Even more than last year, when the quandary of "postwar" Iraq had not fully crystallized, Veterans Day 2004 demands that Americans take the time to honor the sacrifices of men and women who have been thrown into a war that many of them never expected to fight.
This is a day to remember all veterans, of course, from those who bought our liberty to those whose blood preserved the union to those who opposed Hitler and fought in the quagmires of Korea and Vietnam to those who battle the Taliban today in Afghanistan. In causes good or bad, all have offered their lives in service to the nation. It is fitting, however, to give special attention to those in Iraq whose lives are threatened this year, in this war, on this day.
Whatever anyone thinks of the war, or the wisdom that has been shown in fighting it, American troops are on the line, risking life and limb to bring some semblance of order, and maybe even democracy, to a nation that has seen little of either in its tortured history. Mainly, they are doing this because they have been ordered to, though many certainly believe their cause is just.
It is hard for most Americans, safe in their homes, their lives following mainly predictable paths, to truly fathom the day-to-day stress that periodically bursts into full-blown terror in still-warring Iraq. What must it be like to know there are enemies nearby who, not content to try to kill you, would like nothing more than to abduct you and sever your head as part of a crackpot political strategy?
American troops have had to confront their fears in times of war many times before. And while this fear may not be any greater than that of the airmen who flew through flak over Germany, it is nonetheless something new in this country's catalog of enemy tactics.
Still, they are there, doing their work as best they can, and at this point there is little choice but for them and their countrymen to see this job through to its best possible end. Even those who oppose the war should believe the troops stationed in this shooting gallery are trying to achieve something that will serve this nation's interests, however difficult or unlikely that goal may be. For that, and for many other things, they deserve a salute, on this day especially.