The Shadow Warriors
Driving home from the mountains of Virginia this weekend I saw a strange sight; an echo of far off days long forgotten now. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. But still there it was on an ancient blue pickup truck traveling about 55 mph in the lane next to us: taking up a goodly part of the rear window and oddly enough, unlike the vehicle it was attached to, in pristine condition. It was an American flag decal, and underneath it in big bold letters were the proud words, UNITED WE STAND.
I remember a time when those decals adorned almost every car in the DC area. But five years after the event which caused those flags to spring up like mushrooms, America no longer stands as one. Those symbols vanished without a trace, like the ephemeral unity which turned out to be more the products of momentary sentiment and media hype than of thoughtful conviction or firm resolve.
As I watched the pickup slowly disappear in the rearview mirror, my mind drifted back to my childhood and the much smaller American flag decals that seemed to be everywhere in those days: on cars, windows of houses, on schoolbooks. Readers Digest gave them away free of charge during the Vietnam War.
In many ways life was simpler then. My Dad was ten feet tall; handsome and strong in his Navy uniform, slightly heroic in my eyes. As long as I could detect the faint aroma of Bay Rum in the air, I knew the world was safe for democracy and the bad guys were on the run.
But even then I never liked it when the news came on, because I never could understand why the bad guys never seemed to do anything wrong, or why we never seemed to win any battles the way heroes sometimes did in history books. Even to a young girl, something seemed amiss. We were America and Vietnam was just a tiny nation halfway across the globe. How could we take loss after loss, year after year? Didn’t my country ever do anything right?
As it turned out, we weren’t losing on the battle field. Vietnam was lost on the home front. The will to wage an unpopular war was sapped by a relentless media assault aimed at convincing us to abandon a fight that, in reality, was all but won. And it worked – we withdrew first military and finally even the economic aid Congress had promised to South Vietnam, leaving our still fighting allies to the tender mercies of the Communists. Had we still been capable of feeling shame, that would have been a low point in American history.
But if history has taught us anything it teaches that we can always go lower, and so the cycle is about to repeat itself. The diligent efforts of the media, supported by a phalanx of pontificating punditry, have elevated the ubiquitous “Iraq=Vietnam” comparison to the level of self-fulfillling prophecy, for exactly the same reasons. Iraq is about to become yet another war we could have won, but lost on the TV screens, newspapers, and most importantly in the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans who say they support the troops, but don’t support what they are trying to accomplish because they’ve been convinced we are doomed to miserable failure.
When America has more confidence in the military than in any other single institution, how did we get there from here? The answer is simple: we are being defeated from within by American citizens who openly flout our laws and undermine our warfighting effort.
And yet we say nothing.