There’s one simple reason troops shouldn’t confuse their sacrifices with Iraq’s implosion

A Marines Magazine illustration of Lance Cpl's Jonathan Yale and Jordan Haerter, who both earned the Navy Cross following their heroic actions in the face of a vehicle borne IED.

A Marines Magazine illustration of Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, who both died earning the Navy Cross in OIF following their heroic actions in the face of a vehicle borne IED.

The near-unanimous lament coming from troops, widows, and Gold Star mothers would be hard not to hear if the sound of Iraq imploding wasn’t so deafening.

One wife, whose husband went twice to Iraq, summed it up to Military Times nicely when Mosul was taken: “What a waste.” When Fallujah fell to ISIS militants last year, Business Insider defense writer Paul Szoldra, wrote “Tell me again, why did my friends die in Iraq?” His write-up got immediate attention, with members of the media even asking Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno if he had read it. (Skip to the 15-minute mark of the video.)

We may be confusing two very distinct things when we think this way.

“Marines aren’t concerned with foreign policy, nor should they be,” William Treseder said to me during an interview. Treseder is a seasoned Marine — he’s done pumps to Iraq and Afghanistan as a grunt and then a Civil Affairs adviser — and now he’s a tech entrepreneur who’s attending Stanford.

It’s “the way the media portrays these issues, that changes in the situation on the ground after we leave somehow can affect the personal sacrifices of a veteran, somehow. The implication is that the personal sacrifices is linked to the political outcome, and that’s bull—-,” Treseder told me.

Admittedly, it’s hard not to fall into that trap. I went to Iraq twice as a Marine, once in ’06 and then again ’08. I’ve been on the ground in several provinces, including the Green Zone in Baghdad, with several different kinds of units. I’ve seen what field surgery in Camp Fallujah could look like when op tempo was high.

More importantly, I saw what my friends and fellow Marines looked like when they all came home–that is, mostly unrecognizable.

So it’s hard not to compare that sacrifice in the past with this implosion in the present, and say, “for what?”

Put simply: for each other. It’s a common sentiment among troops on the battlefield: they fight for each other, not politics or national security goals devised a long way away, in heads above suits and ties.

At a recent closed talk Treseder attended, he said Stanford visiting fellow and retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis described it like this: In the Korean War, we lost 50,000 guys. The overall goal was to oust communists from the peninsula. Was that accomplished? No. Does that mean their sacrifices were for naught? In WWII the overall goal was to end totalitarianism. Yet, the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin stood for another 30-plus years. Does that mean that the bravery and sacrifices of millions was for naught?

“We’re all happy that Japan is a democracy, right?” Treseder said. “if Japan implodes tomorrow, that doesn’t mean that you can invalidate the sacrifices” of the Marines in the Pacific campaign.

I asked Treseder what he would say to all the people who believe Iraq’s security situation detracts from the sacrifices of the U.S. military.

“I say that your husband, wife, son or daughter were not fighting for Mosul, they were fighting the people around them,” said Treseder. “When they raised their hands, they didn’t say ‘I swear to uphold the freedom of Mosul,’ they swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to try and provide freedom and liberty to those people in need.”

For Treseder, and others like him, the answer isn’t about the welfare of some far off country, it’s more simple:

“Our own personal conduct defines our sacrifices and successes.”


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  1. This is too short to adequately address the issue. Yes, many of us are frustrated by the situation in Iraq. Yes, our service there is largely defined by our character and conduct. But many of us grieve for those who died, or carry physical and mental wounds. Those sacrifices are not lessened. But it would be more satisfying if our own politics and the politics of Iraq didn’t overshadow the courage, compassion and commitment of the men and women, American, Coalition, and Iraqi, who sacrificed so much. The WWII II and Korea examples are not the best. Vietnam is closer. They lost their country despite our sacrifices and aid, and I fear a similar fate for Iraq. So, the article misses the ultimate question. What was gained for the terrible price our country, our Servicemembers, and our families paid?

  2. The problem isn’t the personal sacrifice honorable men and women made, but the political one. We left too early, the Iraqis never stood a chance. They knew it and we knew it.

    Iraq falling so soon after our departure, our perceived non-response to Syria, the over priced trade for a possible deserter all send a consistent message across the globe to those opposed to the United States.

    So yes in the long run, it was all in vain.

  3. This article misses the point of how “we few, we happy few” are citizen-soldiers. While we do take the oath, and trust me, I have told people though out my over 20 years of service that I don’t need to be political because I “work for the American people,” we also don’t give up our rights at the yellow footsteps. We are privileged, more so than half of this planet, in that we vote for the people that make the decisions that send us into harm’s way. To deny that “The implication is that the personal sacrifices is linked to the political outcome, and that’s bull—-,” is, to quote the author, “bull—.” As citizens, we have every right to be angry that the time we spent there and the gains made through a military action is lost through multiple political fumbles or worse, political “gaming”. We should be angry when our “win”- with the losses, the visible and invisible scars, the divorces, the missed time seeing our children grow, when handed back to the politicians, is squandered. We also need to be careful. When the political process, debate and the voice of the people is circumvented in favor of Executive decision it is the troops (past and present) with their vote, that should ensure their military sacrifice, their anger, their gravitas gained though service, should count toward a political change. (I finally am starting to understand when Robert A. Heinlein (USN) tried to point out in “Starship Troopers” when he wrote that only veterans can vote because only veterans have earned the right.) Democracy was born from the Greek soldier having a say in who, how and when he fought by voting for his captain. It made him no less brave or disciplined in the fight. I agree with the effects of “twisting” of the media as alleged by the author, but I disagree that Marines should not be concerned with policy. If anyone should be concerned with foreign policy, and educate themselves on the principle and practice of it, it should be the ones who enforce it- much more so than the ones who write it.

  4. The fact that we fought for each other while we were there doesn’t address the underlying reason we had to go there in the first place. We went there because our country said it was important. Unfortunately we “all” didn’t go to war in Iraq. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines went to war, but the State Department, the Treasury Department, our Congress and the vast majority of the American people didn’t. When the Iraqi military collapsed in 2003 (is it really a surprise they did it again in 2014?) who was there to pick up the pieces? The military. It’s a shame that those of us that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are more personally invested in those two countries than those that sent us there, or even than the people of the countries themselves. Yes, its true we sacrificed for each other, but what Iraq, Afghanistan and our own politicians do with those sacrifices is the part that depresses me.

  5. The author misses a point that can be instructive to the U.S. citizens . . . war is a political tool, the military is only one political tool in the tool box, and when the country decides to send military people into war the entire country should go to war . . . if we are unwilling to count up the costs of war then perhaps other tools should be used . . . when war is called then it should be an all out effort, not a half hearted effort without clear objectives to be accomplished .. .other lesson that must be learned is that we really don’t have to do nation building if we have to punish a belligerent country, what we should have done is LEAVE after we’ve punished them and then allow their own people to decide if they’ve had enough and then only provide exactly what is needed for proven small scale, specific projects IF they provided us audit ready records, tasks steps, proof of democratic involvement .. .other wise they get nothing. Moving more of our military into the reserve component will CONSTRAIN politicians from moving too quick without involvement of the U.S. citizens on our national objectives, the real costs including for those who will be injured . . . IF we learn nothing we will repeat the past failures of national security policy with ill defined objectives and drive ourselves towards economic weakness because economic power is also an element of national power . . . we are losing that economic power at a much faster rate and it is the foundation of all of our other political tools

  6. Douglas Velie on

    This is pathetic whining by a bunch of losers. I didn’t go to Afghanistan or Iraq, but if I did, I woulda kicked ass for sure!

  7. Not very good examples, the objective in WW2 was to stop Japan from attacking the USA and allies and defeating their regime. Job done, the USA was protected from another pearl harbor. It was not to promote democracy in Japan, that was secondary to the main goal of actually preserving the US from a foreign attacker who had killed thousand of innocent americans.

    It was also to defeat Hitler and protect allies in Europe and stop ship raiding by u-boats, also done.

    The goal in Korea was firstly to protect south korea and then to displace the communists, half of the job done.

    What was the goal in Iraq? To remove Saddam? If so, the military did their job, but what a waste of job, because Saddam posed no threat to the USA or to any ally.

    Now, if the job was to create democracy in Iraq, the job failed, and badly, not fault of the military, but it was used for a fruitless job.

  8. Soldiers and their families can be proud of the sacrifices made for each other. There is meaning in that. But soldiers and their families are also citizens and can make larger judgements about our foreign policy. And our foreign policy in regards to Iraq was a tragedy and waste.

  9. The Universal Curmudgeon on

    Once again the US military has achieved every military objective that it was militarily possible to achieve only to see their efforts flushed down the crapper by inept, ineffective, incompetent, uneducated and self-serving politicians from BOTH political parties who didn’t actually have any idea why they were committing the US military in the first place and never did have any actual, measurable, concrete goals in mind when they waved the flag and shouted “Freedom”.

  10. The Universal Curmudgeon on

    Mr. Velie – I’ve had people like you under my command. Of preference I got rid of them as fast as possible. If I didn’t then they had a pronounced tendency to get themselves or others killed or injured by doing something incredibly stupid that was “supposed to be” heroic or macho.

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