08 January 2005

Off Point: Why a Yellow Ribbon?

[note] This first went up as a much larger, much more emotional post. I apologize to anyone who saw that; hopefully not too many of you did since I pulled it down quickly. I have tried to pare it down to a more manageable size and make the argument more rational (including cites etc.). Having pulled what I have out this may read a little choppy. Hopefully, it's not too bad. BTW, not yelling at you Blonde Justice. It just seemed like an interesting subject to post about and the next thing I know the emotions kicked in and I was in a rantfest.[end note]

Blonde Justice wonders why some people have yellow ribbons on their cars. Here's why I have one:

My family has always had men who served in the military. I served, my brother served, my father served around the Vietnam era, family members served in WW II, we have memorabilia handed down from the War Between the States. Among people of our ilk there are very bitter memories of how members of the military have been treated; these memories are particularly strongly rooted in Vietnam.

Vietnam. When the Academy turned on us. Vietnam when large numbers of citizens evinced cowardice by refusing to serve either through manipulation of the system, draft dodging, or outright desertion (encouraged here). Vietnam when a massive victory over the enemy was reversed when members of the elite gave aid and comfort to the enemy - the most remembered even going so far as to tour enemy military compounds and actively provide propaganda through misrepresentations of what was happening to POW's. When soldiers dared not wear their uniforms in public because they would be spat on and called fascists or baby-killers. When the citizenry at best abandoned and looked down those serving, at worst attacked and belittled them.

I know that an intelligent rebuttal can probably be made to every one of those points. It won't change the perception one bit. There is too much smoke in the air to deny the fire. The disagreements about policy and the war were not constrained to the political arena; they were actively played out in the refusal to serve and the wretched treatment of those who served.

There are those who would tell you this has changed. They are both right and wrong. The forces which brought this about before are still there; however, they do not have the popular support they had during the Vietnam era. These forces are just as anti-soldier as before they just can't say it out loud. However, at times it comes through loud and clear.

1991 - Operation Desert Shield / Storm leads to desertions by some who refuse to live up to their obligations. I was not in the States at the time but I clearly remember reading papers from home telling how these deserters were being lionized by certain people. Supporting deserters is anti-soldier.

1993 - The infamous incident in 1993 with General McCaffrey
I had just walked out of the southern entrance, passing an attractive woman. I'm in uniform. Fifteen rows of ribbons. A beautiful day. I said, happily, Hello. How are you? She said, I don't talk to the military, and stomped by me. I don't actually know if she was in the administration, but I assume she was.
At This Time - There are those who deny the anti-war movement has ever been anti-soldier ("While there's little doubt that some Vietnam vets in uniform were spat upon during those turbulent years, no proof exists that antiwar protesters were the spitters.") and there are those encouraging soldiers to desert. Rallies have taken place all over the place but mostly in DC, San Fran, and places to the North-NorthEast. One doubts an active duty soldier would be welcome.

Personally, I experienced a watered down version of all this when I would come home from the Army on leave and people would ask me what went wrong so that I had to join up and express compassion for me because I was in the military.

Anyway, the reason for the ribbon is not so much for the troops. A soldier really doesn't need to be reassured that veterans are behind him. Displaying the ribbon definitely isn't so that some money can be sent to do something for the soldiers. I never believe those claims; I developed a healthy cynicism toward them as I watched all sorts of soldiers getting ripped off buying POW/MIA stuff which was going to funnel money into investigating what happened to those left behind (with the amount of money that should have been since raised since hostilities ended the manufacturers could have bought every square inch of Vietnam by now). Anyway, our soldiers are usually well taken care of as far as niceties go.

The reason for the ribbon is to remind people of the shameful way that our nation behaved toward soldiers in the past and remind them that it will not be tolerated this time. The perception from where I'm at is that the reason it's not done in the major cities is because it is socially unacceptable. To have the ribbon showing support for the troops is to invite ridicule or perhaps even vandalism. And if the attitude is such that an open show of support will not be tolerated then we must all be concerned what the attitude of the future will be. I have a ribbon on my vehicle to show that that next step is not acceptable, not now, not ever.


Gus said...

Very thoughtful and interesting post, Ken; particularly for those of us naive younger people who think that we can and do separate the troops from the policy.

While I do wonder whether the meaning you assign to the ribbons is that which is assigned by the majority of others, my willingness to assume that those others give them the meaning I dislike is itself proof that I am susceptible the very dangers that your meaning is meant to stave off.

Like the crowds at a rally, the echo-chamber that is the blogsphere can easily breed pluralistic ignorance and escalate hostilities. Forunately, a single post can have greater effect that a single voice in the crowd.


Chief said...

I enjoy your comments re: the law and your experiences as a defense attorney. However, I find these comments to be solicitious at best and pandering to the right at worst.

This is BS and what does it really mean, "The reason for the ribbon is to remind people of the shameful way that our nation behaved toward soldiers in the past and remind them that it will not be tolerated this time."

Does this mean that you are going to visit VA hospitals and help vets that are amputees to be rehabilitated? Does it mean you are going to actively work to have vets that are medically discharged to receive a fair and if necessary life long compensation for the sacrifice they endured for their country? Or does it mean that you think Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are doing the right thing?

You see, I served for 21 years in the U.S. Navy, from 1958 - 1979. Yes I did experience first hand how a portion of the public treated us folks in uniform. However, was the enemy the Viet Cong or SecDef McNamara, McGeorge Bundy or the Johnson/Nixon administrations in general?

Subsequent education (a BS in Business) and a through study of a good portion of what has been written about the U.S. experience in Southeast Asia, brings me to a far different conclusion.

Anyway, I think you deserve it to yourself to further refine what it means to "Support the Troops."

Very Respectfully,

George Parker

Frank said...

Supporting the troops is fine and good, but what are you doing to keep future soldiers out of harms way, by opposing an unjust war, based on false statements, such as weapons of mass destruction, etc. Separating the two principals of supporting the troops, while still opposing the politicos who take us to wars, that shouldn't be fought is a very important principal.

That Lawyer Dude said...

I am sorry but I agree with Ken. On my cars there are Red White and blue and yellow magnetic ribbons. I see them all over NY and Long Island. We send letters to the troops abroad and we pray for their safe return and an early end to the hostilities. I do not like the War. I do not pretend to know what I would have done had I been in the President's position. I would have to have been convinced of the WMD exsistance or I would have had to feel the atrocities were so bad that it was worth the loss of one of our troops lives.

The Yellow ribbon on my car and the Red, White and Blue one is in part a statement of support for those willing to sacrifice everything to bring freedom to others.
However, it also is a support for freedom and the greatness of our country. It is an appreciation not for everything any particular politician does, but for what I believe we as a nation stand for, even if I do not necessarily agree with the leader at a particular time. America is more than just a country and a political entity, It is the closest man has ever come to the ideal that is Camolot. I do not think it is hipocrasy to waive the flag even if I do not visit a VA. (By the way both Ken and I will more than likely provide alot of free legal services to those who come home from war depressed and mentally injured and find themselves involved with the criminal justice system) We each celebrate the freedom that is America in support or in opposition to our leadership.
I blogged a while back about a European friend who was "shocked" at my "naivete" That I felt I could as an individual effect the outcome of national an world affairs. She said I was typically arrogant and too self important. Then she saw me working the phones and going to Washington and meeting and writing to leaders on her behalf. Then she saw the results. That is America, That is why even when frustrated by events I waive the flag. That is why I am both outraged and yet proud when I see someone burn my flag in protest. Because as an American I get the fact that we will fight we will differ, but we will ultimately prevail as long as we remember the importance of each of our commitment to our nation, and as long as that commitment continues to be each of our main concern. We may have different reasons for our love of our nation, but that love whether in support or protest is in large part what makes us great.

Ken Lammers said...


This generally isn't as much a problem with younger people (probably those under 30). It is an ongoing concern with those who are a older. See the interview of General McCaffrey where he discusses this. Having gone to both college and law school after the Army I spent a good deal of time around people younger than I am and thing that his take on it is probably correct.

Do I believe that everyone has the ribbon on the car for the same reason that I do? Probably not. The great majority of people who have these ribbons are people who have sons, daughters, friends, or relatives in the military. They aren't thinking about this indepth although they are definitely concerned as to how their relatives or friends will be treated when they come back. I doubt many people are sporting the ribbon as a purely political statement in favor of the war. I think all that became passe at about the same time after 9/11 when people stopped having flags on their cars and houses and the talking heads on all the networks stopped wearing flag pins.

xian said...

here in the San Francisco bay area many cars sport the ribbon stickers, and of course different colored ribbons have shown up for some time promoting other causes and positions.

the weird thing for me about the yellow ribbon is that i still associate it with the Tony Orlando and Dawn chestnut (Tie a Yellow Ribbon) and with the way it first appeared as a national trend during the Iran hostage crisis, where the meaning was that people were hoping the hostages would be released soon.

It seems that for soldiers it would apply to POWs or to the bringing of the troops home.

Ken Lammers said...


Okay, I'll take "solicitous." I've no problems with admitting that I am "manifesting concerns" or "apprehensive." I think that's pretty clear from the post. As to pandering to the right - It makes absolutely no sense for me to pander to the right. I am a defense attorney practicing in Virginia. By virtue of my profession, I am never going to be elected to office and the Legislature is never going to make me a judge. So I have little reason to pander to anybody. My opinion is my opinion. You may not like it; you may think it is not rational; you may think it's downright stupid. However, I ask you to take it for what it is and not ascribe it to pandering.

What does the statement mean? It means what it says. I find it unacceptable to behave in the manner I believe some organizations and people would like to encourage the public to act. After all demeaning and demoralizing the troops is a very effective way to undermine a military campaign which you believe to be impractical, politically wrong, and/or immoral. Am I megalomaniacal enough to believe that I, with my little ribbon, am holding this back? No, the change in American attitudes over the years has left those groups in a minority position. Like most symbols, the ribbon in and of itself accomplishes little. However, the fact that there are enough of them around to gain notice means that they are a reminder to those who might try to use this tactic that there is a probability of a significant backlash.

What do I think of the war? Well, I don't think it was for oil and I do think that the politicians believed there were WMD when they sent in the troops. Do I think this was a pretext for a war of revenge? Possibly. I think a greater part of it was the American belief that we can fix anything: we can fix this place and in fixing this place fix the whole area so that those who foment the movements which lead to things like 9/11 are denied places to grow and flourish. Has it worked? No. Will it work? I suspect that this is a question for the long term - 30 to 50 years - and the two of us shall never know.

Was it a brilliant realpolitik move? No. The best way to manipulate the politics of the Middle East would have been to totally withdraw from Iraq, stop the blockade, and allow it to rebuild its military. This would have insured heavy dependency by the oil rich client-states of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It would have created an enemy which Iran would have had to face and given us a chance to ingratiate ourselves with the Iranians by supplying American military equipment. It would have mollified our Turkish ally's concerns as to the possibility of a Kurdish nation-state (and for that matter Iran's similar concerns). It would have meant that whatever dictator is currently in power in Syria (who knows if Bashar will last) would constantly have to look over his shoulder at a potential enemy. Iraq would not have risen above the level of a minor regional power surrounded on three sides by enemies it could not defeat. It already had an example what would happen if it acted against the nations to its South. Effectively, we would have played for the draw in order to solidify what we had and possibly manipulate the situation to our advantage.

The path taken is a large gamble. If it works a democratic republic will be established leading to more stability in the region and a long term ally along the lines of Germany or Japan. If we fail we reaffirm the prevailing wisdom that America is impressive in the short run but in the long run we have no memory, cannot manifest the will power to stay the course, and will not accept any pain or loss. It is a greater gamble than was necessary which could lead to a remarkable long term success or a damning failure.

Ken Lammers said...

This is another of my misguided attempts. Re: "Support the Troops" post, check out this link www.guerrillanews.com/articles/article.php?id=1054

Granted, I don't know how much truth there is in this link. Could be 99% bull shit.

My concept of supporting the troops is to come up w/ a way to get a usable skill to those that were in a rifle company.

# posted by Chief : 07:58