Sunday, August 07, 2011

Will George Bush's legacy be...

...that Americans once again openly embraced and appreciated their men and women in military uniform?

Yes, I know -- anything having to do with the Bush presidency is viewed in black and white terms. People loved/hated him, thought he was among the best/worst presidents of all time and couldn't wait for this term to end/wished he could have remained in office for another decade.

Let's get another reality out of the way: The continued American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan remains a political football and an overall unpopular decision. Most Americans want their armed forces out of both nations. And let's not forget that the financial bill for the wars will be paid by multiple generations. Mr. Bush bears responsibility for much of that.

With that as the pretext, I am not sure if this post will be read with any degree of objectivity. Nevertheless, as best as possible, set aside your opinion about Mr. Bush and whether American troops should have been sent to/should remain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, consider the reaction you have seen from Americans over the past 7-10 years when they come across a man or woman in a U.S. military uniform.

In the past a sizable number of Americans saw that uniform and thought something negative. Those reasons can loosely be classified as "the military is not a real career," "gee, you really should have gone to college instead," and "fine, go fight your war but I want no part of it." (You can add or detract from this list, but I think you get the point.)

The shadow of Vietnam also hung over the attitude toward the military. The failure of our armed forces to win that war combined with protests and confused political policy at home led to disgust, if not blatant hostility, about the military.

And then Sept. 11, 2001 happened. The Bush administration used the anger and fear from that event to generate a belief  that the American military (and its allies) had to go into Iraq and Afghanistan to root out the men responsible for that horrible day and for spreading their ideology of hate. Again, let's not argue that from a political perspective; instead, let's accept that the White House employed a successful public relations campaign that emphatically stated America's armed forces were ready to meet the challenge and needed to know their fellow Americans were completely behind them.

It is my contention that beginning on that awful September morning and continuing over almost a decade, the American people concluded that no matter where they stood on the political spectrum that each man and woman who wore that military uniform deserved encouragement and appreciation for what they were doing.

The Bush administration's constant reminders that those were "our" sons and daughters, and Americans had to support them ensured that "our" troops would be respected. The not-so-subtle "you are with us or you are against us" attitude was effective (albeit controversial) in a climate in which Americans remained angry about the hijacking of four commercial airliners and their use as killing machines.

Professional sports organizations have taken time to ensure that local military men and women also are recognized as they return home. Allow me to use Pittsburgh as an example. Today the Pirates offered a public thank you to another army veteran who recently returned to Pittsburgh after his third tour of duty as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The crowd roared its approval, and it was joined in the applause by the Pirates players and coaches, the San Diego Padres players and coaches, and the umpires.

I don't know if the Pirates thank a veteran at each home game, but I can't think of a game I've attended over the past three years in which that moment of appreciation didn't take place.

But I do know that 20 years ago (after the initial U.S. military involvement in Iraq) there was no way that such public displays of appreciation would have taken place.

So, as I stood and applauded today, I again wondered if Mr. Bush's legacy will be that for a generation or more Americans told their men and women in uniform that they should wear it with pride and that their countrymen and countrywomen wholeheartedly appreciated them.

If that were to be Mr. Bush's legacy, I then am left to wonder how his presidency will be viewed by historians, journalists and others.

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