When the drums begin to roll

Rich Kiper
Rich Kiper

Kipling: “O its Thin red line of ‘eroes, When the drums begin to roll.”

Beginning in November 1919, our country has celebrated Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I and “the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.”

In 1938, Congress changed the name from “Armistice” to “Veterans” to honor all veterans.

President Ford, in 1975, signed into law that Veterans Day would be observed annually on Nov. 11, the date that World War I ended.

For years our city has celebrated Veterans Day with a parade that is always attended by an incredibly large crowd. The day truly is one where politics do not overshadow the debts we owe to veterans. It is a day of pride in our military and in our country.

This year the day is celebrated only two months and a few days after we observed the horrendous sight of plane loads of Americans and Afghans leaving Kabul.

For some of us, that action is reminiscent of sickening scenes in 1975 when helicopters left Saigon and were pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers to make room for more helicopters carrying Americans and Vietnamese alike.

The parallels are strikingly similar.

In November 1963, President Johnson declared that “the central objective … (is) to assist the people and Government to win their contest against the … Communist conspiracy.”

In 2001, President Bush authorized the use of military force against all who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks … in order to prevent any future acts.”

What lessons will today’s military learn from those two seminal events?    

First: Were our objectives clearly defined? Did the American people fully understand why/whether defending Vietnam was in our national interest?

In Afghanistan, how did we go from killing terrorists who attacked us to attempting to transform a centuries-old tribal system into a modern nation?

Second: Could our efforts bring forth decisive results that reflected our objectives? Could our efforts in Vietnam prevent South Vietnam from being overrun by the North Vietnam Army? Obviously not.

Our efforts in Afghanistan definitely prevented more terrorist attacks on our country. But how does our leaving that country prevent future attacks on us?

Third: Were our objectives attainable? Were our leaders ignorant to the reality of what would be required to achieve the objectives?

Was it possible to bring both the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the Afghan National Army to a level where they could defeat their enemies without U.S. help?

Fourth: What credence should our presidents give to the experience and advice of the military hierarchy?

These are some of the questions that will be debated, discussed and written about for years.

In our parade there will be some who experienced both of those wars.

There may be some who fought in Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Desert Storm (Iraq and Kuwait) and Bosnia and Herzegovina when the drums began to roll.

There may even be some World War II and Korea veterans.

What we all have in common is that we served our country. Some volunteered. Some were drafted. We were from different parts of the country or from other countries. Some of us had drawls while some had New York accents. Our skins were different colors. Some of us liked Cajun and country western music while others favored rock and roll, hip hop, jazz or classical.

In combat, none of that mattered. We all took the same oath to uphold and defend the Constitution when the drums began to roll.

The military is the epitome of diversity. A March poll indicated that the military is the most trusted institution in America. However, the results dropped 14% from previous polls. The poll stated that polls of other institutions also showed slides from previous polls.

On Nov. 11, you will see American flags carried high. You will see men, women, boys, girls, veterans and non-veterans salute the flag as it passes. You will see men and women who fought, and some who bled, to defend our country by following the orders of our commanders-in-chief.

You will see men and women of different political parties who disagree with the wars we are fighting. Nevertheless, they took an oath that has kept our nation free when the drums began to roll.

Veterans Day is a day when we all should be proud to be an American.

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.