By Ash Pulcifer
YellowTimes.org Columnist (United States)
(YellowTimes.org) - All too often, Americans fail to distinguish the difference between the motives of the federal government and that of individual members in the armed forces. They incorrectly project their distaste for administration officials onto those individuals in the military who are often fighting for noble values.
Many members of the U.S. armed forces joined the military in order to protect their ideals and the ideals of their countrymen. In a sacrificial gesture, many are willing to offer their bodies to protect and secure the lives of others. Yet despite their generosity, much of American society falsely attributes to them the amoral decisions made by officials in the federal government.
Vietnam is the most potent example. In the early days of the Vietnam War, when U.S. Marines landed in Danang on March 8, 1965, they went on the notion that they were fighting to protect the southern Vietnamese from communists in the northern half of the country. These soldiers were told that the Vietnamese people below the 17th parallel needed the help of the United States to protect their freedoms.
Yet later, as classified documents were leaked to the media in what became known as the Pentagon Papers, the lies put forth by successive U.S. administrations regarding their Vietnam policy were exposed. It became known that during the early 1950s, at the time of the Eisenhower administration, the CIA found that if fair and free elections were held as scheduled by the Geneva Accords in 1956, well over a majority of the Vietnamese people, in both the north and the south, would have voted for Ho Chi Minh.
Because the Eisenhower administration considered this outcome unacceptable for U.S. interests, the United States decided to subvert the Geneva Accords and instead tried to prop up an independent capitalist state below the 17th parallel. In order to support their involvement, successive U.S. administrations successfully convinced the American people that the Vietnamese in the south of the country needed to be "saved" from the "godless communists," led by Ho Chi Minh, in the north. Little did Americans know that, at least in the '50s and much of the '60s, a majority of the Vietnamese population did not want to be "saved." And it was for these fallacious reasons that Americans initially supported the Vietnam War; more importantly, it was for these fallacious reasons that many U.S. soldiers gave their lives.
Yet the true motives of U.S. involvement do not alter the true motives of the individual soldier, which was often very honorable. But at the time, and even more so today, many Americans assumed that nearly all U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were corrupt, immoral individuals who cared nothing for freedom and democracy and were instead bloodthirsty baby killers. The actions of William Calley and his men at My Lai, and other atrocities committed by American forces in Vietnam, helped to solidify this opinion.
Today, the same sentiment has resurfaced, this time emanating from the anti-war movement. There is the common insinuation and even outspoken accusation that U.S. soldiers in Iraq are murderous individuals who care nothing for everyday Iraqis. Just like in Vietnam, much of America has failed to note the distinction between the motives of the individual soldier and the motives of the federal government.
If the Bush administration's motives for invading Iraq can be considered immoral, this does not make the average U.S. soldier immoral. Critics of the invasion of Iraq should concentrate their accusations on that of actual administration policy, not at the soldiers in Iraq who themselves are often fighting for noble reasons. Criticizing them does nothing to further the cause of the anti-war movement and certainly does not help to inform the American populace of the Bush administration's actual motives.
[Ash Pulcifer is a U.S. based analyst of international conflicts and is also a human rights activist. While he does not justify or accept the killing of civilians in warfare, he attempts to understand why groups or governments resort to such means in order to achieve their strategic objectives.]
Ash Pulcifer encourages your comments: apulcifer@YellowTimes.org