We Don’t Need a Desert Storm Memorial

The Vietnam memorial helped heal a gaping wound. What purpose will this one serve?

Military Times (“Desert Storm memorial to be built on National Mall near Vietnam Wall“):

The National Desert Storm War Memorial will be located on the National Mall just steps away from the Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, after a federal commission approved the site on Thursday.

The move ends a debate of more than three years over where the newest combat memorial should be located. Supporters have been advocating for a site on the National Mall for years, and earlier this year that plan got support from the National Capital Planning Commission.

But the prominent location still needed approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to finalize the plan, an agreement that was not guaranteed given that space on the 146-acre site in the center of the nation’s capital is closely managed. The panel gave its approval on Thursday.

Scott Stump, the Desert Storm Marine veteran spearheading the memorial project, said his team at the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association was “very pleased and very relieved” by the commission’s decision.

“It’s in close proximity to the National Mall and the other memorials and commemorative works to where a person could actually access it, could walk to it, easily,” Stump told Military Times. “We felt like if you have something that’s the most beautiful memorial in the world, but it takes a lot of work for people to get there and people aren’t going to visit, then it kind of defeats our purpose.”

Here’s what it’s supposed to look like:

What’s the rationale for a prominent memorial for a very short military intervention?

Stump said the time and labor required to get the memorial off the ground is well worth it to accomplish the ultimate mission: honor the troops who served in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield and educate the public on the continued significance of that war.

“I hope obviously that if they don’t know the story, that they will learn about it,” Stump said of future visitors to the memorial. “If they kind of remember the story, maybe it will jog their memory and remind them that this was not the 100-hour war that it’s so erroneously referred to so many times. This was a big deal – it affected 700,000 people, and it was also one of the most overwhelmingly successful military operations in history.”

That’s . . . rather a stretch.  I’m a veteran of that conflict and proud of my service there. It’s true that it wasn’t a “100-hour war,” although that was the bulk of the ground combat operation. A couple years back, when people were complaining that we weren’t doing enough to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the war, I wrote a piece for RealClearDefense titled “The Forgotten Veterans of Desert Storm” arguing that we got rather a lot of recognition in real time.

There was a ticker tape parade down the streets of New York City for some 200,000 triumphant veterans of the conflict, attended by the President and Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, the CENTCOM commander who became an international television star through his daily briefings. While I didn’t attend that particular parade, having redeployed with my unit back to Germany, we did march in one there, resplendent in our chocolate chip desert camouflage fatigues issued to us for the plane ride home (we’d fought the war in our woodland camouflage).

Ours was the first major American war fought in the all-volunteer era, and thus the first when its veterans were universally hailed as heroes for the simple act of doing our jobs. We got more medals than my dad’s generation did for the far longer and more arduous fight in Vietnam. In addition to a Bronze Star, I was awarded a Southwest Asia Service Medal with two campaign stars and everyone, whether they deployed or not, was given a National Defense Service Medal. After I left the Army, I was awarded a third campaign star (the period during which we were waiting our turn to go back home coincided with Operations Provide Comfort and Southern Watch). A couple years later, we were awarded a Liberation of Kuwait Medal by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Soon thereafter, the Kuwaitis gave us one, too. So, for the five months I was in theater, I received five medals.

Not only is that more than my dad got for eighteen months in Vietnam, it’s more than some of my colleagues and students got for multiple tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. While there were more “campaigns” in both those wars, they were longer. So it was possible to deploy to either of them two or three times and only be recognized with one campaign star. And, as of yet, neither of the countries has issued a thank-you medal to American troops; one suspects they’re not forthcoming.

While I suppose there’s no real harm in having yet another war memorial, as they’re mostly funded by private donations, there’s no need for this one.

As I noted in a Twitter discussion when the news broke Friday, we got the ball rolling on these war-specific monuments with the Vietnam wall. The circumstances for that were unique. That conflict was, at the time, the longest in US history. We’d lost nearly 60,000 dead in that one, a large number of whom had been conscripted to fight. And, because it became so politically charged toward the end, many were treated very poorly by their society when they returned home. Honoring them was the right thing to do and helped heal a gaping wound.

Naturally, though, that led to veterans of other wars asking, What about us?

Next up was the Korean War Memorial. It wasn’t far behind: approved by Congress in 1986, groundbreaking by former President George H.W. Bush in 1993, and opened in 1995. The rationale, presumably, was that Korea was “the forgotten war” and its veterans deserved to be remembered.

Bob Dole was a major force behind getting approval for the National World War II Memorial, which was finally approved by the Congress in 1993. Ground was broken in 2001 and the monument opened to the public in 2004. Unlike Vietnam and Korea, WWII was enormously popular from the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Its veterans were feted with a series of ticker-tape parades, got the G.I. Bill, and were otherwise treated as heroes. The selling point for this one was that those who had fought in it were dying off fast and we needed to get it finished in time for those who remained to visit.

A World War I Memorial has been authorized by Congress. I suppose there’s no hurry at this point.

The Gulf War is the largest past conflict with living veterans not to have a memorial. But, again, it was awfully small. Yes, over half a million deployed to fight there. But most of the fighting was done from uncontested airspace and long-range missiles and rockets from the sea or ground-based rocket systems (my own contribution to the effort). We lost fewer than 200 in combat and fewer than 400 counting non-combat accidents. What’s next? Monuments for Grenada and Panama?

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. There’s also not a Civil War Memorial (although I guess in some sense the Lincoln Memorial qualifies for that), which is odd considering it was the bloodiest conflict in American history.

    For that matter, we don’t have memorials for the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, or, as you stated, World War One.

    For some reason, we’re also apparently going forward with a Dwight Eisenhower Memorial.

    The National Mall could get pretty crowded.

  2. Andy says:

    We definitely need one for Grenada and who could forget the Philippine Insurrection?

  3. @Andy:

    Don’t forget Panama!

  4. teve tory says:

    too bad there’s already a Korean War Memorial, if there weren’t trump could really boost this fall’s Red Wave by creating one and appealing to all those parents of korean vets he meets.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I agree with you, @James. We are colossus. We crushed a bug. The men and women who crushed that bug for us deserve respect as committed professionals, but this was not Normandy or Chosin Reservoir or Khe Sanh. @Doug notes above that we have no memorial for the Spanish-American war, another example of vastly disproportionate power. What’s next, the drone war? The bombing campaign in Libya?

    Some of this is a holdover from the days of the draft. Draftees are more deserving of acknowledgment and tender treatment. They were just minding their own business when the government yanked them out of the local burger restaurant and sent them off to fight the Wehrmacht or the People’s Liberation Army. Our military now is 100% volunteer. They are professional men and women, no different than firefighters. Deserving respect, but just respect, not pity or adoration.

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  6. Gobsmacked says:

    I’n surprised Trump isn’t tweeting for a 1916 Mexican Punitive Expedition memorial.

  7. @Michael Reynolds:

    The issue with the National Mall is that once you start memorializing everything then it becomes harder to say no to the next request. We started out with memorials to men who are arguably three of the most important people in American history (Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson). As far as individuals are concerned we’ve also added FDR and Martin Luther King and, apparently opening in 2020, Dwight Eisenhower.

    On the war memorial side we’ve got Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. Interestingly the World War I Memorial that James mentions would not be located on the National Mall, but in a place called Pershing Park nearby that I frankly wasn’t aware existed until I read about it this morning.

    In any case, perhaps the solution would be a memorial devoted to all veterans or something, because we’re at the point where running out of viable space on the mall is becoming an issue.

  8. wr says:

    How about we memorialize Desert Storm by not screwing veterans out of the care they deserve by privatizing and destroying the VA?

    Oh, wait, we’re ruled by Republicans. We worship the idea of veterans while shitting on the real people.

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  9. Kathy says:

    How about an Iraq War memorial for the Iraqis senselessly killed in a quest to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction?

    Better yet, how about a good history education in school?

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  10. teve tory says:

    @Kathy: I wonder what the # of iraqis killed in that was. The estimates range from 100,000 to 1,000,000.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    I’ve been thinking about history education and it occurred to me that the problem is not current history teaching (though I’m well-armed with critiques on that) but rather whatever the hell drivel we were putting in the heads of Baby Boomers. It’s not Gen Z supporting Trump, it’s Boomers. I’m old enough that at one point in 6th grade was I studying Virginia history in school and being fed ‘war between the states’ and ‘lost cause’ bullshit. The idea of American Exceptionalism and other myths, especially the nonsense around WW2, is strong in Boomers.

    What’s been even more lacking is education in basic philosophy – logic, ethics, epistemology. I think it’s fairly clear that Boomers were overwhelmed and unprepared to cope with propaganda and lies in the internet age. No one ever taught the poor babies how to think. They grew up in an era of gatekeepers who essentially managed their epistemology for them. Deprived in the modern media environment of even marginally honest gatekeepers they were helpless to resist the confirmation bias and Duning-Kruger enabling lies of Fox News et al. In effect Boomers were computers lacking a firewall because they’d never had to think for themselves, leaving them vulnerable to hacking.

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  12. liberal capitalist says:

    Work to eliminate the need for wars and war memorials. That should be the goal.

  13. Gustopher says:

    I would like a memorial for every war and military intervention we get involved in — a memorial of America’s military aggressiveness. We don’t have space in Washington DC if each one gets a massive memorial.

    I’m thinking something about the size of a tombstone for each conflict.

  14. steve says:

    Also a Desert Storm vet. Don’t really see the need for this. As to the Civil War, there are a lot of individual memorials at old battle sites, with Gettysburg probably, imho, the best of them. (With the caveat that I haven’t made it yet to all of the major battle sites.)

    Steve

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    No one ever taught the poor babies how to think.

    True, but we did a bang-up job at teaching the next generation what to think. One of the most common questions I would get asked during writing conferences was “what do you think I should write about this topic.” Even parents were miffed at the reality that I wasn’t telling the students what to write. Ironically enough, one asked me “how is my child to know what to think if you won’t tell him.”

    Some of my best writers in college were students who arrived there to complete high school after being expelled for being “troublemakers.” Not all, you understand, but significant numbers.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    A phenomenon everyone in kidlit has noticed is the death of imagination. I’ve been in front of third grade crowds and their imaginations are dialed up to 11. By the time they reach high school not one kid in a hundred still has a good imagination, they’ve had all the joy and eagerness wrung out of them. They’re still more alive than most adults, but they aren’t 3rd graders.

    I think we produce a great many competent writers but very few original ones. I suspect formal education is responsible for both the good and the bad. As to work habits, school does a poor job with that and all those competent writers from all the writing programs would be a lot more successful if they had ever learned how to work for a living.

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  17. teve tory says:

    OT I’m at a rural relative’s house right now and he’s watching something on the web in the other room and I just heard “..Is a Strong Conservative who will keep your family SAFE.” I can’t see the screen but from the way the thing sounds I bet it’s slo-mo black and white of same hispanic gang members walking.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    A memorial for peace and working to end all wars would be nice…

  19. mwh191 says:

    @steve: There are also many Civil War monuments, both Union and Confederate, in the national cemeteries in Virginia and some other states. Some of the monuments honor the members of individual units, but some are not so specific.

  20. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    There is no space in Washington for memorials for all Foreign Wars and Interventions.

  21. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m old enough that at one point in 6th grade was I studying Virginia history in school and being fed ‘war between the states’ and ‘lost cause’ bullshit. The idea of American Exceptionalism and other myths, especially the nonsense around WW2, is strong in Boomers.

    All countries mythologize parts of their history. In most cases it’s about claiming a greatness that isn’t there. A country as powerful and successful as the US doesn’t need that. So one should ask “Why, then, so much mythologizing of history?”

  22. Sal says:

    Well… too bad it’s going to happen and for those who believe in it made it happen. It is sad a Desert Storm vet would even suggest no need for a memorial. James is proud of his Bronze Star; I would question did he even earn it. Very sad, thank God his opinion doesn’t matter.

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  23. Timothy Watson says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I haven’t had the time to read it yet, but you might be interested in “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America”.

  24. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I haven’t had your level of success as a writer, but I did work in industry and nonprofits for 30 years before I started serious writing. I’m in agreement with you on the value of most MFA programs in creative writing.

  25. Stormy Dragon says:

    Don’t forget the brave soldiers of The Pig War of 1859. They need a memorial too, as their nation has for too long ignored their sacrifice.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @Sal: Do you have an actual argument to make?

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  27. EddieInCA says:

    @Sal:

    WTF does that even mean? Dr. Joyner is capable of responding for himself, but damn, dude, it’s rude to come into someone’s home and just poop on the furniture. You owe the host of this site an apology.

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  28. ridder says:

    @Sal:
    officers/ upper nco’s , for the most part received a bronze star..no “v” device. these days you can get a bronze star sitting in the rear, with the gear. i know of several of todays soldiers who have one, an hadn’t seen their weapon since they arrived in country..desk clerks, warrant officers…sad. also we got the Kuwaiti liberation medal same time we got the southwest asia medal, had to sign for them. desert uniforms was issued to all troops who got to saudi before dec/jan…7th corps was only getting there in january. they missed the fun of months in that desert heat of over 110 degrees. 24th. inf. div.

  29. Sal says:

    @James Joyner: My argument with you James is that there is over 200,000 Desert Storm veterans suffering from exposure to the toxic burning oil fields, chemical munitions destruction and DNA mutations caused by chemical attacks that are just coming to light.
    I can say that you are clearly disconnected from your Desert Storm brothers and what is happening to them. You want to be a voice for someone how about your brothers in arms that could use someone like you to get the word out. So, I will tell you I to have a Bronze Star and I was 20 years old during Desert Storm and what I experienced was war. Opinions that is was nothing or short is moot as it will go down eventually as the war that destroyed a generation of soldiers and their families through chemicals. I came home sick like many DS vets. So….yes I have an argument I like many DS vets live a low health quality of life and unfortunately many DS Vets give up and commit suicide, because of their pains and illnesses. Many of us do feel forgotten, hopeless and tired of being ignored when they go to the VA for help.
    I am just happy the memorial location has already been approved and the fund-raising is well underway. It is disappointing to hear a fellow DS vet speak as you do. All I can say is I know you did not get the full experience by your opinions voiced.

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  30. Sal says:

    @EddieInCA: He is a big boy. Army of One!!!!

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  31. Kenneth Rhodes says:

    Mr. Joyner,

    As a Desert Storm Veteran who is 100% disabled with multiple disabilities due to as they call it, “Gulf War Syndrome” All of them medically proven to be from the LEAKING CHEMICAL WEAPONS (NOT FROM THE BUNKERS YOU SAW ON THE NEWS, BUT FROM CAVES OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE), OIL FIRES AND ALL THE CRAP THAT WE WERE TOLD TO THROW INTO OUR BURN PITS, THE BURNING OF OUR OWN SHIT FUMES, THE DIESEL FUMES FROM THE SPRAYING OF DIESEL ON THE SAND AT THE ENTRANCE OF OUR BASE CAMP (I stayed there a total of 4 weeks) SO OUR VEHICLES COULD GET OUT. Our company was a bastard unit sent from Germany, and we picked up those CHEMICAL WEAPONS and took to an undisclosed location, AND NOT THE KHAMISIYAH DEPOT, even though I was there for that demolition too. The other chemical weapons we picked up were from caves that never made it on the news and has NEVER or WILL EVER BE DECLASSIFIED BECAUSE, we were told to shut up and to never talk about it or else. I don’t care anymore if I get in trouble, because I’m dying anyway from that shit. So Mr. James Joyner, maybe before you shoot off your mouth about shit you don’t know about. You should try and think about all the soldiers like myself whom are constantly in pain and have early arthritis, breathing and memory issues, along with all the other shit we are going through. We don’t get to die from old age or a quick death (unless we put a gun in our mouth). Maybe now you’ll shut up about us not having a memorial, because there are a lot more of us, than the less than 200 killed, that are now dead and those of us still dying before we should. Oh, and Mr. Joyner, just another little known fact. We were told to not wear our masks because it would interfere with driving our vehicles and be a safety issue, and that the M9 Detector tape we had on our mopp gear (which we were told it was ok to take off due to the heat), turned purple due to the diesel fumes, and not from chemical weapons. Plus you were an Officer probably telling other soldiers to push the buttons to fire missiles from far far away, you never even saw combat. So why in the hell did you get the Bronze Star. Really? Please tell me what you did to deserve it. Oh wait a minute, you were probably like my Captain, and put yourself in for it. Well I was on the front lines and was there a lot longer than you, so I would rather you hand it over to me and say thank you and move on. So anyway Mr. Joyner, I just thought you would like to hear from a real soldier. Have a good day sir.

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  32. James Joyner says:

    @Sal: @Kenneth Rhodes: Because its symptoms were so varied, “Desert Storm Syndrome” took far too long to get proper recognition from the VA and Congress. We should do much better by those who came home sick. This memorial does nothing to fix that, however.

    My argument isn’t that nobody suffered from the war or that it was somehow “not a real war.” Rather, it’s that it was a short war with very few combat losses. Vietnam started a string of war-specific monuments because of the horrible politics of its day. But ours was a well-celebrated war fought entirely by volunteers.

    In addition to being a firing platoon leader, I was the battery NBC officer. We went into MOPP immediately once the air war started and stayed in it for the duration. We had numerous what we presumed were false alarms with our M-8 alarms and donned our protective mask in each instance. I’m not sure why your unit did it differently.

    So far as I know, there were no actual chemical weapons deployed by the Iraqis in that war. Certainly, we were under a veritable eclipse from the diesel smoke for days. And it wouldn’t surprise me if all those fires set off chemicals in places.

    But, again, I’m not sure how a memorial fixes any of that.

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  33. Sal says:

    @James Joyner: Maybe your an imposter and fake. Your all about you and you were probably the officer that got saluted in the Desert by his own men, because they did not trust you and today James Joyner turns his back on his brothers and acts like a neutral stooge when called out. God Bless America and all its past, present and future Warroirs. Thank you too James even in your lack of clarity I’m sure when you were young you did well; although today you are your Desert Storms Judus with what you opinions throwing Desert Storm Vets under the bus.

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  34. Matt says:

    @James Joyner:

    We had numerous what we presumed were false alarms with our M-8 alarms and donned our protective mask in each instance. I’m not sure why your unit did it differently.

    Probably because he’s full of shit.

    According to him he found the WMDs that everyone was looking for but it was all covered up and umm stuff….

  35. Kenneth Rhodes says:

    @Matt: Three words Matt…You’re an idiot.

  36. Matt says:

    @Kenneth Rhodes: That’s four words… Are you trying to be a parody of yourself?

    Hint : You’re = You are

    At least you got the contraction right unlike Sal above.