I’ll put my cards on the table: I think going to war in Iraq almost a decade and a half ago was a mistake. I accept that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. I accept that he did all he could to threaten, harm, hurt and scare his people. I accept he was evil.
But going to war with him and sending troops into that country was the wrong political and military decision, if for no other reason than believing that democracy can be exported as if it were a car is foolhardy. (Yes, I hear my friends on the left screaming “WMD” at this point. I’m not ignoring that.)
President Bush’s legacy is forever tied to Iraq. In much the same way that Lyndon Johnson “owns” Vietnam and FDR “owns” World War II and so on down the line, George Bush “owns” Iraq. His name and that war are interlocked in history.
But I think he owns something else, too: He made America again respect the men and women who wear the military uniform, erasing a roughly 40-year period in which many Americans adopted a dismissive attitude (at best) or a disdainful (at worst) attitude when it came to veterans.
Consider that it is now commonplace for us to smile at a man or woman in uniform, as we warmly shake hands with him or her. We are quick to say something like “thank you for your service,” knowing that the person we’re looking at might have never been sent into battle and might never in the future.
The “thank you” we receive often reflects that they appreciate what we’ve said to them but don’t want to be told their special simply because of the job they do.
You’ll regularly see local journalism outlets reporting the return home of a veteran; and if that homecoming involves surprising the veteran’s young son or daughter at school, then you really have a dramatic story to tell.
Sure, those stories are predictable. Sure, there is an element of staging to them. But remember that no veteran who came home from Vietnam was treated that way. In fact, they’d have more likely received a “(bleep) you” than a smile. And they never were allowed to show up at their child’s school for a hug.
Credit Mr. Bush for making that happen.
Yes, I know that so much of this appreciation is symbolism and that America has so much more to do to help veterans as they come home. Their physical wounds are easy to see; their mental ones are not. I believe that if we’re going to send them “over there” that we must give them the care they need when they come back over here.
I’ll let all of you argue how well the Bush and Obama administrations did that, and if you think the Trump administration will do better (or worse).