My feelings about Desert Storm troops range from excitement to apathy. I'm delighted they're coming home, grateful the casualties were so few, but overall I guess I'm indifferent. They did their job - in some cases fantastically well, like the pilots and the 2nd Marine Division - and now it's over and they can get on with their lives, much like the Vietnam veterans got on with theirs.
My fear is that the news media will now glamorize them to the point that we as a nation will think we can kick anyone around. The defense budget is still out of control, with legions of useless programs and weapons that expose too many individuals to harm's way. The high-tech stuff proved its worth in Iraq, from the Stealth fighter to the cruise and Patriot missiles. And now, rather than sink billions into obsolete bombers and useless paraphernalia, the military can slim down, pull back from Europe and start letting our allies - the real beneficiaries of Operation Desert Storm - foot their own defense bill.I'm also waiting for the first news report of "a deranged Desert Storm veteran" who takes over a bank, or shoots his or her spouse or commits some other crime. I hope the media jump all over it like they did the "crazed-Vietnam-veteran-with-a-gun" story we all endured almost monthly through the '70s.
Do I care that the Vietnam veterans didn't have a parade? They had a parade - Miami 1972 in front of the GOP convention hall. There were others, with the completion of the Vietnam War Memorial, and almost every Veterans Day since 1975. We've had enough hand wringing and reflecting to last a lifetime.
The Vietnam veterans were sold out by Henry Kissinger in the Paris peace agreement, ignored by Congress throughout the '70s with inadequate school and housing benefits and shunned by a nation that didn't care - and as far as we can tell, still doesn't.
Unlike Kuwait, the United States' objectives in Vietnam were never clear - "stopping communist aggression" does not translate into military objectives. Bomb this bunker, recapture this area, kill this enemy - those are tangible, achievable military goals. Winning over a people who don't care whether they're ruled from Saigon or Hanoi is not a military job - it's a diplomatic or a societal problem.
The problem the Vietnam veteran faces is not that we were ignored - although we were. The problem is we weren't allowed to finish a job, nor did our leaders want us to.
The Vietnam War was fought for simplistic reasons. It was Johnson's war and Nixon's war. They refused to end it - or win it - and Congress was happy to pull the purse strings and didn't have the courage to call it off or finish it.
Operation Desert Storm had clear objectives, the support of the people and the Congress and when victory was assured, the president forced Iraq into peace. Yeah, the military's come a long way since Tet 1968, Cambodia 1970 and even the failed rescue attempt in the Iranian desert in 1980.
But now it's time to take the little flags off the sports jerseys and the yellow ribbons from the tress and get back to solving some of our domestic problems. We need to make sure the next time America fights, we do so with the same resolve we had against Saddam.