orleans, LA

Dear Benjamin,

First, please let me thank you for the service you have given to me and other Americans. I am deeply appreciative of the sacrifices that you and your comrades have made in service to America, and of the sacrifices that hundreds of men and women continue to make today.

To answer your question, there are many different types of anti-war activists, and they are motivated by a variety of beliefs, including:

  • All violence, regardless of the reasons, is morally wrong;

  • Violence must be applied only as the last resort, only where it will save innocent peoples from an incontrovertibly clear and imminent danger of genocide, and only where the cost in lives will ultimately be less than the cost of waiting through diplomatic, economic, and other efforts to solve the problem;

  • Military force should be applied only under circumstances which meet defined criteria for a "just war;" or

  • The potential foreign policy benefits to the U.S. must clearly and substantially outweigh the terrible costs in lives and dollars of a military effort.

In Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo, and Haiti, some individuals who might have been anti-war activists in other situations did not protest strongly because they felt that their particular criterion had been met. This may seem 'insincere' to you, but it is perfectly consistent with their beliefs. Still others protested quite strongly; but the media did not cover it.

Those serving in the military have a painful awareness of how support (or lack of support) for their efforts from "at home" has an impact on their mission effectiveness. So do America's elected representatives, who are ultimately responsible for how and where America's military force is applied. And because of the character of America's military efforts in the last fifteen years, the general public increasingly shares that awareness. Auntie Pinko does not believe that anyone who is currently protesting the conduct of America's military operations in Iraq is doing so frivolously, insincerely, or in ignorance of that effect.

The awareness of the 'public support' dynamic and its impact on military effectiveness was a large factor in the development of "the Powell Doctrine," formulated during Colin Powell's tenure as Chief of Staff. It dictated criteria for American military involvement that took this dynamic into effect. It was widely circulated and policy makers were well aware of it. Perhaps, had it been applied conscientiously to the situation in Iraq, events might have proceeded differently.

I know it is hard for military personnel who are aware of this dynamic to understand why their fellow-citizens still express opposition to military actions. But I can only hope that they are remembering the reason the most fundamental reason of all to serve in the military: to protect all Americans' freedom of speech. It seems hard to do so when the exercise of that freedom makes a soldier's job more difficult, but that is the essence of why American ideals are worth fighting for, even sacrificing lives for.

You ask, "Have you ever handed food to someone that was literally starving and suffering from the abuse of others?" The answer is yes, Benjamin, I have. Right here in America, too. And a number of my "peacenik" friends have also done so, in parts of the world where such actions put their lives at risk. Some died in the process. Conviction comes in many forms; courage is not limited to soldiers.

The question of whether America's military power should be used to prevent brutal and tyrannical dictators from oppressing and abusing their own people is very old. This reason has been used to justify many military efforts in the past, clear back to the Spanish-American war. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes it is used as a moral figleaf to achieve other, less purely altruistic objectives - a mistake which profoundly damages America's credibility and effectiveness. Indeed, it probably impacts military effectiveness to the same (or possibly greater) degree as the 'public support' dynamic.

These factors should all be taken into account by a prudent Commander-in-Chief prior to hazarding the lives of our servicemen and women. Do you think the current Commander-in-Chief did an adequate job of that in the case of Iraq, Benjamin? Auntie Pinko fears not. But I'm very glad that you shared your question with me, anyhow.

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