Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Do we dishonor the dead with ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ on their tombstones?

By Charles Krohn Best Defense department of second thoughts Is it an honor or a cruel joke to read "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on the headstone of a fallen soldier? Given the irony of OIF in a historic context, the question is not irreverent, but it is relevant. This wouldn’t be true, of course, if our ...

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By Charles Krohn

Best Defense department of second thoughts

By Charles Krohn

Best Defense department of second thoughts

Is it an honor or a cruel joke to read "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on the headstone of a fallen soldier?

Given the irony of OIF in a historic context, the question is not irreverent, but it is relevant. This wouldn’t be true, of course, if our invasion had yielded results intended and predicted, however imperfectly.

As an old soldier who has carried one too many body bags out of the battlefield, I feel a great kinship with the next of kin of the fallen. Few memories hold greater pain.

I wouldn’t even ask this question if I didn’t wonder if some in the Gold Star community weren’t also asking it, even to themselves. And if any read this, please accept my reverence for you and the deceased. I know your loved one answered the call of the nation, understanding great risk was necessary to protect our country and help spread freedom among the oppressed. What could be more noble?

Is it not just as honorable now to recognize the prospect of freedom in Iraq as originally postulated is remote? As others have written, there is still great confusion about who will lead Iraq. The only thing most agree upon is that Iran, once held in check by Iraq, is now spreading its virulent reach deeper into the region, with a nuclear threat just around the corner.

Simply stated, the inspiration for Operation Iraqi Freedom was a dream. Does it honor or dishonor those who fell to perpetuate this myth on their headstones?

Should the matter be swept under the rug as an incidental slip of history or should next-of-kin have the option of a new headstone, marking sacrifice without promoting an idea whose time has passed?

Charles A. Krohn is the author of The Lost Battalion of Tet. Now chilling in Panama City Beach, Florida, he served in Iraq in 2003-2004 as public affairs adviser to the director of the Infrastructure Reconstruction Program, and later as public affairs officer for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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