Uniform not policy

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Making every Kansas City Chiefs game was once again a futile labor of love this season. There was, however, one recurring theme that I enjoyed immensely. Servicemen and women from all branches of our military, volunteered at the games for different charities. It was the reception that these men and women received from the public that made an impression on me.

We had extra tickets for several games this season. Selling them was all but impossible, and giving them away was not easy either. The Chiefs are in a sad state, and that is another story for another time.

Just outside the stadium at the next to last home game, we stopped to talk with some of these young service people. I noted several things about their behavior that made me proud.

First of all, when you talked to any of these young people (they seem really young by the way), each of them would include in their response "yes sir." They were not just saying the phrase. You could tell that months of training, had instilled in them a sense of respect and politeness.

The second thing I noted was their surprising lack of ego. We asked these young people if they had tickets to the game, and we offered them our extra tickets. They did not need tickets, and they again thanked us for the offer.

I shook hands with each of these youngsters and thanked them for the brave things they were doing for our country. To a person, they all seemed a little embarrassed by the compliments. They thanked us for our statements, and mostly they said they were just doing their jobs.

It was not just our group that was honoring these veterans. The love and respect that all the fans were demonstrating towards them was widespread and genuine. It got me to thinking about how different the attitudes of the public has been at different times in our history.

In the late '60s, the very unpopular Viet Nam War produced some sad incidents regarding our military personnel. The war became very unpopular, and for some reason this discontent translated itself into derogatory actions by citizens towards the soldiers themselves.

This is not a unique or isolated part of our country's history. In fact, the American people have often been quite negative towards the armed conflicts we have entered.

The first three conflicts in North America were by and large disliked by most of the population. The Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, were not well-liked by the general public. At one time or another, less than half of the people supported these wars. Even the Civil War saw draft riots in the north.

Our next few decades and conflicts received better favor from the general public. The Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II, were generally perceived by Americans as necessary fights for our country. These wars and the people who fought them were viewed with honor.

Things changed in the last half of the 20th Century. Beginning with the conflict in Korea, Americans had a different outlook on our involvements overseas. These new "Limited" wars changed the way we felt about both war and peace.

The causes of these changes are still being debated by the media and politicians. The most likely reason that Americans have had a change of heart, is due to a lack of clarity for these involvements. Time is also a major factor in our discontent.

Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and now Afghanistan, are all wars that fit this criteria. Many Americans began to question the validity of these conflicts. Their questioning increased in volume as the wars lasted longer and longer. Americans like a conflict that appears to have an obvious cause, and one that has an end in sight.

What happened to our service men and women in the '60s was a direct result of this lack of clarity and longevity. I was a witness to this change. As a high school student in the period from 1964-1966, the war and the attitude of the American people and media was fairly upbeat. That all changed as the conflict dragged on.

By the time I reached college in the late '60s. the "peace movement" was a common theme on most college campuses. The very wearing of the uniform received an unwarranted reaction from the followers of this movement. They could not display their unhappiness to the government, so they took it out on the military personnel instead.

The wounds from that period lasted for a long time. It was not until the first Gulf War, that the American public appeared to have a change in attitude. We once again found pride in the service of our American youth.

Luckily for all of us and our service personnel, that has continued through to today. Even during the worst of the times in the Iraq War, the public has remained courteous and respectful towards the military. When the war was in its darkest period a few years ago, the country began to question whether we should have ever started the fight in the first place.

Many people still have doubts as to the legitimacy of our policies in the Middle East. That debate will continue, and only history will decide the validity of our decisions.

But the honor and respect towards our fighting youth, has remained high during this time. Even though there is not a clear end in sight, we, the American people, have maintained our support for our youth. For that position, we can all take some measure of pride.

Remember, it is the person not the uniform or the conflict that you are supporting. Right or wrong these brave young people are there for us regardless of the cause.