Veteran's Viewpoint

Sep 12, 2013

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.

Let’s begin with this premise:  The reason that veterans were initially called to military service was to defend our nation’s liberties from an enemy--or enemies--whose goal was to destroy those freedoms; and to defend, sustain, or advance our nation’s principles and interests.

Now, I’m not claiming veteran status qualifies us as foreign affairs experts, nor can it be used as evidence that our knowledge of military matters surpasses our non-veteran peers.  Ultimate wisdom is not necessarily a bonus that war gives us.

But I do think that the veterans' willingness to serve has earned us a hearing, and that the experience that turned us into veterans gives us an insight about war--what leads to it, what it’s like to fight a war, and what its residual effects might be. 

Therefore, based on that belief, as a war veteran I offer this opinion about our pending use of force in Syria:


Our proposed action there is impractical in so many ways, and opens the door to escalation of an already

too-horrible and too-ominous situation--not only in Syria, but throughout the Middle East.

From a practical standpoint: How do the planners of air strikes to deter gas attacks propose to pull it off?

Are we going to attack the depots where the Sarin gas is stored?  Dumb idea; that would simply release it into the ether to kill anyone down wind. 

Do we attack the plants that make the gas?  Do we really think we could destroy them with any thoroughness without inflicting countless ‘collateral damage’, that is, the deaths of non-combatants?  Surely Assad has prepared for possible attacks by hiding and moving the stored gas and the factories that make it, likely blending those sites in with the civilian population so that even the most surgical of air   strikes would bring civilian death and destruction.

Are we going to attack Syria’s political or military leadership?  Do we really believe that that will end the problem, that there will not be others ready to assume command with just as evil a policy as those before?  And if the ones who have used this gas believe that their end is nearing, do we not understand that they would not hesitate to use it again--to ‘go out in a blaze of glory’, so to speak?

And from the purview of world politics, diplomacy, and our own long term interests:  While recognizing that Assad is a murderous thug--an S.O.B.--do we really believe that the rebels whom we might be helping are any more our ’friends’ than he?  Dream on!

Didn’t we learn from the debacle in Iraq that our efforts to ‘government-build’ simply de-stabilizes the region where we seek stability?

And, frankly, is that our role--or our right?

As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I have reached the obvious conclusion that, while we can and should help in a humanitarian way, the United States cannot intervene in another's civil war without worsening the situation; and we cannot throw our military weight around in a culture in which we are already suspect without doing untold damage to our already-precarious position there.


Tomorrow we will remember the events of 9/11--twelve years ago.  Many Americans think of that day as a time in which patriotism returned, but it may be just as true that the day spawned the return of the ’Munich lesson’ , or a rebirth of something akin to the Truman Doctrine pledging to fight our new enemy in every place  they chose to go--significant or not.

In a commentary on September 25, 2001--two weeks following 9/11--I talked of the damage that could result from overreaction to the attacks, and warned of the dangers of war fever and ’bubble patriotism’, and how our going to war in the Middle East could de-stabilize that whole region, spilling young Americans‘ blood in the process.  And that’s just what has happened in the past ten years.

Are we now on the edge of doing it again?

Finally, and of greatest importance to veterans who, themselves, have known war up close, is this reality:  War, despite Clausewicz’ observation, cannot be merely an extension of politics by other means.

Listen to these words:  “I know war as few other men now living know it; and nothing to me is more revolting.  I have long advocated its complete abolition; as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.”

Those are not the words of some pacifist, or of a Mahatma Ghandi, or even of Czechoslovakia’s embattled World War II and post-World War II leader Jan Masaryk. 

No, those are the words of General Douglas MacArthur--and he certainly was no peace freak!

War is not the answer; attacking Syria is not the answer.  True, Assad and his ilk are despicable cretins, and deserve the worst.  But we can’t bring peace and stability to the world with air strikes and Cruise missiles.

Now, I do realize that I could be wrong in my opinion about this issue, that there may be things about this that I don’t know or comprehend. 

But there must be a better way!

And just today I heard talk about possible U.N. supervision in Syria.  And, in spite of the U.N.’s flaws, that possibility is at least worth consideration.

The president will talk to us tonight, and I hope he offers us possibilities that make military action unnecessary.

And, now, back to my original premise regarding the veterans’ place in the discussion now before us. 

Veterans are not strangers to war, and they certainly do not lack the courage or willpower to carry on the struggle to protect our freedom and our interests.  But veterans, perhaps more than any others, know the price of war--of military action--and of its limitations.

So, as a war veteran, I repeat:  “Hold off on the air strikes, Mr. President!”

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.