So “Was It Worth It?”: The Funny Pages and Rock Songs Get Their Say

J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he teaches writing to college students and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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40 Responses

  1. Kim says:

    Every day I walk past banners, Veterans against the War…

    VoteVets knocked on my door.

    Even a bullet that doesn’t hit can leave a scar

    And sometimes people wonder where you are.


    What do we gain by asking people who were there, “is it worth it?” A knowledge of their morale, if nothing else. Soldiers LOVED going to Kosovo, loved getting flowers and keeping the peace. Felt like they were doing some good, and they reenlisted willingly.Report

  2. DevoMac says:

    First I would like to say that I’m relatively new to the site; I found it one day a few weeks back following links from who knows where and it has become one of my favorites. I usually don’t comment on anything online because I don’t have a lot of free time or the attention span to keep up with it, but this OP hits close to home so I felt I would give it a shot (don’t make me regret it…). Anyways, I’m a veteran of the Iraq war and the last week has been sort of strange for me. I got a lot of “how do you feel about it ending?” questions, and I’m not really sure how to answer. I was always opposed to Iraq as a citizen, but as a soldier I was excited to go over and do my job for real. If you didn’t go over it was like being on a football team and only going to practice; what’s the point if you can’t get in the game? But as a citizen I was pissed that our civilian leadership bullshitted us into a (IMO) needless war. Maybe that dichotomy (sp?) is why I really can’t answer when asked if Iraq was worth it. Am I proud of my service? Absolutely. Do I wish I had my friends back who were killed? Absolutely. Were their deaths/everything worth it…….depends on the day, I guess. I’m not one of these “only vets know how I feel” veterans, but a lot of those who haven’t been over really don’t know how to talk to a vet beyond the requisite “thanks for your service.” I dread family events sometimes because someone inevitably asks about the war and I really don’t know how to answer and it gets awkward. I would rather someone just recognize that I’m a vet and move the conversation on than feel they have to thank me for my service. This is spot on:

    “There’s a need, that is, to view soldiers not as Soldiers or Veterans or Warriors or Troops To Be Supported, but as soldiers and veterans who are also (and primarily) individual humans with their own slew of subjective experiences.  That maybe, in at least a handful of cases, maybe it really is just the liquor or her figure and not the memories.  (And that the memories are themselves of particular experiences, not of the black box known as War.)”

    Thanks for putting this in words.Report

  3. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Why elevate the sentiments of pop-culture generators [cartoonists, musicians] over those of anybody else, including cable news talking heads?  [Or bloggers?]  Indeed, pop culture is not obliged to make actual rational arguments, and are free to deal in caricatures and sentiments. [Bloggers, too—often enough, anyway.]  War sucks.  Duh.

    On the other hand,

    Fifty percent of [post 9-11] veterans said Afghanistan was worth it [44% against—TVD], whereas the poll of civilians put it at 41 percent.

    Among veterans, 44 percent said Iraq was worth it. [50% against–TVD] That compares with 36 percent in the poll of civilians.

    Of the surveyed former service members who were seriously wounded or knew someone who was killed or seriously wounded, 48 percent said the war in Iraq was worth fighting, compared with 36 percent of those veterans who had no personal exposure to casualties.

    Exposure to casualties had an even larger impact on attitudes toward the war in Afghanistan. Fifty-five percent of those exposed to casualties said Afghanistan has been worth the cost to the U.S., whereas 40 percent of those who were not exposed to casualties held that same view.

    TVD: Pretty much a split among post-9/11 vets, those who bore the weight of it all, not pop culture warriors, cable talking heads, or we the blogosphere.  Certainly the case against the wars is familiar and valid, but Garry Trudeau is not the place to look for the views of the half who think it was “worth it.”  According to his poetic license—which is fine for poets—such arguments apparently don’t exist among those who served.

    [I also can’t find the actual splits in the Pew poll for the post 9-11 vets who served in combat and those who didn’t, which would be illuminating.]Report

    • North in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:


      Well one’d expect the soldiers to skew in favor wouldn’t one? Sunken costs, desire to justify their own time and sacrifice, espirit de corps? Do we know how the post war vets opinioned on previous conflicts?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to North says:

        Though I think this is true, it’s often suggested that supporters of the war would feel differently if they were actually fighting in the war. That soldiers, for whatever reason, tend to be more supportive of the war than non-soldiers remains significant.

        It’s also the case that soldiers and such who are against the war often get more attention. I live in a very military-friendly part of the country. Opposition to the war seems to be everywhere. I see more declarations against than I ever did when living in cities. Which makes sense, because here there the Walmart wall is full of photos of people serving. It takes on more urgency. And tends to be more to-the-point. End The War Now leaves one with no doubt as to where one stands on the war. Support Our Troops, quietly displayed everywhere by supporters of the war, less so, because people who don’t like the war Support Our Troops as well.

        In any event, I think we should be careful when we say “of course they’re more likely to be in favor of the war (because of the sunk cost fallacy or whatever). Just as their views matter when it comes to being against it, I think if they are in favor of it should be relevant and not dismissed. Even though it should not be determinative, either (we shouldn’t let a vote of the military determine which wars we enter and which ones we don’t).Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Mr. van Dyke, I think the telling factor of all the statistics was not that ‘it was worth’ it is so high, but that it was rather so low.

      Imagine if almost half the people working at McDonald’s or Google or any other enterprise said their most visible  ‘product lines’ over the last ten years weren’t worth it.Report

      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kolohe says:

        Mr. Kolohe, It’s hard to argue the Korean War was worth it even tho the Nork regime is one rare instance where history has revealed the horror of the alternative.

        Right now, Iraq and Afghanistan are all cost and very little visible benefit, with absolutely no fix on the future.  If we can’t suss out Korea, where the returns are in, this is surely impossible.

        It wasn’t my intention to re-litigate Iraq: I quit around 2007 in fora like this one.  I was curious about the opinions of those who bore the burden, not the funny pages, and passed along what I found.  Take it for what you will, or don’t.Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Errr… Because I listen to DBT a touch too much, and read Doonesbury in the mornings with my coffee?  (And don’t watch cable news?  Or, really, much television at all [typed as I sit in front of a television watching a bowl game on ESPN]).

      No, I really wasn’t trying to elevate pop culture producers over others so much as pointing out that they were pointing in a direction I found right/worthwhile/interesting. I used to be very into finding finding Deep Meanings and Big Ideas all over the place in the music I listened to; but then I was no longer 16 and eventually settled for the realization that songwriters occasionally manage to encapsulate a non-original sentiment in a well-delivered, well-phrased way.  (Doonesbury at its best does this with humor rather than a rhyme, but it’s pretty hit and miss these days.)Report

      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to J.L. Wall says:

        Well, JL, I researched Trudeau’s core premise, what the actual vets think of it all in real life, not his imagining of it.  Come to think of it, the Drive-By Truckers’ drive-by seems rather shallow, a recycle of pop-culture memes and TV movies more than a poetic depiction of reality.  Derivative, IOW.

        And since I’m playing art/culture critic, Doonesbury hasn’t been a real part of even pop culture for decades now.  In fact, I think it was when Andy died of AIDS to the strains of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  1990, won a Pulitzer, I see, looking it up.  It jumped the shark sometime thereafter.

        NPR is OK and has been on better behavior [IMO] since they threatened to cut funding again.  And I sympathize with you bypassing the clatter of cable news, but that only leaves you with what your newspapers allow you to read.  Talk radio is of course out of the question.

        I maintain our problems as a nation remain epistemological.  I consume the same news sources you do: I get the LA Times.  I spend the majority of my time here @ LoOG simply giving the “other side of the story”  that I find when I look for it.


  4. BlaiseP says:

    Trudeau knows how to defend his position well enough.  Some people just don’t know how to take a joke.  It would help those who don’t get the joke to run an armed checkpoint for a while.   The joke will become blisteringly clear.

    When asked a question like “Was it worth it?”  we must resort to our elementary algebra skills, asking “Worth what?” and putting that on the answer section before we get around to the gentle strip tease of removing parentheses and combining terms.

    Wars are a sort of collective madness.  Do not ask the people who fought the wars if their service was of any value, especially when you have not defined the terms, see previous paragraph.   They are as baffled as everyone else.   There is no perspective so limiting as seeing something at first hand.

    The historians will puzzle over this war for many decades to come, helped along by what little paperwork military hasn’t destroyed, the sort of thing the New York Times is finding in the dumps of Iraq.   Of this we may be certain, Iraq was based upon a pack of lies, known to be so at the time and confirmed as lies by what little evidence has dribbled out into the light of day.

    Elsewhere I have said the winners write the histories and the losers write the songs.  I listen to country music every day, it’s what my girlfriend likes.   Like hip-hop, country music is a tune wrapped around a lyric.   Rock music is a lyric wrapped around a tune, just another instrument, often mixed down into incomprehensibility.  I enjoy the older country music, especially the music of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, who never felt the necessity of a country song about Being Country.  Songs about Being American annoy me very much.   These plastic patriots are all hat and no cattle and certainly no CIB.  Soldiers talk among themselves about the best mess halls and getting drunk and funny episodes in the barracks or the water buffalo that set off a Claymore.

    Why do people feel obliged to thank a volunteer soldier for his service to this country?   Never quite worked that one out:  he volunteered for his wars, the military fed and clothed and trained and paid his ass to do his job and if he did a good job, he should be praised and thanked for doing that job, not for serving this country and doing something good.   He did what he was told to do and if he was a good soldier, he did a good job of that. This country never entered into it, he wasn’t some Crusader sent to fight the infidels, that’s what our enemies said of them.   Don’t you believe it.  He didn’t fight for you.  He fought for his fellow soldiers.

    Soldiers keep their politics in their footlockers, it’s never wise to discuss the rationale of the orders you’re given, and you’re likely to get an Article 15 for it, carried too far.   When the President is ultimately your boss and everyone in the chain of command salutes him, you’re in a unique situation where you obey your orders within the confines of the Geneva Convention and your ROEs and maybe you can question those orders later.

    Soldiers don’t get strange.  People get strange around soldiers.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Great post.

      (though we’ll see in about 30 years or so, possibly earlier, that this was the most documented war in history)Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

        Vietnam was a far more open war than Iraq.  Reporters ran around all over Vietnam, Cambodia, even Laos to a limited extent.   Both sides of that war were relatively open:  John McCain was interviewed in the open by a French reporter.

        Though millions of images and plenty of footage was shot in Iraq, a good deal of it will prove worthless to the historians.   The press was never truly given an opportunity to do its job in Iraq and the military simply can’t be trusted to tell the truth about what went on.Report

        • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Media reporting is first pass analysis even when it’s not also information warfare.  The raw data, the logs, videos and the like, if historians can’t make good use of those, they’re not very good historians.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

            The history of warfare is always a troubling enterprise.  The embedding policy in the Iraq War was certainly different than in the Vietnam War.  As an aside:  why do we call it the Vietnam War?  The most important parts of that war weren’t fought in Vietnam.

            We can only hope the combat cameramen and S2 did their jobs effectively and that some of it will emerge soon enough to make a difference in preventing other wars of its type.Report

            • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Time is the most important factor.  Nobody really has a personal or political stake in analyzing, for instance, the Peloponnesian War.  Plus time helps create the necessary big picture context, as you said.

              I feel you are also (oddly) neglecting AJE and other ‘third party’ real time reports of the events of the last decade.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

          The press was never truly given an opportunity to do its job in Iraq and the military simply can’t be trusted to tell the truth about what went on.

          There’s a very important thing to also take into consideration, Blaise: What Eason Jordan told us. The News We Kept To Ourselves was one hell of a confession.

          Now, I’m not arguing that we can trust the military to tell the truth about what went on… of course we can’t.

          I’d just like to point out that the Press is untrustworthy as well.

          (Both sides, of course, can appeal to the best of intentions.)Report

  5. DBrown says:

    When you say this “isn’t incoherent anti-war protestors spitting at them on return, ” you realize this orginal statement was and still is a total fabrication – it never happened during the Vietnam war as far as anyone at all can determine and to date, no soldier has said it happened to them – and was most likely created just to falsely attack honest people who opposed the current war despite that most were still supporting the troops.

    Just felt that should be pointed out so others don’t misunderstand and start that falsehood up as fact.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to DBrown says:

      Google Delmar Pickett. He discusses being spat upon here.

      I certainly hope that now that you’ve received evidence that there are soldiers who discussed being spat upon at the time that you will stop spreading the falsehood that it is a total fabrication without any soldier saying that it happened to them.Report

      • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        You could also google purple band aids and see what you get.

        In any case if Pickett was spat on, it was not some massive widespread action that happened to thousands. Still wrong but more likely it was rare at most.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          So long as we move from “it’s an urban legend that it ever happened, there isn’t even anyone who reported it happening to them!” to “the people who said it happened to them are liars!”, then we’re moving in a direction that, at least, acknowledges recorded history.Report

          • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:

            Jaybird earns one ‘gotcha’ point for showing why the use of never should never be used, not even hyperbolically.Report

          • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

            Thats fine. I’d just note respecting vets and their service is based, sadly for many people, more on whether you like what they say then anything else.Report

            • Kim in reply to greginak says:

              To me, it’s based on a real understanding of what we put our armed forces through.

              I’ve been to Israel — everyone there knows someone who has been killed by terrorists. A mother, an uncle, your friend’s second cousin. It takes its toll.

              I know about injuries — brain damage when you haven’t been hit. Literal, physical brain damage.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

            There were no witnesses to any of these incidents.   They wouldn’t pass muster for any reputable news agency, who would want corroberating evidence.

            It’s all bullshit.   It never happened.  Most people at the time were glad enough to see us get back alive and there were enough of us who didn’t to make it an embarrassing time for everyone involved.


          • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

            More on all this Rambo-inspired urban legend over hereReport

            • Scott in reply to BlaiseP says:


              Is that like the “myth” that troops were called “baby killers?”Report

            • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Rambo inspired? It seems that Delmar Pickett’s and Jim Minarik’s stories were told prior to First Blood coming out…

              A distinction without a difference, I’m sure.

              The point is, the soldiers didn’t save their proverbial blue dresses… and so we are left only with the stories they tell.

              I fully acknowledge that there is no evidence, other than their contemporary reported accounts, that this ever happened.

              I do get irritated at claims that, here let me quote the irritating part:

              it never happened during the Vietnam war as far as anyone at all can determine and to date, no soldier has said it happened to them

              Again: I’d be pleased if we all switched to calling Delmar and Jim liars.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’ve made a specialty of sussing out military fakers and wannabes.   Tell you a few things about DEROSing, nobody’s in the airport alone.  There’s a whole plane full of people in uniform arriving at the gate.  There are always a horde of well-wishers at the arrival doors.   If Delmar’s story was true, there would have been dozens of witnesses to it.

                There weren’t.

                The problem with lies, as my old man once taught me when he caught me in one, the liar comes to believe the lie in preference to the truth itself.   I’m not gonna call anyone a liar.  But don’t ask me to believe a sole-sourced story.Report

              • Scott in reply to BlaiseP says:

                That settles it for me.  It didn’t happen b/c Blaise said it didn’t happen. If only everything else could be so simple.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Scott says:

                Go on wishin’ and hopin’ and dreamin’ and wishin’ you could put a hurt on all those DFHs back in the day.  The DFHs I knew were mostly thoughtful people, as articulate and principled as those who opposed the Iraq War.   I saw a lot in common with both groups.

                I don’t believe this story because I’ve come off that bird enough times to know he wasn’t alone in that airport.   Nobody was and the troops who are DEROSing out of Iraq aren’t alone.   It doesn’t ring true at many levels and anyone who insists on the validity of a sole-sourced story, especially someone who doesn’t understand the logistics and mechanics of a DEROS, is only outraged because his cherished revenge fantasy has been laughed at.


              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Do you believe that the story was told in the first place?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Uh, yeah.   By David Morrell, whose father was killed in action in 1943 and was raised in an orphanage.   He would go on to write the screenplay for Rambo.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Good enough for me.Report

              • J.L. Wall in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, Blaise, I can promise you that I won’t repeat that line again without actually doing my own research on it.  There were, in retrospect, probably many better examples I could have used than that one to try to draw the contrast I wanted.  After reading the debate that ensued, I’m kind of glad you decided to point out what you saw as problematic there… certainly reminded me to do my own damn homework rather than use Cllff’s Notes.Report

          • Liberty60 in reply to Jaybird says:

            So stipulated.

            Let the record show that in a nation of 250 million people, there was at least one case where a person spat upon a veteran.

            And somewhere, there is a dog that met an untimely demise in a microwave…Report

    • J.L. Wall in reply to DBrown says:

      I should’ve known better than to risk re-opening Vietnam in a post on Iraq…Report

  6. There should have been more “Is it worth it?” songs around 2003.Report