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“With Gratitude”: The New Greatest Generation Is Right Here Among Us

For nearly a decade I have had the privilege of teaching veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, though they have taught me more.

Most of them were Army captains and majors who had done three or four tours of duty. And here’s the most remarkable thing: Not one of these men and women complained about what we asked of them.

They have, however, occasionally objected to the shameful fact that after the first few years of hostilities, these became largely invisible conflicts. In the final stages of the Iraq war and for a long time now in Afghanistan, there has been something close to media silence even as our fellow Americans continue to fight and die.

The ongoing war barely impinges on our daily discussions, and we don’t bother to argue much about our Afghanistan policy. Mostly, we hope that President Obama can keep his promise to bring our troops home.

My Thanksgiving thoughts have often turned toward my military students at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute and to the thousands like them who have done very hard duty with little notice.

But this year, the gratitude that they inspire has been heightened, perhaps paradoxically, by the news about David Petraeus, his affair and the mess left behind. I won’t add to the mountain of Petraeus commentary, so much of which has been driven by preexisting attitudes toward Petraeus himself, the wars he led or the matter of how we should deal publicly with sexuality.

What has troubled me is how writing on all sides has aggravated the understandable but disturbing tendency to lay so much stress on the role of famous generals that we forget both the centrality of midlevel military leadership and the daily sacrifices and bravery of those in the enlisted ranks who carry out orders from on high.

There is, of course, nothing at all new about celebrity generals, and many of them truly deserved the accolades that came their way. One thinks, for example, of Ulysses S. Grant, who is enjoying a comeback among historians, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose subsequent presidency should give Republicans trying to rebuild their party some useful guidance.

But our military has been at its best when it combined two deeply American impulses, one more honored on the right, the other on the left.

We are an entrepreneurial country, and members of our officer corps do extraordinary work when they are given the freedom to think for themselves and to innovate.

We are also a democratic nation, and although the military is necessarily rank-conscious, the U.S. armed forces have traditionally nurtured an egalitarian ethos that cultivated loyalty all the way down. This is one reason reports of rather privileged living by generals are grating, even if none of us begrudges a bit of comfort for those — including people at the top — who give their lives to service.

The entrepreneurial and democratic spirits are important in battle, but they are even more important to the many noncombat tasks that we are now asking our military to undertake. Petraeus’s approach to Iraq depended upon officers who had exceptional political gifts and an ability to improvise as they worked with local leaders. As an Army major serving in Iraq wrote in a memo that was shared with me back in 2007, “We discovered that we were not fighting a military campaign but a political campaign — not too different from what a small-town mayor might do to win reelection back in the U.S.” The surge was as much about this kind of inventiveness as it was about military planning.

We can show our gratitude toward these officers and their troops in at least two ways.

First, as my MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow keeps reminding us, we need to cut through what the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calls the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “egregious failure to process the claims of our veterans” in a timely and effective way.

And we need to recognize the contribution that this new generation of veterans can make to our nation. The character of the “Greatest Generation” that fought World War II was established not by the generals or the admirals but by the officers in the lower ranks and the millions of enlisted men and women who carried into civilian life both the skills and the sense of service and community they learned in the war years.

My students taught me that we don’t need to be nostalgic about the Greatest Generation. It’s right here among us.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 21, 2012

November 22, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Like It Or Not, Only In America”: Be Thankful For Our Democracy And The Troops Who Protect It

Six years ago I celebrated Thanksgiving on a small Iraqi base in western Ninewa province. Nearly halfway through my year-long tour on that day me and 9 other members of the military transition team I served with (one man was home on leave) settled in to watch a game of football. No, not the Cowboys or the Lions. In this case it was a soccer match between the young members of an American cavalry troop who were co-located with us at the time and ringers from the Iraqi battalion. Final score, 1st Battalion: 20, B Troop: 2. Or something like that. (The energy and fitness of the young troopers could not overcome the superior passing skills and finesse of the Iraqis.)

The weather in the high desert was changing from the arid heat to the cooler fall. We sat down that afternoon to a meal of hot, or at least warmish, and plentiful “A” rations of some form of pressed turkey loaf and fixings. This certainly was not the feasts available on some of the larger American and coalition forward operating bases throughout the country, and certainly was not as joyous an occasion as being surrounded by friends and family and favorite foods and beverages as available back here in the United States, but in retrospect it was quite good. It certainly was much better than what I am sure some soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines will be having tomorrow in remote combat outposts in Afghanistan. The fellowship of being surrounded by fellow soldiers, American and Iraqi, made the circumstances of being so far from home in a war zone bearable.

So on this Thanksgiving I say we give thanks for many things, even though individual circumstances may dictate the depth of our thanks. But collectively we Americans should be thankful for living in a country where violence and intimidation are not the norms for resolving political differences. Sure, we just exited from a contentious presidential election. And yes there was some hyperventilation about the results from some quarters (just as there was following the 2000 and 2004 elections) and the economy continues to sputter along, but we do live in a country where the deliberate, indiscriminate use of explosives or mass violence to systematically target to kill people simply due to their race, ethnicity, religion, or creed is not the norm. Yes, tragic incidents occur from time to time, but their rarity makes their occurrence all the more shocking.

We should also give thanks to the men and women of the armed forces and other members of the U.S. government and supporting contracting personnel who are separated from friends and family and are providing for the common defense and the advancement of U.S. interests abroad, whether they be in war zones or not. We hope to see you back home soon. For those in harm’s way be as safe as the mission allows.

 

By: Michael P. Noonan, U. S. News and World Report, November 21, 2012

November 22, 2012 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Loons And Wackos”: In GOP Civil War, It’s Limbaugh vs The Consultants

The last time we checked in with the post-election GOP civil war, Herman Cain was threatening to form a new party to compete with the GOP, Bill Kristol sparked a schism over tax increases, and Grover Norquist, the high priest of anti-tax dogma, was losing his grip on congressional Republicans.

This week, the Republican soul searching and polite recriminations via anonymous quote exploded into an all-out war of words between representatives of two wings of the party that have never gotten along, but largely kept quiet for the good of the conservative cause.

In one corner are the consultants, Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign, and Mike Murphy, who advised Mitt Romney. In the other corner is Rush Limbaugh, the embodiment of the conservative id in human form. We don’t have a dog in this fight as there’s blood on both of their hands, so just sit back and enjoy.

Schmidt threw the first punch in this battle on “Meet the Press” with a left, left combo strike against the right flank of his party. GOP leaders have “succumbed to the base,” he said last Sunday, arguing that “to too many swing voters in the country, when you hear the word ‘conservative’ now, they think of loons and wackos.” As if that weren’t enough, when host David Gregory played a clip of Limbaugh, Schmidt took the bait. “Our elected leaders are scared to death of the conservative entertainment complex, the shrill and divisive voices that are bombastic and broadcasting out into the homes,” he said in a clear reference to the radio host.

A week later on the same show, Murphy tagged in and continued the pummeling, this time calling out Limbaugh by name. “If we don’t modernize conservatism, we can go extinct … we’ve got to get kind of a party view of America that’s not right out of Rush Limbaugh’s dream journal,” Murphy said. He continued to deliver the blows:

“We alienate young voters because of gay marriage, we have a policy problem. We alienate Latinos — the fastest growing voter group in the country, because of our fetish on so-called amnesty, when we should be for a path to immigration. And we’ve lost our connection to middle-class economics. We also have an operative class and unfortunately a lot of which is incompetent … The biggest problem Mitt Romney had was the Republican primary. That’s what’s driving the Republican brand right now to a disaster.”

It’s a rather stunning rebuke from someone who was a top strategist to the Republican Party’s standard bearer just a few weeks ago. And it’s a surprisingly earnest, clear-eyed diagnosis of the party’s problem — its policy — from a leader in a party that has spent a lot of time after the election talking about superficial fixes that won’t change much. (That said, it’s more than a little ironic for him to attack an operative class that doesn’t know how to win considering that he … is an operative who just lost.)

Limbaugh didn’t hesitate to fire back. “What, folks, did I or any of you have to do with the Republican primary? Did not Murphy get the candidate he wanted?” the radio host said Monday. Indeed, Limbaugh is right, at least in that he was never a fan of Romney during the GOP primary.

“All these consultants, do you realize they get rich no matter who wins or loses? Little-known secret,” Limbaugh said (right again). “We need to get rid of conservatism, is what is he’s saying. We need to get rid of all these people shouting stupid conservative stuff,” the radio host added.

Limbaugh then went after Schmidt personally, saying, “I don’t know where Schmidt has a victory to hang his hat on.”

Yesterday, he also put to bed any rumors that he would support tax increases, as he had hinted at earlier.

Schmidt’s membership card to Limbaugh’s conservative movement was revoked four years ago after McCain’s loss and when Sarah Palin seemed to make it her mission to destroy him. So it’s not particularly surprising that he would tangle with Limbaugh. But the addition of Murphy, and the openness and viciousness of the conflict, illuminates the front lines in the civil war as the party tries to remake itself for future elections.

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, November 21, 2012

November 22, 2012 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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