An Old Post from '05

I, Vietnam

At the heart of the recent inauguration celebrations, Bush's public addresses, and, one might even argue, the Bush presidency, lies a virtue peculiar to politicians: gratefulness.

Public figures always seek to praise the good, or at the least, the appearance of it. But the Bush presidency has been particularly attentive to recognizing, both publicly and privately, the sacrifices of our troops. There are mitigating factors, of course, publicity among them. But Bush has recognized the absolute necessity of positive morale - and not just among the battle-ready overseas.

Last evening’s State of the Union address was a small, though fitting, tribute of the kind Bush likes to make. While it wasn’t widely recognized by national media, the recent inauguration was an homage to the armed forces. In the days leading up to the ceremony, state senators scrambled for standing-room-only tickets to the ceremonies, while large numbers of passes were distributed at will among service members and their families. At the balls, citizens doled out $150 or more to join the jostling throngs, while the administration hosted a special armed forces and their families only ball, attended by the president and first lady.

The troops deeply appreciate these gestures. Yet Bush has done more for morale among Americans in general than the troops in particular. While it has been pointed out (most adroitly) that, “not every war is a Vietnam,” its frequent mention does serve as a good reminder: our troops defend us, and it is our duty, in return, to defend them.

Lyndon Johnson did not prove to be fortuitous in his timing; he happened to wage a war at precisely the same time that society chose to spontaneously combust. But our present president has faced his own historic trials, and shown remarkably more vigor in defending the dignity of our heroes. He may not have succeeded in justifying the war through the media, but he has certainly succeeded in justifying respect for the armed forces. Public figures in the form of Democrats and all manner of the opposed may vehemently claim that our presence in Iraq is downright wrong. But give them a soldier and a stage, and they’ll applaud like Donald Rumsfield.

These are different times of course, and September 11th looms large in the landscape of Bush’s influence. Yet, the stigma of war has largely been removed from those who wage war, to those who order it. Now it is Bush and the politicians, not the troops, who have become the myth of Vietnam. Whether intentionally or not, Bush has followed the sacrificial example of those he emulates: he admits no blame for his own actions, but he permits no blame for theirs.

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