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You’ve Thanked Us Plenty for Our Service

Associated Press/Bob Daugherty, File - FILE - In this Jan. 12, 1991 file photo, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf stands at ease with his tank troops during Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia. Schwarzkopf died Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. He was 78. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File) l

My latest for RealClearDefense, “The Forgotten Veterans of Desert Storm,” has posted. The headline belies the argument:

The 25th anniversary of America’s victory in Operation Desert Storm passed without much fanfare on Sunday, February 28. Much to the chagrin of some of my fellow veterans of that conflict, the Pentagon held no official observance. Having gotten more than our fair share of accolades at the time, I’m not sure more are owed to us now.

A Washington Post feature reports that many, like Scott Stump, president of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, are “fuming” over the snub.  Fred Wellman, a board member of the organization, complained, “We are ignoring one of the greatest military victories in world history that was led by the U.S. because it’s ‘just another anniversary’?”

I would note that the Pentagon is rather busy these days. Unlike the peacetime/Cold War military that I joined, which had gone 17 years without a major combat operation between our withdrawal from Vietnam and our entry into the Gulf War, we’ve been on more-or-less constant war footing since. In addition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been more than half a dozen major interventions into civil conflicts, the fight against the Islamic State, and seemingly endless drone strikes and special operations raids against terrorist targets around the world.  Stopping to recognize what in hindsight was a relatively minor event is not the highest priority.

But, oh, what a priority is was back in 1991. In six short weeks of fighting—and only a one hundred hour ground war—we managed to not only push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, but also roll back the Vietnam malaise. Indeed, President George H.W. Bush giddily proclaimed a “New World Order” that would be policed by an America that not only had its confidence back but was able to lead a grand coalition that even including our longtime Soviet adversaries.

Much more at the link.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    Yeah, as a fellow Desert Storm veteran, I don’t get the “fuming” either. We went over, we did a thing, it turned out well, we were fortunate. In light of the misbegotten 2003 invasion and subsequent awful, deadly slog, I’m not at all surprised our 100-hour odyssey has been, if not forgotten, pushed to the backseat.

    For someone who fought in a 100-hour war that resulted in something like 300 combat deaths to whine about his war being “forgotten” when we’ve lost over 5,000 troops and today there are thousands of veterans missing limbs and enduring the effects of TBI and PTSD because of 10+ years of persistent combat strikes me as a bit entitled. And today’s veterans of OIF and OEF didn’t get a ticker-tape parade or anything like it, they just have to deal with it.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: Yeah. I think some people are hanging on to the propaganda and feel-good spirit of the day. Wellman’s claim that we fought in “one of the greatest military victories in world history” is silly in light of actual world history but understandable from the perspective of 1991.

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  3. Mu says:

    Same reason Germany doesn’t memorialize V-Pl day – it doesn’t count that you temporarily won, it’s how the whole thing ended up. And the Iraq story at best stands at “at least it didn’t end up like Vietnam with ISIS rolling into Baghdad “. Yet.

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  4. Mark Ivey says:

    Having a Desert Storm 25th anniversary thing just makes me miss having Saddam Hussein running Iraq. But that is the old Reagan Republican in me talking..

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  5. Mr. Prosser says:

    Instead of grousing about a ceremony I hope the Gulf War veterans can work to help those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome and to get on board for the pulmonary and other problems from the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a VN vet who benefited from the hard work of the Vietnam Veterans of America regarding Agent Orange I hope the priorities are on helping, not parades.

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  6. Tony W says:

    War should never be glorified – it represents failure at every level. When the only recourse remaining is to enter combat that means that our power has been reduced to whomever can blast the other person to smitherines.

    War persuades nobody of anything other than the futility of war. It hardens our feelings and perpetuates the myth of dehumanizing the other side.

    If we are going to mark the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm, it should be with a somber memorial of the thousands of lives lost because of ineffective leadership.

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  7. Argon says:

    Don’t forget Grenada! I met a vet at the local VFW who served in that action.

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  8. Slugger says:

    I am sure that this date is celebrated in Riyadh as “one of the greatest military victories in world history.” They recovered a satrapy that had been purloined by a regional bad guy with somebody else doing the fighting and bleeding. What did the USA get from all of this? Saddam Hussein got a promotion to world bad guy at least inside the beltway. The long term results of all of this do not look good for the US so far.

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  9. Guarneri says:

    The Kuwaitis should should hold an anniversary celebration every year, and contribute $100MM to veterans of all coalition nations.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @Mu: Well, no. We achieved all our goals in the first Gulf War and then some. The fact that we entered into numerous follow-on operations doesn’t eliminate the victory. The fact that the follow-on wars have been so long and costly does put into context the sacrifice and magnitude.

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The Gulf War was ran by the adults, unfortunately a few petulant teenagers were upset that they didn’t get to play with the “shock and awe” car long enough and a ‘heads up their nether regions’ Supreme Court put them back in the driver’s seat, and at their first opportunity they drove it into the swamp of “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns”.

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  12. Electroman says:

    Yeah, no fuming here. Not even close.

    -Electroman, Colonel, USAF (Ret) and Gulf War veteran.

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  13. Jc says:

    I remember seeing this in the Washington Post for the 25th. The people of Kuwait are grateful and remember.

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  14. anjin-san says:

    Why don’t we all work to take care of those who served and came back damaged, as well as the families who lost a service member. F**k the glory. America in the 21st century is far too wrapped up in the supposed glory of military conflict.

    My uncle fought at Chosin Reservoir. It was more than 50 years before he would even talk about it. I’m not too worked up about Gulf I veterans who feel they need kudos. Mikey gets this one just right.

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  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Mr. Prosser: I agree. I didn’t serve, but I’m convinced that the best thing we can do as a nation to thank our warriors for their service is to take care of the ones who return not as able to take care of themselves. This is the reason that I became angered at Senator McCain’s vote for a cut in veteran’s benefits as a stop loss maneuver a number of years back. Dishonorable. Still, McCain has not been a reliable supporter of veterans anyway, so I wasn’t surprised.

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  16. Mu says:

    @James Joyner: The fact that you achieved the published goals doesn’t change the fact that the goals were insufficient to achieve a positive outcome. It’s like denying US responsibility for the Iron Curtain by “we only wanted to beat the Nazis, that we left half of Europe of worse wasn’t our fault”.

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  17. steve says:

    Have to agree with you James. As a Vietnam era vet (not in country) there really wasn’t much of a celebration back then. I was totally blown away by the reception coming home from Desert Storm. It was kind of embarrassing at times.

    Steve

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  18. Mikey says:

    @steve:

    I was totally blown away by the reception coming home from Desert Storm. It was kind of embarrassing at times.

    I called it “The Summer of Free Stuff.” I got into Cedar Point AND Sea World for free. They even let my girlfriend in with me. Not wife, girlfriend. A military ID was like a “give me stuff” card.

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  19. liberal capitalist says:

    @Argon:

    Don’t forget Grenada! I met a vet at the local VFW who served in that action.

    Was it the Ford Grenada?

    or the stylish Lincoln Versailles?

    Many wished to fight and risk sacrifice in the Ford Grenada, but with room only for 4 and bad gas milage, it was a limited engagement.

    Lest we forget.

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  20. John says:

    @anjin-san:

    Whereas my grandparents never did. I’ve only learned about what Grandma truly went through a couple summers ago when I was visiting some relatives overseas for the first time. For people from that part of Europe during and after WWII, you didn’t celebrate vets as much because everybody was a vet in one way or another. It was impossible to truly escape the war to the degree that you could always do so in the USA in the past century and a half.

    It’s kind of become a Roman style cult. And you are right, it is a little disturbing. My father is a Desert Storm vet, career military. He was a little more willing to talk about his experiences in private-although he never went into detail-by the time I was a college student than my grandfather or grandmother ever were about their experiences as young people, but I never got the sense he was quite comfortable with the open pageantry on certain days of the year when you contrasted it with vets out on the street and the overall distance between military and civilian life during the rest of it.

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  21. John says:

    @Mu:

    Unless you wanted us to go to war with the Red Army, I’m really not sure what you would have had Truman do after the war. Similarly, unless you wanted to make the mistakes of 2003 in 1991, we did all we could. We went there to liberate Kuwait, and we did, with the consensus of the international community and in a quick, orderly fashion. Bush Senior even used the victory to reboot the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, with the Madrid Conference shortly after Desert Storm.

    It’s not the fault of George Bush Senior that his successors, and really the bipartisan political establishment of the latter half of the 90s and early 2000s as a whole, decided to ignore his conclusion on the wisdom of removing Saddam Hussein from power.

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  22. Mikey says:

    @John:

    For people from that part of Europe during and after WWII, you didn’t celebrate vets as much because everybody was a vet in one way or another. It was impossible to truly escape the war to the degree that you could always do so in the USA in the past century and a half.

    My wife grew up in Germany, and I can echo your thoughts here. Everyone was involved in the war, either fighting it or trying to get somewhere relatively safe (insofar as that was possible, which it generally wasn’t). My wife’s mother is one of 10 children, born in 1941. My wife’s grandfather was considered part of an essential industry (he was a mining engineer) and therefore was not sent to fight until near the end of the war. Sadly, he perished fighting the Russians. Her grandmother and aunt along with the 10 kids displaced and headed west. They survived the bombing of Dresden and continued into Bavaria, where the older boys–still just teenagers themselves–were made to man anti-aircraft guns. When the war ended, they entered a displaced persons camp, where they remained for nearly 10 years as their country rose from rubble.

    Here we had ticker-tape parades and the GI Bill. There they ground acorns into flour for bread.

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