In the late 1700s, a clarion call went out in the British Colonies of the New World. Brave sons responded and waged war upon their masters to shake off the yoke of colonial rule and change the face of the world. In 1812, that same colonial master failed to properly respect her upstart bastard offspring, and the United States again gave up many of its youngest and bravest in a war that is primarily remembered today for inspiring the American national anthem.
In 1861, the founding principles of this great experimental union were threatened and one of the most truly binding facets of both the North and the South was the eagerness with which their native sons responded to fight for their land, for their liberty, and for their determined beliefs.
They were both convinced that the governments in which name they were fighting had called upon them with integrity and were waging war for the noblest of causes. The ensuing Civil War left no winners; only survivors remained.
These survivors picked up the fragments of cannon shrapnel and entrails on the battlefields and reconstructed the South. Steel tempered became steel strengthened.
Several small wars followed, but it was not until our policy of isolationism was overcome by the horror of World War I that again American sons and daughters were asked to go forth en masse into the Old World by their leaders and wage war for noble causes.
Without question, this generation also responded and fought in the bloody war to end all wars. A peace brought on by horror lasts only so long as those who can vividly recall the violence that actually occurred, and so a short 20 years later, we found ourselves on the brink again.
Europe was thrown into chaos by political and social intolerance, wearing the names of Nazism and Fascism. Again, an American generation was called by their leaders and ennobled with the power of righteousness and the desire to liberate the free world from a tyrannical shadow.
Following this, we once again found ourselves embroiled in a conflict in Korea, where the policy of containment was put to a successful martial test.
Today, American sons and daughters are again called upon by our "elected leaders" to wage war in the Middle East. Yet at this time, we still have not learned the lesson of the Vietnam War, in which the same caliber of indefatigable American men and women answered their nation's call to wage war on communism only to have their great capabilities wasted by a government that failed to develop a successful policy. They failed even to develop a policy of any kind other than to feed more and more of our nation's youth to the jungle out of some misguided fear that the spread of communism to Vietnam would somehow threaten our own way of life.
The lesson that Americans have failed to learn is this: Simply stamping our flag upon the face of a cause does not give it intrinsic value or righteousness.
Through the trials of our early conflicts, we fought with the strength of a young child determined to live. Our abilities were being tested by the world at large and we needed to prove ourselves to be more than the upstart child. We did this well and shrouded ourselves in the nimbus of our newfound independence, fighting always in its name and rightfully so. We preserved our Union and then went on to fight in the world at large, with the flag of freedom always unfurling in our wake.
Our soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen distinguished themselves in the fields of Europe fighting with the will of the entire free world alongside the British, French, Russians and others to stop the tide of malevolent regimes from overtaking them.
In Vietnam, we fought for ... what? We fought to fight back what we painted as the "evil" wave of communism, a wave that crashed and receded now some twelve years past. To this day still, our Vietnam veterans maintain a fierce pride of their time in-country, as they should.
They answered their country's call as all young men and women of the U. S. should be proud to do. But that pride is accompanied with a great confusion and bitterness over the period served. All of our veterans want to maintain their pride of service, but something tells them that our war in Vietnam, while waged by the same honor bound and brave soldiers as our prior conflicts, was waged not in the name of righteousness but in fear and in confusion and amidst one of the greatest public debates of history.
Today, we speak of war in Iraq. In whose name is this war waged? In whose flag can Bush's cabinet wrap themselves?
This war is not waged to abet the war on terrorism; Iraq's government is secular and while Saddam welcomes any blow to the United States, he has professed no major interest in supporting Al Qaeda's jihad.
It is not waged to stop the tide of a malevolent regime; Saddam has shown no interest in expanding his territory, and his government is, in fact, hard pressed to hold on to the territory that it does control.
Saddam Hussein is not fit to preside over a populace. The citizens of Iraq will be much better off without him or his sons sitting atop their nation's regime. But why do we wish to bomb these people into further submission for the crimes of their president?
Will they see American and British soldiers as riding into their country on white horses shaking off Saddam's regime, or will they look around seeing only fragments of once-great Mesopotamia left and wonder what there is for them to go on with?
Of course, the West will involve itself in the reconstruction and aid in the adoption of a democratic regime, but will we honestly be able to keep our over-burgeoning thirst for oil from taking control of us? Will we be able to support a regime that is favorable to the Iraqi citizens in place of one that gives us a reduced price per barrel?
We have no leg to stand on any more, considering that Saddam has now capitulated and agreed to allow inspectors into Iraq unconditionally. We held some moral high ground while he refused to allow these inspectors in, but we are quickly losing that high ground.
Most of the high ground that we gained after the Gulf War was lost in our supporting of UN-imposed sanctions that did little to hurt Saddam's regime. These sanctions actually injure the citizens of Iraq more than anything and they allow Saddam's propaganda machine to paint the Western World in a negative light to these citizens. But still our leaders wrap the Iraqi invasion plans in a red, white and blue dossier and expect it to have righteousness simply because it was designed by those who stand behind that flag.
True patriotism is not standing behind that flag; true patriotism is standing in front of it, bleeding in front of it, and breathing your last breath in service to it, just to keep it from being sullied by those who would take it away and hijack our values from us.
Our elders failed to properly indoctrinate our children with the lessons of Vietnam, and again we find the American government covering itself in the Stars and Stripes and attempting to dupe the American public into following into a war that should properly be presented within a barrel of oil.
Another lesson taught in every conflict and still unlearned is that the decision to go to war should be one that is despaired over. It should be one that is met only with the firmest resolve and that is often signed in tears.
Bloodshed is not something to approach lightly. Freedom is not gained easily and the American way will never be cheap, but a war declaration should never be signed in red, white and blue ink and binding one in our flag does not give it the quality of correctness; it only fades the colors of that flag. I hope that the majority of the American public realizes this, in spite of what is fed to us from the mass media.
Colin Dorrity is a Non-Commissioned Officer serving proudly on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. He is currently stationed in the Middle East and looks forward to returning home in 2003.
Sgt. Colin Dorrity, USMC