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Ignoring Even One Shattered Norm Endangers the Civilian-Military Relationship

Salena Zito on

It took New York City 10 long years for them to welcome home Vietnam War veterans officially, gratitude they were denied in 1975 primarily because of the deep fracture in trust between civilians and the U.S. military during and after that war.

The ticker tape parade held in 1985 had over 1 million people turn out for the emotional event. At the time, it had the most significant number of marchers on record for a parade in the city's history during a two-day celebration to thank the service members a decade after the last U.S. soldiers left Saigon in 1975.

As a young mother in 1991, I took my children to a massive parade in downtown Pittsburgh honoring the returning Gulf War veterans. For the first time, I saw an outpouring of support for the Vietnam War veterans who also marched in the parade.

For those of us of a certain age, the mere recognition of their service rarely existed, nor did a thank you, let alone a parade to honor them for fighting in that war.

The civilian-military relationship had never been so perilous in our history.

The Vietnam War era marked the moment when the public began to distrust its government, military and larger institutions; we found out presidents lie, corporations don't have our best interest at heart, the bias of the media and the idea that our military is not invincible.

 

Since then, our faith in all of those powerful entities has never recovered from those pre-Vietnam War comfort levels except for the one: the military. Last year, according to the Gallup survey, the U.S. military earned 72% of the public's trust.

In comparison, television news organizations only receive 18% of our trust and confidence, Congress 13% and big corporations an abysmal 19%.

Confidence in small businesses, which is at 75%, is the only entity other than our military in our daily lives that the public trusts.

One of those reasons we do have this faith, or had this faith -- a recent Reagan Foundation national defense survey done in February showed a steep decline since January -- is that we have always respected that the soldier is apolitical and the institution, while political, is nonpartisan.

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