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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Protest the war, not the warriors

The troops deserve their nation’s thanks – military service is a tough and dangerous job these days.

.I read in Friday’s Minnesota Daily that a number of students chose to protest the war in Iraq with a demonstration in front of an armed services recruiting office on campus. I would like to address what I thought was a particularly disrespectful and badly chosen venue for protesting the war in Iraq.

As a veteran of this conflict, I remind those who disagree with President George W. Bush’s war policy that the people serving our country do not unanimously agree with every policy decision made by the executive branch, nor should they. When they begin their service they swear to support and defend the Constitution. There is no language in any enlisted soldier’s or officer’s oath pledging allegiance to any faction, political party, ideology or individual.

Many of them, in fact, vocally disagreed with the president’s neo-conservative decisions on Iraq and subsequent failures in stabilizing that country. An even greater number disagrees with current exploitative policies, such as stop-loss and the undue burden on our reserve and National Guard troops. If you look to the record, you will see that some of the harshest criticism of this administration’s plans to invade Iraq initially came from those in uniform. Read the comments of Gen. Anthony Zinni, Gen. Wesley Clark, Gen. Joe Hoar or Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to learn more.

Our nation’s armed forces are quite possibly the most diverse group you will find working together successfully. Working to accomplish any given mission, you will find: red-state-proud rednecks; blue state urbanites; people who grew up in abject poverty; people who grew up in sheltered suburbia; Jews; Mormons, Hispanics; blacks; whites; Muslims; Christians; Ivy-League educated lawyers; Democrats; Libertarians; Republicans; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., supporters; Bush supporters; nonvoters; citizens; noncitizens and any subclassification of the United States you can dream up. The common link between them all is that, at some point, they decided that serving this great nation for a period of time would become a duty and that they would follow the orders of our country’s elected leadership.

I urge those who protest the war policy of the administration to direct their energy and presence in directions that do not alienate the people who have courageously and voluntarily chosen to serve all of the people of the United States. I suggest that you pick up your placards and move locations. Hold a protest to neoconservatism at the young Republicans’ next meeting; hold a protest at the State Capitol for the state’s failure to take care of National Guard and reserve veterans who have been shortchanged by the president’s health-care policy; or hold a rally for political candidates that share your beliefs, but please do not attack the young men and women who choose to serve you.

Frankly, the National Guard and Reservists have as much reason as you to be unhappy with Bush and his allies in Congress. The commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve said that his organization’s back will be broken if the Pentagon does not radically alter its overuse of his soldiers. Congress refuses to pass mandatory funding for the Veteran’s Administration, despite creating combat veterans in two major occupations. Contrary to the president’s Soviet-style, troop-laden, no-mention-of-Afghanistan-or-Iraq inauguration, his commitment to tax cuts has come before the high costs involved in taking care of our troops, rebuilding occupied Iraq and sustainable victories in the war on terror.

I think that a very reasonable and enlightening form of making your point would be to respectfully ask one of the National Guard or active duty recruiters to attend a College Republicans meeting and see how many of those students are willing to put their skin on the line in executing their party’s chosen foreign policy. I had many conversations with “Bush-Cheney” button-wearing students last fall who, when I asked them if they were planning to “join up,” looked at me as though I was crazy. I heard as many excuses as there are different types of soldiers. Some were going to medical school, some had jobs waiting for them and some said that idea was nuts: “Why would I go fight if I didn’t have to?”

My request is simple and I hope that you will honor it: Please keep the individual warriors separated from the war. The young men and women serving us now are in many ways the best our nation has to offer and will become the leadership of tomorrow’s military. They do not choose the missions they carry out. If you want to change their mission, change your civilian government by electing new leadership and lobbying your current leaders. In the meantime, remember to thank the troops for their service. It’s a rough job these days, and while there are plenty of yellow-ribbon bumper stickers out there, the president has yet to ask a majority of the public people to pony up behind our troops.

Andrew Borene is a University law student and adviser to Operation Truth, a nonpartisan Iraq veterans’ organization. Please send comments to [email protected].

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