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Appropriateness of protests worth considering

As I See It

As I thought about an appropriate topic for this week’s column it seemed inappropriate to ignore the war currently raging in Iraq.

At the time of writing, U.S.-led coalition forces are within 60 miles of Baghdad and beginning to incur more resistance from enemy forces. By the time this column actually makes it into print the current situation will be old news and we will have either accomplished our objective of displacing Saddam Hussein’s regime or have encountered enough trouble along the way to slow, or halt, our advance.

In the interest of writing something that would be relevant regardless of the situation in Iraq, I decided to reflect on my experiences of serving in the U.S. military during an unpopular war.

My reason for choosing this subject is the extensive anti-war demonstrations being conducted around the world in opposition to our invasion of Iraq.

I served in the U.S. Army from June 1971 through June 1973. I was among the last draftees to be conscripted into service against our wishes and was fortunate to be assigned stateside duty and never went to Vietnam. Nonetheless, I was part of our armed forces and subject to a fair amount of ridicule from those who opposed the war.

One of the great privileges of being an American is our unfettered right to protest anything with which we disagree. As with all privileges, this one should be exercised responsibly with view to the impact it is likely to have on others. In America and around the world anti-war demonstrators are protesting our involvement in Iraq. Similarly, anti-war demonstrators vocally and energetically proclaimed their opposition to our involvement in Vietnam during the 1960s and early 1970s. Americans should be proud of their right of dissent and that right should be protected regardless of whether we agree with the issue being dissented or not.

Without suggesting that dissent should be muffled during actual military operations, I question the appropriateness of demonstrations while our troops are entering into harm’s way. Should the war become protracted and the likelihood of fighting continuing for months and months, perhaps opposition demonstrations would become more appropriate.

Currently, demonstrators are few in number and unlikely to have any serious impact on U.S. military policy. Thus the only likely outcome of protests at this early point in the conflict is to demoralize the troops and their families. I doubt that this is the goal of the dissenters and suggest that their dissents might better be put on ice for a few weeks until the war has a chance to unfold and their efforts more likely to affect military policy.

While I was briefly stationed in Brooklyn, N.Y., I came in contact with anti-war demonstrators up close and personal. We were encouraged not to wear our uniforms when we left Fort Hamilton for trips into Manhattan for fear that we might provoke clashes with dissenters. The irony of the situation is clear since I did not ask or want to be in the army. Since I answered my country’s call to arms, my fellow Americans were threatening to throw rocks and bottles at me as a reward for having made that choice. The situation was made even worse because my first child was born here in Mississippi while I was away serving my country and being criticized for doing what I believed was my patriotic duty. Every father would likely agree that missing the birth of your first, or any, child while being closeted away at a military camp is truly a saddening experience.

My purpose in saying all this is to point out that anti-war protests have serious impact on soldiers and their families and should be conducted with prudence. Admittedly, the protests were instrumental in concluding our military involvement in Vietnam and bringing down an American president. However, that only occurred after years and years of protracted fighting and frustrating military failures. At that point, military planners were at a loss for what strategy should be attempted next and the situation was ripe for dissident influence. A protest is not likely to sway policy during the early stages of a conflict because military plans and strategies are in place and not subject to change regardless of the hue and cry coming from those disagreeing with the war.

I will never forget the lonely feeling I had while serving far from home in a hostile environment and wondering what it would be like to hold my baby girl. Once lost those experiences cannot be recreated. It would have been better for me if the country were supporting the cause that drew me away from home and family.

I suggest that we should show a little compassion for our men and women in uniform and their families and back off the anti-war protests for a few weeks and see where this thing is going. Protests at this point are meaningless, except to possibly foster those hollow feelings of trying to do the right thing without the support of your country.

Thought for the Moment — The things that you can’t replace, like the human relationships that you cannot go back, rewind and fix, are the things you need to focus on and really prioritize.

— singer Mariah Carey

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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