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 by Ron Cruger
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America, my America
        It might have all started with the ill-fated exercise in Vietnam. It was the sixties and seventies and young and old, mostly young, were marching and bitching about the dying in that faraway land.
        It was probably the first time, in such large numbers, that the population marched in the streets in defiance of our government’s military decisions. Millions of Americans didn’t want our army to be in Vietnam. We didn’t want our youth dying for something that didn’t directly affect us. Americans didn’t see the benefits.
        Shame became part of our American psyche.
        Before that, we were in Korea, fighting another fight of which we didn’t want. Our soldiers froze and died in a faraway land fighting to protect people in another country from ours. We barely knew who these people were and yet we were dying in their land.
        In each action Americans felt no dangers to their way of life. There was little support for Americans dying for the sake of others.
        The shame grew as our pride in being Americans lessened. Americans by the millions became unsure of their patriotism.
        Then came September 11, 2001. We weren’t attacked by another nation or a marching army. There were no hostile appearing combatants. We couldn’t identify enemy uniforms. Our enemies were a group of men from various countries. Men with extreme religious convictions. A group of followers. There was nobody to bomb, to attack, to kill, from whom to seek revenge.
        In frustration, our leaders attacked a nation which had no involvement with 9/11. Our soldiers fought in Kuwait and Iraq and ceased fighting before a consummated victory. Once again, our youth died on these foreign shores. At the same time, we attacked militants in Afghanistan, hoping that among the dead would be those responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center. We didn’t kill all these attackers. We arrested them and put them behind bars, letting our justice system punish them.
        We will remove many of our troops from Iraq next year, at the same time we will remove thousands of our soldiers from Afghanistan.
From the Korean conflict, to Vietnam, to Iraq and Afghanistan we have fought and died, and then, without celebrating victory, left or will leave, those countries. There have been no victory parades, only wives and mothers welcoming their fortunate sons and husbands back home. Some whole, others not.
        When our soldiers returned from World War I there were a thousand speeches praising them for winning - for defeating their adversaries. For making the world safe for democracy. Amongst the death and destruction we celebrated victory.
        At the conclusion of World War II we welcomed the surviving American soldiers home. There were a thousand parades in small towns and large. Those surviving were American heroes. Our national pride shone in the reflections from their medals.
        Part of what we celebrated was victory. Clear and tangible.
         Americans were proud. Bursting at our seams – proud.
        For fifty years now we have not tasted victory. Not overwhelming, clear victory. 
        Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died since 1945 and the end of World War II. We have welcomed the survivors home because they did, indeed, survive.
        Americans, for half a century now, have been telling our leaders, “We will fight if we must, but fight for victory. Do not send our young to fight and die and then decide to turn our tanks homeward, to pack up our bullets and grenades, to leave the battlefields with its rows of white crosses behind. Do not leave Americans questioning the wisdom of treading and dying on foreign lands without just cause and an opportunity to emerge triumphant.
        We will wear the helmets and carry the guns. We will board ships bound to foreign lands and fight oppressors and dictators. We will face the dangers and death. We will march with pride into the gates of hell – if we are pointed towards victory.
         It has been fifty years now since Americans in small towns and large have had reason to celebrate not just the returning soldier, but the victorious returning American soldier.