In Harm’s Way

Normally this space is reserved for commentary regarding the fresh produce industry. But the industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and in my travels and conversations with members of the trade, I get an enormous amount of feedback on what people are thinking. At this point, they are thinking about the war in the Persian Gulf.

I can’t tell you that everyone in the trade supported taking military action at this time. Though I think most of the industry felt is was too dangerous to let the situation go on much longer. Too much time for Saddam to build up his defenses and develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capacity.

But I can say that wherever I have traveled, there is a profound sense of gratitude and more than a little bit of awe regarding the job that our military forces, and particularly, the men and women in arms, are doing in that distant desert, half a world away.

Among the younger people, I think this is especially so. In some countries, the military is a universal experience where everyone, or at least all men, serve in the armed forces. I think Israel is a country such as this. The armed forces have served as an institution that helps unify the nation of Israel and makes Israelis out of the immigrants from all over the world.

But in the U.S., the situation is different. Even in a substantial war such as this one, we don’t need more than a fraction of the military age population in the armed forces. As a result, direct knowledge of military life and military discipline is alien to most members of American society.

I think that’s why so much of the population is a little shocked by all this. Even though we spend billions of dollars and keep millions of people preparing for possible military action, it all happens so far away from the everyday life of most Americans.

People’s feelings are particularly intense over the “peace” protestors. And I must admit that as a journalist, I’m a little embarrassed at the attention this small minority is getting on television. I don’t even like the names the media gives these people. They call them “peace” activists or “anti-war protestors”, but this kind of nomenclature is not politically neutral. After all, if they are the pro-peace and anti-war faction, what does this make everyone else? Pro-war and anti-peace.

Those people who have supported this battle in the Persian Gulf love peace no less than any other person. And, I think to imply otherwise demeans what our soldiers are fighting for, which is peace and stability in the Persian Gulf and throughout the world.

Many believe, apparently including our President and a majority of Congress, that this war now will reduce the chances of a much larger and more deadly war down the road, when Saddam Hussein would have a nuclear arsenal. If our leaders are wrong, it is a mistake in judgment, but it does not indicate a moral failing or that they love peace less than the protestors.

Men of good will can and do argue that we should have waited longer. That sanctions would have achieved our objectives. They may have been right, they may have been wrong, and now, the world will never know.

But the first shot has already been fired, and many brave young men and women have their lives on the line. I certainly support the right of all Americans to petition their government for the policies they believe in. I think that those who believe we should withdraw immediately should press their case. They should be writing letters to policymakers, writing articles in newspapers.

But I don’t think these people realize what these public demonstrations do. A man like Saddam Hussein, who has only been out of the Mideast twice in his life, who has no first-hand experience with democracy, cannot be expected to put them in perspective. It is very likely that a man like this cannot understand the true significance of these demonstrations. Surely each time he sees them on CNN, he draws sustenance that American resolve is weakening, that we will soon give up and go home. Each demonstration serves to give him hope in an otherwise hopeless situation and so encourages him to fight on another day. How can those with family in the Gulf ever forgive these protestors whose actions might result in a prolonging of the war and thus the unnecessary deaths of their sons and daughters?

I suppose that there is really little we can do here at home. We can, however, let the troops know that we are grateful they took this honorable role upon themselves. That a willingness to put themselves in harm’s way and to possibly make the supreme sacrifice is a testimony to a spirit that is extraordinary and commendable.

Some produce people are trying to do something a little extra. For example, the Philadelphia Fresh Food Terminal Corporation, in combination with Top Fresh, one of their clients, as well as the Tabernacle Baptist Church, all worked together to give a holiday goodie box with candy, dried fruit and nuts to local troops as they boarded planes for Saudi Arabia.

This spirit of support is so important to troop morale. Those dodging bullets need to know we’re behind them 100%. It is hard to find the right words to say to our men and woman participating in Operation Desert Storm.

Most of all, we can say Good Luck and God Speed. May they all be able to come home soon.