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What happens at home does affect soldiers

With the House debating this week how much "non-binding" grief to lay on President Bush about Iraq, I e-mailed a soldier friend of mine for his impressions of the increasingly amplified protests.

Army Sgt. Daniel Dobson, 22, of Grand Rapids, Mich., is on his second tour in Iraq. I asked him what he thinks of the growing opposition to the war. Writing from Mosul, he says he appreciates the freedom Americans have to protest, but adds:

"The American military has shown a stone-cold professional veneer throughout the seething debate raging over Iraq. Beneath that veneer, however, is a fuming, visceral hatred. We feel as though we have been betrayed by Congress."

Dobson believes the military is being hamstrung against an enemy with no reservations or restrictions:

"It is our overwhelming opinion that we have not been allowed to conduct the war to the fullest of our capability; neither do we feel that we should pull out because of a lack of 'results.' War is not a chemistry set with predetermined outcomes or complications. With a great army matched with an equally cunning enemy, we find ourselves in a difficult, but winnable fight. We do not seek results; rather, we seek total and unequivocal victory."

It's been a while since anyone spoke of "victory." Critics ask war supporters to define the word.

Dobson makes an effort: "That victory is close at hand. With nearly 80 percent of all terrorist and insurgent activity within 50 miles of Baghdad, the sheer thought of not taking out this stronghold is madness. If we can eliminate 80 percent of terrorist activity, the war is nearly won. To throw away a battle of this magnificent importance would be to waste the suffering and the sacrifice of American service members."

What of the effect on the troops from anti-war remarks on the streets and in Congress? Some assert it doesn't hurt troop morale. Dobson disagrees:

"The question has been posed to me recently what congressional resolution hurts troop morale the most. No doubt we would be happy to come home tomorrow. But the thought is bittersweet. Most service members would tell you the same thing: there is no honor in retreat ... and there is no honor in what the Democrats have proposed. It stings me to the core to think that Americans would rather sell their honor than fight for a cause. Those of us who fight for (peace) know all too well that peace has a very bloody price tag."

To make his point, he tells a story: "An army once marched on the great city of Rome. The emperor, fearing for the future of the Roman Empire, sent the Empire's greatest warrior to the camp of the general to negotiate the cessation of hostilities. After several hours with the general, he asked the warrior just how much he loved Rome. Without thinking, the warrior rose and walked to a fire and stuck his right hand in the flames until it was completely burned away. 'This,' the warrior said 'is how much all Romans love Rome.' The general, struck with fear, said that if all Romans should have the same spirit as this warrior, he could not afford war with Rome, and so retreated back to his homeland.

"I fear that when questioned of their love for country, many Americans would shy from the flames. It breaks our hearts to see our nation, which was more of a Union on Sept. 12, (2001) ...fall to such petty bickering. ... No longer are we (one) out of many, but have fallen from one into many. We on the front lines long to see the white-fisted, purple-faced, raging hatred for our enemies that we saw on the morning of the 12th. We long to see America seeking victory as much as we do."

Dobson has another wish beyond the desire to come home and a successful ending to the conflict:

"We need to drop the politics and get back to what really matters: Our nation and its future. The question, therefore, lies in what will leave scars on our national spirit; a war in Iraq, or a war between Americans."

To the recurring question about patriotism and policy, Dobson replies: "I would never presume to call anyone's love for country into question ... I ask the same of you. Truly our nation's honor is at stake, and we have been given the opportunity to put our hand to the flame. Should we now, in our moment of testing, shy from it? When asked how much we love our country, should we call retreat? No, we stand at a moment of great truth, let us now show our enemies just how much we love America and our way of life. Let us show them our love of country is as great as it ever was."

Pro, or anti-war, you've got to admire Dobson and the other virtuous and committed young men and women our military attracts.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at calthomas@tribune.com.

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