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Regarding the June 9 column “I’m an Army veteran, and my benefits are too generous”: I respect retired Lt. Col. Tom Slear’s point of view, but I am concerned that such a clinical approach overlooks the actual human purposes of these benefits.

Benefits aid tremendously in the recruitment effort. The high turnover of expiring four-year enlistments requires the United States to continually replenish a young and obedient all-volunteer force. Benefits are one way to encourage a constant flow of applicants.

Benefits also provide security. To commit one’s life to service is no small matter. To submit oneself to the higher will of the greater good requires courage and, when war comes, all the more courage still. Benefits must expand to support the volunteer in return for what amounts to the price of his life. Food, clothing, housing, medical and dental care, and many other good things, are benefits of the sacrifice of service.

Every person who enters the armed forces is subject to danger on behalf of the nation, and is prepared to lay down his or her life in defense of the Constitution. Each may be yanked out of a peacetime environment and placed in harm’s way at a moment’s notice. Regardless, they are all volunteers despite the fact that not one of them has to be.

For those who feel diminishment about serving in a support role, understand that the modern American military requires most of its people not to engage the enemy. By necessity, greater numbers remain behind than go forward. While the risk for these troops is not as great as it is for those who do, it is nonetheless infinitely greater than for the myriad citizens who do not accept the challenge of a military life.

In sum, military members have no moral obligation to surrender benefits. As well, negative opinions should not seep into our thoughts and cause guilt for the rightful benefits of our service.

Sgt. Maj. James D. Willeford

Camp Kopp, Afghanistan

Colonial history hampers Iraq

Regarding the June 14 column “Extremists’ gains in Iraq force US response”: Retired Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik has an ax to grind with President Barack Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq. But he gives Obama no credit for attempting to negotiate a continued U.S. presence in Iraq, and gives no debit to the Nouri al-Maliki government for its refusal to leave U.S. forces outside of Iraqi justice in order to obtain their services. The largely Shiite army of the central Iraqi government was resented in the western Iraqi Sunni areas, and had no Sunni national guard local militias to back up its authority. When the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant attacked al-Maliki’s forces recently, with Saudi-financed arms intended for Syria, it was no surprise that they had no local support.

The short-term military objective of stopping the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant offensive will not stop the artificial conflict generated by post-World War I boundaries, created to punish Axis allies and to reward Allied friends.

In that Versailles settlement, independent Kurdistan and Armenia were divided between Turkey, Iraq and the Soviet Union. The cultural exterminations of Ataturk and Josef Stalin are matters of record. The discrimination in Iraq was less extreme, but the remnants were nonetheless rendered powerless, with British-enforced Sunni domination of the Shiite majority, and cultural remnants of other minorities.

Saving Iraq in fact means that we will insist on continuing to punish the great-grandchildren of Iraqi minorities for the political sins of their ancestors. The United States cannot afford another decade, or another year, on such a fool’s errand.

Establishing democracy is not a game that can be played with unwilling participants. It is time to think outside of the box. Reinforcing the political and strategic mistakes from a century of colonial mismanagement is more clown show than political necessity.

Ben Burrows

Elkins Park, Pa.


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