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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of July 23 - 29, 2003

Opinion Columns

No sympathies
for GI gripers

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Surely the Pentagon is savvy enough not to court martial the few GIs who griped on TV about the brass reneging on their promised return home. The fallout from spouses, parents and home state congressmen would only create more headlines and more headaches for President Bush.

It’s nonsense for embarrassed lower echelon Bush aides to suggest that cranky GIs are comforting Saddam’s Iraqi die-hards. Congressional opponents of Bush and newspaper commentators are creating more of a fuss than a few muttering GIs, and they’re not about to clam up for the duration.

GI griping is as traditional as the Fourth of July--about chow, officers, pay.

In World War II, GI gripes rarely made headlines: news reporters submitted stories from the front to military censors.

Army Stars and Stripes cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who won a Pulitzer Prize, was about the only visible messenger of GI grumbling. He exploited bellyaching through his disheveled Willie and Joe characters and their sullen, laconic comments about the misery of life at the front.

What’s different today is the presence of uncensored real-time live TV and embedded reporters on the frontlines as well as instant e-mail access in combat areas. Griping goes public.

Military life always has been a mixture of gripes and high hopes. However, most veterans will admit, sheepishly and well after the fact, that some of their best years were in uniform because of the travel, maturing quickly, new friendships, learning self-discipline and self-reliance.

But this also needs to be said: today’s gripers won’t get or deserve sympathy. Today’s U.S. service men and women are volunteers, whether reservists called up temporarily or full time, not unwilling draftees.

I speak from experience: as a 1948 enlistee eventually sent to the Korean War in 1950, I was peeved when my three-year deal was extended a year by President Truman, although reduced six months because I was in a combat unit. However, I couldn’t blame anyone since I enlisted and had to take whatever came.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can be criticized for a lot, but not decisions on when to rotate military units home. Military needs come first.

The contract young people make with the military when they enlist does not include guarantees that life will be comfortable, that command decisions will be consistent and fair, or families waiting will be insulated from disappointments, even grim news about casualties.

Military life is even tougher when the military’s civilian bosses make decisions spiced with politics, not sound military strategy.

That was true of President Lyndon Johnson’s foolhardy commitment of bigger forces to Vietnam, while admitting privately the war was futile. Thousands of GIs who died after he misled the nation about a fabricated attack on a U.S. Navy ship were adequate grounds for Johnson’s impeachment.

But Congress’ hands were tied. It had signed on to the war like a Congress a generation later supported attacking Iraq on grounds that now are painfully suspect.



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