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Mares: Warrior Walk

A couple of weeks ago I joined 500 people in a Vermont Remembers memorial walk, hike, and run to benefit the Vermont National Guard’s Fallen Warrior Foundation. The guard had just built a new monument at Camp Johnson in Colchester, and I signed up to walk seven miles with 40 pounds on my back. It was just enough weight to remind me of how hard real soldiers have it. And that got me thinking about wars, both past and future, since the likelihood of attacking Syria seemed very real that day.

The point of this exercise was to pay tribute to Vermont soldiers who had died in the War on Terror. And I could do that. I could think of a friend’s son who lost his legs in Afghanistan. A former student of mine was among the dead. I could recall his face clearly. It was a somber walk.
As our long column reached Rt. 2 in Colchester, my thoughts turned to whether we really would go to war with another Middle East country because the President had made a casual remark about chemical weapons and red lines a year ago.
I felt like a pin ball in a game of Pro and Con. Columnists whom I normally followed were all over the place in this debate.

Some said we’d lose face if we didn’t attack. Others said retaliation would be worse. Some said no war-crime was worse than using poison gas on your own people; others said we shouldn’t get involved in a civil-religious war.
Some said that this really was about standing up to Iran and protecting Israel. Still others insisted our national interests were not at stake.
About the time we got to Suzie Wilson Road, I fell in with an Air Guard officer who had served in Iraq. I asked him if he thought we’d be having this war talk if we still had a draft.
"Probably not," he replied politely. So I pressed the point. “It’s too easy for Congress and the President to go to war with an all-volunteer army,” I said. “Patriotism is cheap. Wave a flag and then go back to the NFL and American Idol!”
He looked thoughtful but said nothing more as we threaded our way through Ft. Ethan Allen and passed the Islamic Center of Vermont.

That set me off again. I had just finished “Breach of Trust,” a book by retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, who lost a son in Iraq . He questioned what we’ve achieved after 12 years of continuous war in the Middle East. As I finished the hike, I contemplated American stature in the Islamic world, regional stability, and the role of democracy.
Then three days later, the United States was seriously considering a proposal from the Russians to dismantle Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. And I thought: “Welcome to the fun house that is the Middle East - where the Law of unintended consequences apparently holds sway forever.”

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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