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.”