SOUNDOFF: Veteran appreciates protestors

I was intrigued to read about an anti-war protest in Oak Harbor. The Whidbey Island of my childhood recollection is a place where protests simply didn’t happen. Having participated in the war on terrorism, I hoped to contribute my thoughts.

I was a U.S. Army officer from 1994-1999. Following Sept. 11, 2001, I was recalled to active duty. I served November 2001 to April 2002 with the U.S. Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. I was awarded a Bronze Star medal and Special Forces Combat Award.

Any thinking person who has worn a uniform values both anti-war protestors and those demonstrating in support of the military. On the one hand, serving in a combat zone is much harder to swallow if no one back home appreciates the sacrifice. On the other hand, history tells us that wars are often started by leaders without fully considering the costs.

Good governance requires a full accounting of a war’s potential costs, and full disclosure of the interests served. Anti-war protests are the demand for that accounting. The military can’t demand it. Only the American people can.

There is a heightened need to ask tough questions where the proposed war is not a war of national survival, but is concerned with complex economic and political factors. There is little doubt we can run Saddam Hussein out of Iraq, but the true costs will only become clear in the months, years, and decades that follow. The U.S. has the most powerful military the world. Nonetheless, our country’s greatest capital is not raw military force.

During the war in Afghanistan, I visited an Afghan general to negotiate use of railyard facilities under his control. I told the general we recognized we were his guests in his country. Used to being bullied by Soviet officials, the general seemed taken aback. He announced that Americans were indeed a great people — just as he had heard.

Although we could have easily taken what we wanted by force, the general observed, we came with respect and offers of assistance. The Afghan general said he was willing to help in any way he could.

Killing people is the easy part, just as it will be in Iraq. Taking the time to listen, to figure out what makes others tick, is the harder job. Articulating why free speech, a free press, and basic human rights are an essential part of a vibrant economy and healthy society requires much more thought. It also requires we practice what we preach.

This is the true strength of our country. It lies in the belief still held by many that we have a better way of ordering a society, the alternative that colonial powers never offered: improving the lives of all through mutually beneficial market exchange and consensus-driven decision making.

We are squandering this opportunity. Unilateral bullying abroad will ultimately backfire, and produce hidden costs we cannot foresee.

The world has become networked, a globalized community where youth in Korea drink coffee at Starbucks, Bosnian teenagers play Nintendo and market ripples in Russia cause stocks to tumble in the United States.

Hatred spread by groups like al-Qaeda is a rejection of the global community. It has little to do with televised battles, tanks, and cities to be liberated or wars stoked by patriotic fervor. Our own disdain of the consensus of the global village only aids their cause.

The duty owed by free people is not simply to blindly support their leader in every foreign adventure that comes along. Only dictators and Caesars demand such unquestioning obedience.

A Republic where citizens know or care little of the wars fought in their name is a Republic in danger. While deployed in Bosnia and Afghanistan, the notion that people at home simply didn’t care was a far more disturbing prospect than the idea they might be in the streets protesting against what I was doing. Not staying informed — or refusing to think seriously about the issues — is functionally equivalent to not caring about the military that is your family and neighbors.

Protest is the hallmark of a healthy democracy. It makes me happy to see it — especially in Oak Harbor.

Will Honea, a 1987 OHHS graduate, lives in Seattle where works for a law firm.

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