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Sunday, September 25, 2016

WASHINGTON — For nearly a decade I have had the privilege of teaching veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, though they have taught me more.

Most of them were Army captains and majors who had done three or four tours of duty. And here’s the most remarkable thing: Not one of these men and women complained about what we asked of them.

They have, however, occasionally objected to the shameful fact that after the first few years of hostilities, these became largely invisible conflicts. In the final stages of the Iraq War and for a long time now in Afghanistan, there has been something close to media silence even as our fellow Americans continue to fight and die.

The ongoing war barely impinges on our daily discussions, and we don’t bother to argue much about our Afghanistan policy. Mostly, we hope President Obama can keep his promise to bring our troops home.

My Thanksgiving thoughts have often turned to my military students at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, and to the thousands like them who have done very hard duty with little notice.

But this year, the gratitude they inspire has been heightened, perhaps paradoxically, by the news about Gen. David Petraeus, his affair, and the mess left behind. I won’t add to the mountain of Petraeus commentary, so much of which has been driven by pre-existing attitudes toward Petraeus himself, the wars he led, or the matter of how we should deal publicly with sexuality.

What’s troubled me is how writing on all sides has aggravated the understandable but disturbing tendency to lay so much stress on the role of famous generals that we forget both the centrality of midlevel military leadership and the daily sacrifices and bravery of those in the enlisted ranks who carry out orders from on high.

There is, of course, nothing at all new about celebrity generals, and many of them truly deserved the accolades that came their way. One thinks, for example, of Ulysses S. Grant, who is enjoying a comeback among historians, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose subsequent presidency should give Republicans trying to rebuild their party some useful guidance.

But our military has been at its best when it combined two deeply American impulses; one more honored on the right, the other on the left.

  • A special hug to my 20-year old grandson, Alex, who will spend the Holiday far away from home serving the country. He is not in a dangerous assignment at the moment, but soon may be. We are in debt to those who serve and who put their lives on the line to fight for our values, defend our interests, and protect everything that is important to us. Let’s not forget them when we sit at the dinner table today to enjoy the benefits of living in the greatest country in the world.

  • riobob111

    GOD bless our Armed Forces, My thanks go out to those that are serving and those that have serve. It was an honor to serve OUR country for me and I am sure others feel the same.

  • riobob111

    Dominick, God bless Alex, All his buddies and OUR Thanks go out to ALL who serve

  • commserver

    The Thanksgiving spirit is still alive. Even though times are bad people are doing what they can to help others.

    Remember that those in the military are helping to preserve the liberties for future generations.

  • rubymacd

    Thanks, Mr. Dionne, for reminding us with your usual eloquence of one of the great institutions that Americans have to be thankful for.

  • onedonewong

    They are performing a herculean task considering that the CIC has set in place rules of engagement that have forced the troops to suffer record casualties ever since 2009, while Moooslim casualties are at an epic low…Why you may ask? because barak values moooslom lives more than our troops

    • You need to crawl back under your rock and stay there. President Obama has shown more support for our troops and has done more for our veterans than the President before him ever did. You say the Muslims lost of lives has been lower ever since 2009, prove it, you, Limbaugh and Fox not News saying anything does not make it true. So prove your lie if you can.
      God bless and keep all of the men and women who are in the Military and who have served their Country in the past. I appreciate your service and love all of you for defending this Country of ours.

      • onedonewong

        There is a huge difference in “showing support” and actually doing it. Its barak that has caused all the record casualties to our troops, its barak who wants to increase premiums for vets healthcare while providing it for free for illegals. Its barak who wants to reduce vet pensions while providing SS for illegals and those who have never contributed.
        Its barak who thinks that social engineering is necessary for the military, its barak that has saddled the military with an aircraft they didn’t want (F35), its barak who has named navy ships after Cesar Chavez and other nitwits.
        Do you need me to go on??