Duty and Doubt in a Family of Soldiers

Lt. Andrew Bacevich died in Iraq this week. He was the son of a retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran who had just written an article expressing his view that there is no way to salvage the situation in Iraq.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

His name was Andrew Bacevich Jr. He was 27 years old. He was killed by a bomb while on patrol in Balad, Iraq. He was the son of a retired Army colonel, now a professor at Boston University and a prominent critic of the war.

Last month, Professor Bacevich wrote in the Los Angeles Times, the truth is that next to nothing can be done to salvage Iraq. Then last Sunday, two soldiers came to the Bacevich home with news that Army First Lieutenant Andrew J. Bacevich Jr. had been killed in the line of duty.

Duty was a central value in the Bacevich household. Professor Bacevich served in Vietnam. He often communicated with his son in Iraq, but they never discussed each other's views of the war. A sister of Lieutenant Bacevich told a newspaper reporter that hers is a military family, and her brother was very aware of the duty that comes with military service. For him, that meant the politics of this war was not an appropriate topic of conversation.

The Bacevich family story of duty and doubt likely resonates with many families whose loved ones have served and died. Unlike in previous wars, the stories of those who've died in Iraq come to us quickly, sometimes in full-blown features, other times in the simple thumbnail obits that accompany rows and pages of pictures of the fallen in newspapers and magazines.

One wonders what affect those pictures and stories have had. I presumed they are meant by editors and publishers to honor those who have given their lives, and also to remind citizens of the human cost of war. But have they, significantly, undermined public support for this war? Would the Vietnam War have ended sooner if pictures and personal stories of fallen troops had been more widely broadcast and published back then? Would this personalization of war have lessened public support for World War II? Or were so many people sacrificing for that cause that the personal stories would have only stoked the public's resolve? And if the Iraq war were going better, would that be the case now?

I guess that's the point. Most Americans now think, like Professor Bacevich, that the Iraq war isn't going well. The majority wanted deadline for pulling U.S. troops out. So even the small comfort a family might get from the knowledge that a fallen loved one died to help salvage a nation may be slipping away.

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