On Veterans Day today, I read a thought-provoking and challenging letter from a Louisville attorney I have known both from my service as a judge advocate in the Army and as a lawyer in Louisville.
His name is Steven A. Edwards - lawyer, soldier, Iraq veteran, Army Judge Advocate. He has reported his experiences in Iraq which have been published in the Kentucky Bar Association's Bench and Bar magazine. He is not the only lawyer who is a soldier or veteran, from this war or other wars. And he has earned the right to express an opinion about his beliefs and experiences which I share with you this date.
Pfc. Kyle Snyder recently returned to the United States after deserting his Army unit and going to Canada.
Snyder had already deployed once to Iraq and was facing another deployment when he deserted.
I write this letter with the experience of having also been to Iraq. I do not condone at all what Snyder did; in fact, I am completely against it.
I supported our decision to go to war, and I support our continued presence in Iraq. Having said those things, however, the fact that Snyder had already pulled one tour in Iraq and was looking at another when he deserted has touched a nerve that I have tried to suppress since returning from Iraq but can suppress no more.
I cannot and will not sugarcoat the fact that I have written this letter to express my disappointment and, frankly, a growing disgust with the vast majority of the American people and how comfortable they have grown with the concept of leaving the heavy work of national defense to a tiny minority of Americans.
If more Americans would choose to serve something other than their self-interests and pitch in and help in this war, maybe there wouldn't be so many soldiers like Snyder having to deploy over and over to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then maybe guys like Snyder wouldn't have to confront terrible questions such as having to choose whether to redeploy or desert.
We soldiers have heard all of the reasons why so many Americans shun military service. "We're for peace," "we're against the war," "we can't leave our careers," and "we have families." Blah, blah, blah.
I can't speak for other soldiers, but to me, these are all just pat rationalizations for elevating self-interest over altruism.
Whether I am right or wrong, the end result of this widespread avoidance of military service is that many, many soldiers are deploying into combat zones over and over and over.
Moreover, the act of slapping a stupid magnetic ribbon on one's car doesn't make you an equal participant in the national defense and certainly doesn't do anything to make what is going on in this country right.
None of the many, many Americans who shirk military service out of their apparently strong senses of self-preservation and self-interest are any more worthy of preserving their lives, their careers or their families than we soldiers are.
I have a sticker on my car that says "Freedom is not free." I'm scraping it off tomorrow morning because I don't believe it applies in this country any more.
For the vast majority of Americans, freedom really is "free" because it involves no personal sacrifice whatsoever.
Their freedom comes as the result of a comfortable, detached and never-ending process of freeloading off the sacrifices of a terribly burdened few.
I think it is instructive to compare this vast throng of Americans with the person now branded a deserter, Pfc. Snyder.
No matter what else can be said about Snyder, it cannot be denied that he did at one time go to Iraq and he did fight.
That alone serves to place his life experiences in sharp contrast with those of most Americans.
Unfortunately for Snyder, however, the contrasts don't end there, and in further sharp contrast to the lot of most Americans, Snyder will find the price of freedom to be quite high, as he goes through the disciplinary process that the Army quite properly and necessarily must administer.
At best, the 23-year-old Snyder will start the rest of his life with a discharge characterized as "dishonorable."
I wonder how many of the millions of Americans who have never lifted a finger in support of their country, choosing instead to leave such distasteful work to guys like Snyder, can honestly say that they live lives that are any more "honorable" than his?
I have also heard many Americans express an opinion that the Iraqi people are not carrying their share of the load in this war.
I am amazed at the arrogance and ignorance inherent in such a point of view.
In my experience, the Iraqi people cherished the mere chance for freedom and placed a value on it that most Americans will never even understand, much less equal.
Be that as it may, if more Americans really understood and appreciated their freedom instead of simply taking it for granted, maybe they'd volunteer to serve their country in numbers sufficient to the point that soldiers like Snyder wouldn't be faced with the terrible decision of whether to desert or face a second or third deployment into a combat zone.
STEVEN A. EDWARDS
LTC, JA, USAR