Don't Politicize Our Soldiers

By Geoffrey C. Lambert
Saturday, April 1, 2006

The Associated Press reported recently that a trailside memorial to an American soldier killed in Afghanistan had been vandalized. The memorial to Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, adjacent to the Ashuwillticook Trail in Cheshire, Mass., was defaced with the words "Oil," "Bush," "Christian Crusade" and other phrases.

Dan Petithory was one of my soldiers. He was an Army Green Beret and was killed on Dec. 5, 2001, north of Kandahar as he and his A-Team were closing in on the home of al-Qaeda and the Taliban leadership.

I attended Dan's funeral in Cheshire along with Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, as well as the archbishop of Chicago and other generals and government dignitaries, who honored Daniel and his family with their presence. Kerry gave the eulogy and moved us to tears, acknowledging that this war was one that we had no choice but to fight. Toward the end of the Mass we shook hands, giving the sign of peace. We then turned to Dan's wonderful parents, brother and sister to try to somehow alleviate their pain and suffering.

Months later, my wife, Bonnie, and I were honored to have the Petithorys as guests in North Carolina. Our hearts ached anew at their loss, and I promised to jog the Ashuwillticook Trail one day in remembrance of Dan.

I was a soldier in 1969, and I witnessed misguided students and adults attacking individual soldiers because of their disgust with national policy. In the '60s the purveyors of hate on the left were mostly resident on campus and could not differentiate between those responsible for policy and deception regarding the war in Vietnam and the young, honorable men and women who served in the military.

The vandals who struck the Petithory family were confused. Oil, Christian crusades and Bush were not issues during the fight in Afghanistan. We had consensus. Both sides of the aisle in Congress and the entire nation agreed that al-Qaeda had to be kept from continuing its attacks.

Sadly, the vandals' actions are illustrative of how we have squandered our opportunity to face terrorism with unified and coherent action. The right's neocons orchestrated a war with Iraq that has destroyed national consensus and they are culpable for politicizing the individual soldier by repeatedly sending the message that to criticize policy equates attacking the soldier -- an allegation that is simply not true. Meanwhile, some on the left are returning to mindless violence.

So here I stand, waiting for my daughter to return from her voluntary tour in the Middle East with the U.S. Coast Guard, wondering if some cretin will spit on her. I pray that soon our leaders on the left, right and center will find a way forward, build a new consensus and reverse our growing polarization.

Meanwhile, I may take to long midnight walks on the Ashuwillticook Trail -- packing heat.

Me? Polarized? Count me in. Dan was a hell of a soldier from a great family.

The writer, a retired major general, commanded the Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) from 2001 to 2003.

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