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A Parade For Iraq War Vets?

Later today, the New York Giants, fresh off their victory in Super Bowl XLVI, will become the latest group to parade to New York City’s Canyon of Heroes as the city celebrates. That’s leading some people to wonder where the parade for Iraq War Veterans is:

The New York Giants on Tuesday will be showered with confetti and greeted by throngs as they are feted with the city’s most storied honor: a parade through its Canyon of Heroes.

But all the fanfare — the parade this week is the fourth since 2000 to honor a sports team — has touched off anger and unease among some returned Iraq veterans, who are eagerly awaiting their own recognition.

“Everybody recognizes that the Giants deserve a parade,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. But, he added, “If a football team gets a parade, shouldn’t our veterans?”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has long expressed his regret that the United States did not do a better job honoring veterans of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, has cited advice from the Pentagon in deciding it was not appropriate to hold a parade while American soldiers are still fighting in Afghanistan.

But a growing coalition of veterans, elected officials and other public figures are disagreeing, saying it is time to celebrate the men and women who served in Iraq.

Leslie H. Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former correspondent for The New York Times and a board member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, called the Pentagon’s position “supercilious sensitivity” and “Washington-think.”

“Celebrating the Iraqi vets doesn’t negate a future celebration for the Afghan vets or deny that we’re still at war,” Mr. Gelb said, adding that “if we had to wait to honor our servicemen and women until wars were over, that would take a long time.”

And former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who in 1981 was the host of a “ticker-tape” parade for American hostages released from Iran over the objection of Alexander M. Haig Jr., then secretary of state, said he thought a parade for Iraq veterans was important and timely. Mr. Koch, who also hosted a belated parade for Vietnam War veterans in 1985, said the Pentagon was making “a political decision” that he termed “ridiculous.”

“It’s not premature,” he said. “I believe that a parade is required, is necessary, and New York City is the place to have it.”

At least one large city, St. Louis, has gone ahead with a parade for Iraq veterans, on Jan. 28. And on Monday, the White House announced that President Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, would hold a dinner on Feb. 29 to honor troops who had served in Iraq.

But the Defense Department, noting that American soldiers are still fighting in Afghanistan, says it is too soon for a celebration with the recognition and symbolism of a New York City parade.

Col. David Lapan, a spokesman for Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “We simply don’t think a national-level parade is appropriate while we continue to have America’s sons and daughters in harm’s way.”

The Pentagon’s position doesn’t really make sense. Iraq and Afghanistan are, after all, separate conflicts fought in separate countries for very different reasons. While there’s no small degree of overlap between veterans of the two conflicts, it seems somewhat silly to say that veterans from the Iraq War shouldn’t be honored until the conflict in Afghanistan is over, or as long as American troops are “in harm’s way,” which seems pretty darn open ended to me.

That’s certainly not the way we’ve handled these things in the past. When the V-E Day came in May 1945, the nation didn’t wait to celebrate that achievement until V-J Day had come three months later (and few people had reason to know that the end of the war in the Pacific Theater might be that near at the time). In fact, on June 10th, 1945, just a month after the end of the conflict in Europe, New York City held a ticker-tape parade for General Dwight D. Eisenhower while the conflict in the Pacific still raged. It was the first time that type of event had occurred in the city since 1939. A parade honoring “the troops” wasn’t held until 1946 when the 82nd Airborne Division marched down Broadway, but that was likely due to the logistical realities of bringing forces home from Europe and the Pacific in the 1940s. If it was acceptable to celebrate the Supreme Allied Commander Of The Allied Expeditionary Force while men were still in harm’s way in the Pacific, then why can’t we do the same thing for Iraq War Vets, who are pretty much all back in the United States now?

It’s a minor thing, perhaps, but when you realize that it took until ten years for Vietnam War veterans, and nearly forty years for Korean War veterans, to get this same recognition, the Pentagon’s reasoning sounds like very weak tea. The Iraq War was controversial to begin with, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down with American public opinion decidedly against it, but that’s no reason for veterans to have to wait decades to receive some kind of recognition for their service even if it is just a parade.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Peacewood says:

    Did we win the war in Iraq?

    (Therein may lie the answer.)

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  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    There’s a difference Doug. The Giants won.

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  3. So the troops who serve in unsuccessful or unpopular military engagements should just be kicked to the curb and forgotten? Okay then/.

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  4. One question I do have is whether the Giants parade is being paid for by the city or by the Giants franchise. If the former, it’s certainly disturbing display of the city’s funding priorities. If it’s the latter, then the city is being consistent and the real question becomes why all the people complaining don’t get together the funds to fund the parade themselves.

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  5. Peacewood says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Not saying it’s right. (It probably isn’t.) But to extend the analogy further, the 49ers and Ravens toiled and shed blood and sweat and overcame long odds to get to where they ended up — and nobody held parades for them either, simply because the ball bounced funny near the end.

    America’s a pretty mercenary place.

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  6. I think what you want, Doug, is a Veterans Day parade for all servicemen and for all conflicts.

    It’s kind of sorry punditry (or advocacy) to imply that we don’t, like, have a Veterans Day which we take seriously every year.

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  7. rodney dill says:

    St. Louis has had one and other cities seem to be planning for them.
    http://www.wishtv.com/dpps/military/more-cities-consider-iraq-vets-parades_4062769

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  8. @john personna:

    I know that Veterans Day exists, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    So the troops who serve in unsuccessful or unpopular military engagements should just be kicked to the curb and forgotten?

    Doug as ever goes off into strawman territory. Question the wisdom of what many would call a victory parade and this immediately means we intend to start spitting on vets. Get a grip Doug.

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  10. rodney dill says:

    Winning the war was the quick part. It was the occupation and rebuilding that were problematic.

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  11. @Brummagem Joe:

    Funny. I didn’t use the phrase “victory parade”

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  12. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    If the former, it’s certainly disturbing display of the city’s funding priorities.

    Why? There’s nothing wrong with encouraging civic pride. What about all these Columbus Day and other parades?

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  13. JKB says:

    The parade in St. Louis was better. It is just wrong to force the troops to march into enemy territory for a parade. Better to have it where their friends and family can afford to attend.

    And who says they aren’t planning a parade, it could be undergoing the same process as the rebuilding of the WTC site. In which case, the parade will happen in 2025.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Funny. I didn’t use the phrase “victory parade”

    Have you changed your name to Many Mataconis?

    Question the wisdom of what many would call a victory parade

    The point which seems to be eluding you Doug is that such an event could rapidly degenerate into a subject of mirth rather than celebration.

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  15. @Doug Mataconis:

    Why is Veterans Day bad, Doug?

    Basically this is advocacy/punditry bullshit. You could promote Veterans Day big time, and with a timely lead-in. Instead you want to make an artificial conflict about Superbowl parades.

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  16. (And of course you WERE trolling for all the win/lose arguments.)

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  17. James Joyner says:

    We had a very small parade on my small post in Germany when we returned from Desert Storm. If there was some big parade at home–and there may well have been–I missed it.

    But, no, we don’t have “War Is Over, Thanks For Playing” parades, we have “Victory” parades. We didn’t have ‘em for Korea or Vietnam, either, and we lost geometrically more people in those conflicts–mostly people who were forced to go rather than the volunteers we lost in Iraq.

    Further, the Pentagon has always treated OEF/OIF as a single conflict, including for budgetary and casualty count purposes.

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  18. Hey Norm says:

    For the life of me I cannot see how Veteran’s Day Parades held in almost every town an city in the Country does not satisfy any need to honor our troops.
    May be we should send them to Disneyland too?
    I am stunned by the inane level of this post…and the comment

    “…I know that Veterans Day exists, but that’s not what I’m talking about…”

    is even worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  19. Jay Dubbs says:

    @rodney dill: Exactly right. Shouldn’t the victory parade have come 8 years ago? Or can we expect a victory parade for WW II when we finally leave Japan and Germany?

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  20. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Jay Dubbs:

    Or can we expect a victory parade for WW II

    We had a victory parade for WW II. Maybe you missed it.

    JJ:
    But, no, we don’t have “War Is Over, Thanks For Playing” parades, we have “Victory” parades. We didn’t have ‘em for Korea or Vietnam, either, and we lost geometrically more people in those conflicts–mostly people who were forced to go rather than the volunteers we lost in Iraq.

    Absolutely. The potential for something like this to become the stuff of late night comedy shows at home and abroad appalls me. These guys service does need to be recognised but not in this way. I actually thought the Obama dinner idea struck the right kind of note.

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  21. This strikes as part of the broader, and ongoing, discussion of why we honor sports starts, singers, actors, even reality TV participants more than we do teachers, policemen, firefighters, etc.

    Plus, I must confess: having a SB parade for the Giants strikes me as organic to the process. Having a parade for Iraqi war vets seems contrived.

    I do think that vets of Iraq and Afghanistan deserve memorializing on the mall in DC, however.

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  22. James H says:

    I guess I’m on an extreme end here … why hold parades at all? They cost money, block off city streets, and are generally noisy. Seems to me that people should focus on VA benefits rather than parades.

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  23. @john personna:

    I didn’t say Veterans Day was bad. I was commenting on the a story in today’s New York Times and the question of whether or not there should be a parade for Iraq War vets. Although I don’t watch her show, I understand Rachel Maddow has given this question extensive coverage, far more than Fox News apparently

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  24. @James Joyner:

    There were two major parades in 1991 that I’m aware of, one in Washington and one in New York City. The Washington event was quite a big deal as I recall and turned into an all-day event on the National Mall (where the Pentagon had put on display everything from tanks to a few Patriot batteries) and then a concert and fireworks display at night.

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  25. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I recall the 85 parade for Vietnam Vets in New York and, yea, perhaps it was contrived but at least it was a better reception than they actually got when they got home.

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  26. @Doug Mataconis: No doubt. I am just not a fan of contrived as a general principle.

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  27. @Brummagem Joe:

    You do realize there’s a difference between the blockquoted text from the Times article and what I wrote myself, right?

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  28. Jay Dubbs says:

    @Brummagem Joe: Joe, read the whole comment. If we have a victory parade, it should have been 8 years ago. If we have a we’re finally done with rebuilding an our troops have come home, then it’s a different story.

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  29. @Brummagem Joe:

    What about all these Columbus Day and other parades?

    That’s my question. Does New York City actually pay for any of the parades that go on there, or does it merely allow parades financed by outside groups to occur?

    I know that in Philadelphia, the big city near me, all funding for parades was cut off about a decade ago, and ever since then all of them (even ones like the New Year’s Day Mummer Parade that are considered significant parts of the city’s cultural identity) have to be paid for by private groups.

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  30. An Interested Party says:

    The parade in St. Louis was better. It is just wrong to force the troops to march into enemy territory for a parade.

    Are you implying that New York City, the prime location of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is “enemy territory”? Interesting…

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  31. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You do realize there’s a difference between the blockquoted text from the Times article and what I wrote myself, right?

    I’m not quite sure of the point you’re making. The headline of your piece is

    A Parade For Iraq War Vets?

    I’m saying I don’t think it’s a good idea for reasons I adduced. You then misquoted me. What’s you’re point.

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  32. de stijl says:

    I think we as a nation have internalized WWII as the correct way wars should be fought – we were attacked, we responded, we had a stand-up fight with an enemy that could basically match us blow-for-blow, but we eventually knocked them down and they surrendered unconditionally. Their post-war governments became our friends and allies, and in many ways, emulated us.

    Any war that doesn’t fit that model gets a less than full-throated roar of approval from the public as a whole.

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  33. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Jay Dubbs:

    I read the whole comment. I’m unsure of the point your’e making

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  34. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    There were two major parades in 1991 that I’m aware of, one in Washington and one in New York City. The Washington event was quite a big deal as I recall and turned into an all-day event on the National Mall (where the Pentagon had put on display everything from tanks to a few Patriot batteries) and then a concert and fireworks display at night.

    Er…..Doug we clearly won the gulf war to general applause. You perceive no differences between that clearcut outcome and the ambiguities of the Iraq war debacle?

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  35. Brummagem Joe says:

    @de stijl:

    Any war that doesn’t fit that model gets a less than full-throated roar of approval from the public as a whole.

    Untrue surely. We were widely applauded for our actions in the Gulf and Bosnia….and of course in the cold war.

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  36. @Brummagem Joe:

    Only if you assume the parade is a celebration of victory, which isn’t even what people are suggesting.

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  37. Eric says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This strikes as part of the broader, and ongoing, discussion of why we honor sports starts, singers, actors, even reality TV participants more than we do teachers, policemen, firefighters, etc.

    I had the same thinking too. Then I realized that it’s because they are government workers. No likes government workers.

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  38. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Only if you assume the parade is a celebration of victory, which isn’t even what people are suggesting.

    What they (whoever they are) might be suggesting wouldn’t necessarily coincide with the construction that would be put upon it. As JJ pointed out:

    But, no, we don’t have “War Is Over, Thanks For Playing” parades, we have “Victory” parades.

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  39. buster says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    When the President announced the cessation of hostilities in December, the only reference to “Victory” in his speech was Camp Victory in Baghdad. He has repeatedly declined to characterize the outcome of the Iraq war, except to note that he ‘ended’ it (by complying with the Bush-era US/Iraq security agreement).

    I believe this is due to the Democratic Party’s investment in the narrative that the US lost the Iraq War. I disagree with that analysis, but if you maintain that we lost the Iraq War, why would a parade be appropriate? And if you think we won, it seems a no-brainer to have a parade commemorating that fact. Either way, the decision to hold a parade commemorating the end of OIF will send a message on this topic – just as the decision to pass on a parade sent a message in January.

    I would like to know whether the President thinks we won in Iraq or lost, as measured by whether we achieved our stated objectives for initiating armed conflict. I suspect that he thinks we lost, but nobody wants to say that. Hence these discussions about proxy issues.

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  40. Brummagem Joe says:

    @buster:

    I believe this is due to the Democratic Party’s investment in the narrative that the US lost the Iraq War……I suspect that he thinks we lost, but nobody wants to say that.

    Hardly a Democratic narrative and only Obama’s opinion when something like 79% of Americans believe it was a huge mistake….of course it’s possible 79% of Americans are Democrats but not likely

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  41. buster says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    After initially (reluctantly) supporting the Iraq war, the Democrats actively developed and advanced a narrative that the Iraq War was a failure that was unwinnable. You might attribute this to their superior acument, but I think they adopted this stance primarily for electoral gain. For evidence, I point to the death of the anti-war movement following the election of Pres. Obama.

    Thus, they were ‘invested’ in the narrative in a way that most Americans were not. That many Americans (79% seems…estimated) have accepted this narrative suggests that the Democrats won the argument, but I would like to think that most Americans would have preferred that the US won Iraq.

    In contrast, I do not think Democrats are in a position to embrace a win in Iraq, since it would require them to change their views on Republicans, Bush, and the war itself.

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  42. Brummagem Joe says:

    @buster:

    After initially (reluctantly) supporting the Iraq war, the Democrats actively developed and advanced a narrative that the Iraq War was a failure

    Actually a majority of Democrats in the house and a narrow minority in the senate voted against it even after the mass of phony intelligence served up by the administration which was subsequently proved to be almost entirely baloney. And the Democrats advanced no narrative because the didn’t need to…. the facts spoke for themselves. One had only to switch the tv on in the evening from “stuff happens” onwards and as the casualties mounted to realise this was a FUBAR of mega proportions.

    That many Americans (79% seems…estimated) have accepted this narrative suggests that the Democrats won the argument,

    What is suggests is not that the Democrats won the argument but that the vast majority of Americans have a somewhat more acute sense of reality than you appear to have and are unpersuaded by your rather childish stab in the back mythologising.

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  43. WR says:

    Perhaps instead of whining about the absence of parades, we might advocate for actual policies that would help veterans for more than one day — employment assistance for the jobless, psychiatric care for the traumatized, shelter for the homeless. I can’t pretend to be a vet, but as a Democrat and a liberal I tend to believe that if I were, these — opposed by every Republican in Congress — would be of higher value than the kind of meaningless tribute to my valor and wonderfulness that “conservatives” like to engage in before cutting funding for veterans’ programs.

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  44. DRS says:

    We don’t hold parades to honour the troops; we hold them to honour ourselves. As noted above WWII is the perfect example of a war because it makes us look so good as a society – slapped down by the Great Depression, we came back to win the Big One against the Really Bad Guys! The returning troops are good props in that kind of ceremony.

    Wars that we’re ambivalent about – the troops remind us that things weren’t as clear-cut, and we can’t put the oomph into it. But let’s not kid ourselves it’s about the troops.

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  45. buster says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    You can argue that the Democratic narrative is coincidentally the God’s truth w/ regards to Operation Iraqi Freedom, but to pretend that the Democrats didn’t have a vested interest in advancing a narrative of failure in Iraq seems pretty naive. There are numerous examples from 2007-2008 where numerous Democrats made declarative statements about Iraq’s loss that were at best premature.

    In your own post, you engage in the storytelling. A majority of Democratic Senators voted to authorize OIF – but you want to focus instead on the “minority who voted against it”. The Democrats took to insisting that their prior support for regime change in Iraq was due to being tricked and lied to – which only makes sense if you ignore Democratic leaders’ statements and actions in the 1990′s and attribute the worst possible motives to Republican leaders. I’m not saying that Republicans didn’t have their own counter narrative, btw.

    If it helps, imagine that we’re discussing the Republican view of the economy under Obama. Obviously, Republicans have a vested interest in pushing the narrative that the economy under Obama has been terrible because of Obama’s decisions and actions. It’s not mythologizing to realize that the party out of power has a perverse incentive when it comes to interpreting the Nation’s course.

    Regardless, I’m not interested in rehashing a debate that should probably be taking place on Wikipedia – you obviously think we lost the war. Why do you suppose has the President been reluctant to state that if it’s just so obvious?

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