© 2024 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How Should We Welcome Home Iraq War Veterans?


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington sitting in for Neal Conan. The war in Iraq is over, but most of the country has paid scant attention to the troops' return. More official attention has been given to the winning team in the Super Bowl than to the men and women who served their country overseas.

But a movement to change that is picking up steam. St. Louis, Missouri, held a parade to honor returning troops, and now other cities are planning to follow suit. The Pentagon says it's too soon for such celebrations. Too many are still fighting and being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you served in Iraq or Afghanistan, what do you think? Is now the right time for a parade? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Ask The Pilot's Patrick Smith joins us to talk about the myths of airline travel. But first Douglas B. Wilson joins us. He's the assistant secretary of defense, and he joins us by phone from the Pentagon. Welcome to the program.

DOUGLAS B. WILSON: Thank you very much.

NEARY: Why isn't this the time to have a parade for troops coming home from Iraq?

WILSON: Discussions began about how best to commemorate the end of this conflict and to honor the men and women in uniform who served there in the late fall, as things were winding down. And beginning with those who served there and going all the way up to the senior military leadership here, it was felt that the question was not whether to have a parade but when to do so.

There are many Iraq vets who are now fighting on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and the feeling was that the appropriate time to have a national New York-style tickertape parade was the time when combat troops were back home. That does not mean that communities all over the country shouldn't do initiatives and events on their own; they should. The event in St. Louis was terrific, and it was something that we applaud and we know that there will be more of.

NEARY: You mean when all combat troops are home, you're saying.

WILSON: Yes, yes, when our combat troops are home. And that I think is a strong feeling of a large number of those who have served on the battlefield in Iraq.

NEARY: Who took part in those discussions? Was it - were these decisions made by civilians in the Defense Department, or were they made by people in the military?

WILSON: They were made primarily by people in the military. In fact it was the military advice when the discussions were going on about how best to honor the troops that it was felt that a national, you know, New York-style tickertape parade, that that kind of event should wait and that it would be more appropriately held when combat troops were coming home.

So I would just say - what we're hearing now in terms of the New York Giants are getting the parade, why aren't the vets in Iraq, it's really a false argument. This is not a question of the sports team gets it, the vets don't. It's a question of when is the most appropriate time for a big, national parade.

NEARY: Right. Do you see, though, that some veterans might feel that way?

WILSON: Oh, I think that there's obviously a whole range of opinion, but there is a unanimity here among the military leadership, and this reflects the feelings and sentiments that were first expressed as troops were coming off the battlefield that they - folks wanted to make sure that all combat troops were home.

And understand with troop rotation, you have a large number of men and women in uniform on the battlefield in Afghanistan who also fought in Iraq.

NEARY: Now the White House is planning to hold a dinner for a selected group of Iraq veterans and their guests. I understand you had a hand in the planning of that. First of all, is this an official state dinner?

WILSON: The template would be akin to a state dinner. An official state dinner is something that a president hosts for a visiting head of state, but it is the highest honor that a president can extend to a visiting head of state. The idea of extending the spirit, the dignity, the respect and the gratitude that would be evident in that kind of dinner is something that the president and the first lady wanted to convey to those who served this country in Iraq.

NEARY: Who will be going to that dinner?

WILSON: There will be troops who served in Iraq from all ranks, from all services and from all states and territories. The dining room, the East Room on the evening of February 29, will look like the America that served in Iraq. And the individuals who attend will be representative of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who fought on the battlefield in Iraq, and we know that there's going to be many more celebrations and tributes for them.

But this is going to be an opportunity for the nation's commander-in-chief and the first lady to begin that.

NEARY: How do you pick those people to get this honor? It is quite an honor to be there at that dinner. How do you choose them?

WILSON: It's very interesting. The selection committee was made up of the senior enlisted representatives of all five services and the National Guard and Reserve. And the senior enlisted worked together to ensure that there would be nationwide representation, representation from all ranks and services, and one of the guiding factors was that everybody who was invited, that their buddies who served on the battlefield would be very happy and pleased that they were chosen.

NEARY: Well, I'd like Craig Schneider to join our discussion now. He was the co-organizer of the parade in St. Louis, which drew about 100,000 spectators. That was a real grassroots effort. And Craig was one of the people behind it. He joins us now from member station KWMU in St. Louis, Missouri. Welcome to the program, Craig.

CRAIG SCHNEIDER: Thank you for having me, Lynn, glad to be here.

NEARY: What made you take this on, Craig? What was the inspiration for you?

SCHNEIDER: The inspiration for us was a lot of, a lot of the same soldiers that were being discussed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Wilson, who, let me start by saying how grateful we are for your work and your commitment, and we're definitely not trying to directly oppose the Pentagon on this, we're just, we're trying to add another layer of discussion.

And what did kind of motivate us was people coming home, how many of our friends that had served either in Iraq or Afghanistan or both who seemed to be coming home now that the president has formally declared the war, at least in Iraq, the formal war has ended. And these guys were coming home, and we personally knew, just between my friend Tom Applebaum(ph) and I, we knew a dozen or more between us who were going through varying degrees of difficulty adjusting to life back home.

And the parade that drew so much national attention was great. It was a phenomenal event, but it was actually kind of retro-engineered from a concept that we had about - that we called a veterans' resource village, which was a way to take these men and women who were coming home and who have been away so long and face so many difficulties, from the physical level, to injuries, to the emotional level, to separation from families, to job challenges that are, you know, that are present for everybody in America right now.

And rather than wait to - you know, until some unforeseeable future, when we have an exact date where everybody's home, we wanted to begin a process of connecting returning vets with people and resources and organizations and federal organizations, state organizations, that are out there to give them the help that a lot of times we talk to people and they don't even realize is available.

So we thought all right, we'll throw a veterans' resource village, but that's not very exciting, and it doesn't tap into this well of emotion we started tapping into when we visited this concept. So we threw a parade to get everybody to...

NEARY: And you wanted other people to be able to sort of participate in it. You wanted the whole community to be part of it, I guess, is what you're saying.

SCHNEIDER: It didn't - it started with just the community, but within days it was the whole country. I mean, we had - right now we have a list of 20 other cities, about, who are asking us how do we do it, we want to do it now. The well of energy is almost - it's amazing.

NEARY: All right, let's get a caller engaged in this conversation, as well. We're going to go to Philip(ph), who's calling from Richmond, Virginia. Hi, Philip.

PHILIP: Hi, how are you?

NEARY: I'm good thanks, go ahead.

PHILIP: Yeah, I just - I would like to agree with - along the same lines with the first gentleman that you had on, in saying that sure, a parade would definitely be appreciated, but I know me personally, I still have a lot of friends that I served with in Iraq that are continuing to serve and are serving in Afghanistan. And I think that they would appreciate it if they were here to enjoy the parade as well, when everything is all said and done.

You know, I would definitely like to share in that moment with everybody that, you know, deserves it. So...

NEARY: So you feel you want everybody home safe and sound.

PHILIP: Yeah, pretty much, yeah.


NEARY: Did - let me ask you this: Have you had any problem with the fact that there hasn't been a lot of - that it's been a pretty quiet return for people from Iraq?

PHILIP: Well, yes and no. I think, you know, it was time for everybody to come back, but, you know, we don't serve to be - to come back and have people throw a parade for us or, you know, we all do it because it's the right thing to do. And I don't think everybody's coming back looking for, you know, a big pat on the back or anything like that. We're just - you know, people just want to serve their country.

NEARY: Right, well, thank you so much for calling, Philip.

PHILIP: Not a problem.

NEARY: So I think it's clear there's no wrong or right - one wrong or right in this situation. But Craig, you know, given some of the things you're hearing now, does that make you rethink the way you feel about this or not? Or do you still feel like you want to go ahead and see more celebrations going on around the country?

SCHNEIDER: I do say - first of all, I want to thank Phil for his service, and any disagreement on this matter is based out of just polite disrespect. It's no - I totally understand his point. But the experiences that we shared last Saturday were just - they were so amazing.

I've heard personally from a dozen vets or family members of not vets but active military who are in Afghanistan now, and their response to it was it's good to know - you know, I'm paraphrasing - but it's good to know that we're - that people are still thinking about the military because Afghanistan hasn't drawn as much attention.

And I think the best way to summarize it is we've been having ongoing conversations with Mr. Paul Rieckhoff over at IAVA, and he hit the nail on the head: If we can afford two wars, we can afford two parades. In our parade, we had - we changed the name. It was originally just going to be Welcome the Heroes Home from Iraq. But we changed it to just Welcome Home the Heroes, period, and it became a focus of all our post-9/11 vets.

We had plenty of vets that were in Afghanistan. We had people who were in Afghanistan, who are home on temporary leave, who marched in the parade and are going right back to Afghanistan. But I've talked to personally one or two of those folks, and they're energized now. They can go back and let everyone in Afghanistan know that we're here ready, and we're waiting, and what we do now is refining a process that's going to be even better when our Afghanistan folks come home.

We did the parade in St. Louis for $35,000, with a staff of zero, with electronic equipment of zero, with a budget of zero. Everything was done on Facebook. We did it through social media. To give you an idea, if two guys in St. Louis can throw a parade in 30 days with no money, from Facebook, it's not because they're magic, it's because there's so much good will out there, and there's so much enthusiasm to do these events.

NEARY: Craig Schneider and Douglas Wilson, stay with us. We're going to continue this discussion. We're talking about how we honor veterans of the war in Iraq. Is now the right time for a parade, or do you think cities should hold off? Give us a call at 800-989-8255. The email address is talk@npr.org. I'm Lynn Neary, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. A recent parade in St. Louis to welcome troops home from the war in Iraq prompted a national discussion about when how and where to honor their sacrifices. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings wants to wait until Veterans Day in November to make sure all the veterans are back, he says.

But Paul Rieckhoff, a founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says the time is now. Everybody recognizes if the Giants deserve a parade, he told the New York Times, if a football team gets a parade, shouldn't our veterans?

We want to know what you think. Is now the right time for parades to honor the men and women of the armed services who are returning from Iraq? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Douglas Wilson and Craig Schneider, co-organizer of the Welcome Home the Heroes Parade in St. Louis, are my guests. And we're going to take a call from David, who is in Clarksville, Tennessee. Hi, David, go ahead.

DAVID: How are you, ma'am?

NEARY: Good, thanks.

DAVID: Well, the whole idea of a parade, I kind of don't think it's the right thing right now because Iraq's not a better place. The people aren't safe. Horrible things still happen there. So it didn't just work out. It's not there yet. Afghanistan, as you know, is still raging on. The end is pretty far from now. But a parade? I don't feel it. Maybe just the USO at the airport, coming in and seeing that people care there, that's enough for me.

I lost my first wife in Iraq, lost my drill sergeant in Afghanistan. There's been a whole lot of pain, whole lot of pain. And I don't - I don't need a parade to say thank you. Just seeing that people care when I step off that plane is plenty for me.

NEARY: David, when did you get back? And did you - were there people there to greet you?

DAVID: Yes, the last return was the end of 2009 from Afghanistan. I was injured, and I missed this last appointment. My guys just got back recently. I got off the plane, a couple airports, and people were there. They'd seen us. They weren't specifically waiting for us, they were just walking by, they'd seen us in uniform, they knew where we were coming from, and they just began to applaud. And it was - oh wow - heartwarming.

On our way there, going through an airport in the Northeast, the reception from the townspeople, they knew we were coming, they got their stuff together, they had cellphones, dozens and dozens of phones for us to call family before we were out of the country, and it was unreal.

But a parade, it's not over yet. I'm still going to lose more of my brothers and sisters, and a celebration is pretty premature. The individuals who were trying and fighting for these parades, I can't thank them enough. Seeing how much people care, it's really great, but it's not over. We're still going to lose.

NEARY: David, I want to thank you very much for calling, and I want to thank you for your service. We really do appreciate it.

DAVID: Not a problem, ma'am.

NEARY: Thanks so much. Douglas Wilson, I guess David is reflecting what the instincts were in those meetings that you said were held last fall discussing this, that perhaps the best way to show our appreciation is in small, local gatherings, and people just, you know, sort of spontaneous or independent kinds of celebrations, I guess.

WILSON: First I want to thank David, and Phil before him, for their service. They deserve the thanks of all Americans. And what I want to say is David had it right, and Craig has it right, too. I want to congratulate him and all of those who were involved in the St. Louis effort because what the parade did, he was exactly right, was galvanize people to understand that it's more than just a few-hour celebration, that there are ways you can make a lasting impact.

And Craig said, you know, the question is when where and how can we honor those who served in Iraq and are serving in Afghanistan. And the answer to when is always, and where is everywhere, and how is all kinds of different ways.

There are ways that make a lasting difference. You know, help a returning vet not just find a job, but if you're an employer, help him to succeed in one. If you're a teacher, Lynn, if you're a teacher or a school administrator, show some special understanding to kids whose parents may be deployed. There may be reasons why they're feeling sad.

If you're a parent, encourage your kids to reach out to military kids. They're looking for acceptance and normalcy like any kid. And if you're dealing with wounded warriors, visiting wounded warriors, ask them what happened. Get beyond the awkwardness. Make clear that their wounds are not barriers to establishing relationships.

In the discussions that we're having with regards to how best to acknowledge and thank those who served on the battlefield, I think the only thing that I think is doing a disservice to the discussion is saying the Giants get a parade and the Iraq vets don't.

That is just a false choice and a false way to put this. The issue is we should all be honoring those who served in Iraq. Communities all over the country, whether they'd hold parades, and if parades or whatever celebrations can galvanize attention to the fact that these are the men and women who come from our communities and serve, that's terrific.

The military leadership here, based on the discussions that went on, you know, in Iraq and beyond, as the war was winding down, have to do with a national end-of-event celebration, which a New York-style tickertape parade is, there will be a time for that.

As Mayor Bloomberg said on "Meet the Press" yesterday, when it's time, New York will give the vets a parade like they've never done before to say thank you. And when that time is come, we will be absolutely ready and delighted to participate.

NEARY: All right, Douglas Wilson, thank you so much for joining us today.

WILSON: Thank you.

NEARY: Douglas B. Wilson is assistant secretary of defense. And Craig Schneider, just before we say goodbye to you, what are your thoughts after listening to some of the range of opinions you've heard here today about what's the best time for this, what's the best way to honor the veterans who are coming home?

SCHNEIDER: Well, first of all - excuse me - I do want to thank the two callers who came in for their service and acknowledge that my friend Tom and I, who started this, are civilians. And the one thing that we really tried to do was put the focus on the wishes of the veterans in this. And we do understand that there are plenty of people out here who so eloquently expressed their case for why the time is not now.

I want to thank Assistant Secretary of Defense Wilson for his points, for his compliments. We appreciate it. We come to a disagreement, and it is a polite one, it's a civil one, it's a great one that we do so well in America in the sense that as civilians, sometimes we disagree with our military leadership.

In this instance, we believe a growing number of people believe - I mean, we have a hard time disagreeing when Mr. Paul Rieckhoff over at IAVA tells us that he wants a parade for his folks who are back. I mean, they are 100,000 members strong, and these are the folks that we sent.

We had an opportunity to work with IAVA here in St. Louis. We worked with dozens, dozens and dozens of veterans' groups. We worked with thousands of veterans. And for those who expressed their concerns, we understand them, we hear them. But if you can talk to some veterans who are here, talk to some veterans' families, this isn't just a celebration. We did the first-ever reading of the names of the fallen. We read the name of every single soldier, every single troop who has fallen in service to the country since 9/11. It would be our hope that any ongoing parade start with something like that, so we get a sober reminder about reality first before we celebrate the job that our people did, and that's what we're celebrating.

We're not celebrating the politics or the theaters or the successes of the mission. We're celebrating the people who answered the bell when they went. And we've compiled what we call an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg, and it does - I do agree with the secretary of defense that if there is a little bit of a harshness to the argument that if it's all about the Giants or the vets, that's a bit of a false argument.

But at our website, at Americaforvets.org, we have published an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg, sharing our personal experiences from what just happened. This is the perspective of city leaders, from Mayor Slay forward, who I think would tell you what a great civic event this was, it's from veterans, from family members. It's from families of - from gold star families who have given lives to this conflict.

And it - I would ask that the secretary of defense, I would ask that Mayor Bloomberg, that they read this letter that in a few hundred words tries to capture the energy of what we experienced in St. Louis and tries to explain why this is not just good for vets, but this is something that could be great for America.

If we get this opportunity to roll this energy forward, to take one symbol like a parade in a town and turn that into civic projects that involve vets and interest and focus on the plight of returning veterans and what they face, this is a time where we can start re-energizing America now.

And we'll only be better at it when our people come back from Afghanistan. That's the thing that we want to focus on.

NEARY: All right, thanks so much, Craig, appreciate your joining us today.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you for having me.

NEARY: Craig Schneider co-organized the Welcome Home the Heroes Parade in St. Louis. And now to give us some historical perspective on this, we are going to be joined by Douglas Brinkley. He's a history professor at Rice University, and he joins us from member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Good to have you with us.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Thanks for having me.

NEARY: Well, let's talk about this historically. How has the military been treated at the end of previous wars? What's - how has this developed over time?

BRINKLEY: Well, I've been listening to this wonderfully interesting show when I off the bat need to say I agree with the analysis that Assistant Secretary Douglas Wilson has made. It cheapens this whole talk to even talk about a parade in conjunction with the New York Giants football team. It's entertainment, football. We're talking about men and women and our troops that have lost their lives, and it's beyond an apple-and-orange argument. It's just a rogue quote by somebody that's been picked up in newspapers, and it should be dropped.

It - we get in dangerous ground when we start making analogies for other past wars because it all depends on circumstance. At the end of World War II, when we had a clear declaration of surrender by Japan for V-J Day and V-E Day, you do have those kind of scenes of New York City and Times Square with confetti flying and all of that. This is a different war than that.

We were sold the war after 9/11 in both Iraq and Afghanistan as being part of a war on terror, and we're still fighting that war right now. We still have soldiers in Afghanistan. The situation in Baghdad is quite precarious. We also have no more mandatory draft, but we have volunteer Army, and they're rotating between Iraq and Afghanistan. So it's good to pause sometimes.

We're in this 24/7 now-now-now, must-have-a-parade mentality, and things sometimes need to settle a little. The White House is doing something extremely novel and I think appropriate by on February 29 having a nation's gratitude. I would simply ask that an open letter be written to the media that they cover this primetime, that we're having essentially a state dinner to honor our veterans and that that should be covered on all of the network television and radio shows.

And the media should be swallowing some advertising dollars and putting their money where their mouth is and airing this so it'll beam into people's homes. Parade in New York City is only for people in New York, and this is an opportunity from the White House, with the commander in chief, to be addressing, in a very moving way, what's occurred over the last nine years in the Iraq theater.

NEARY: On the other hand, there's also, to give Craig Schneider and his co-organizer credit - it's a good example of the kind of spontaneous local kind of celebration, for want of another word, that can occur, and there's nothing wrong with that, really.

BRINKLEY: It's excellent. The St. Louis model should be replicated across the country, and I think it will be. You're going to have - there are cities already right now learning the way they did in St. Louis, and that's a great thing. And those will spring up. We also have a Memorial Day where we can put an emphasis on honoring soldiers from Iraq, and as you said in Veterans Day, when you get beyond an election season.

No matter what you do right now, if you're having a commander-in-chief, Obama, claiming a victory, going down New York, waving from a back of a car with troops, it's going to get politicized, for one. It's premature, secondly. And so there's no - this country loves our troops. This is not Vietnam. You know, everybody - you know, we people - the public opinion polls for Congress are rotten. People don't trust government, but people do trust the soldiers. So they're beloved. And I think these spontaneous parades are better than trying to do some old-fashioned ticker tape parade in New York which creates security problems, logistical problems and is, from a geopolitical strategic point of view, early.

NEARY: We're talking with Douglas Brinkley. He's a professor of history at Rice University, and you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

You just mentioned Vietnam, and we've got some emails there from people asking about different wars. But let me - since you just mentioned that, I'll read this very brief email from Mike in Illinois, who writes: The vets deserve a parade. Those of us who are Vietnam vets got little more than a kick in the pants.

So you know, there's a - there - we know - we learned after the fact that, I think as a nation, that Vietnam vets were treated pretty badly when they came home. Maybe that's part of what's motivating this now, that people don't want to feel like the vets have any sense that they're sort of quietly sneaking back into the country?

BRINKLEY: Well, that's right, and that's why the president and the Pentagon is having a nation's gratitude state dinner to honor, you know, the veterans. That's what's going on here. That should be the lead, that on February 29 the whole country can tune in and get - take part in this moving ceremony. Meanwhile, spontaneous parades will erupt around the country. I hope someday that we do a Iraq war memorial in Washington.

I do think the president needs to try to focus on a way, this Memorial Day and also Veterans Day, to deal with the soldiers of the recent post-, you know, Cold War era who have given their lives. We haven't done enough, but the climate's different in Vietnam. If there's an anger in the country about Iraq, it is not towards soldiers. It's towards George W. Bush. Even the president, Bush himself, will tell you it was a huge mistake to do mission accomplished when he did it, when the mission wasn't fully accomplished.

Our Pentagon, our Joint Chiefs of Staff, Douglas Wilson are telling you it's premature. The victory is premature. Don't go gloating and throwing the football through the, you know, through the goal post yet. It's optimistic. Troops are coming home. We want to get the other soldiers home from Afghanistan soon, and there will be time for that kind of New York parade. But to push it, that it has to be now, tomorrow, is just a media story, and it's not anchored in any kind of smart thinking. And it all got viral because of the Giants winning. If it would have been the Green Bay Packers, the parade would have been in Green Bay.

If the Cardinals had had a better season, there would have been a parade for the football team, you know, in Arizona. So it just - it's because the Giants are a New York team that this analogy is being made, and it's a false argument. And it just needs to be kind of tossed in the dustbin. It doesn't make sense to be connecting the NFL to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

NEARY: Douglas Brinkley, we have a lot of calls, and we have some emails here that I really want to ask you to respond to. And we were going to ask - you were going to depart at this point. I'm wondering if you can stay over the break and we can continue the discussion just a little bit longer.


NEARY: All right. We are talking with Douglas Brinkley, history professor at Rice University. We're discussing, you know, how do we welcome home the troops from Iraq, and when. That's really the question. And we'll continue this discussion with Douglas Brinkley after a short break. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


NEARY: And joining us now, Douglas Brinkley, writer and historian and professor of history at Rice University. He joins us from member station KUT in Austin, Texas. And we are discussing how and when to welcome home the troops from Iraq. And I'd like to begin this section, Professor Brinkley, with an email. And this email asks: When were parades held after World War II? After V-E Day or not until victory was won in the Pacific theater as well? Also, were they not celebrating a victory?

BRINKLEY: Well, exactly. They were celebrating a victory. And you had spontaneous eruptions of - you know, I think what people are remembering is Charles Lindbergh or the astronauts. The fact, in New York, after the Vietnam War, there was an attempt to do in 1985 a parade for Vietnam veterans. It used to be that New York was the center of everything. But we're a different America now. True, the New York - the ticker-tape parade is a still powerful symbol, and we like to see it be done at some time.

But what that parade would do is the Pentagon kind of gloating with the big V for victory and have a victory March through Manhattan and moving in veterans who just - many have only been home for weeks and are healing and dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome and rebonding with children they haven't seen. Telling them now they're going to - they must move - come to New York to spend a week in a parade, it all is very rushed and unwise. And the - it's simply, in my view, become a media story when the Pentagon is talking...

NEARY: Well, let me ask you...

BRINKLEY: ...very sanely to people...

NEARY: Right.

BRINKLEY: ...that it's not quite ready to do the big victory moment.

NEARY: But I would like you to answer this listener's question because he really was curious about - you know, when was it held. Was it held after V-E Day or after V-J Day?

BRINKLEY: There wasn't any - we have the spontaneous V-E - we had a V-E Day and a V-J Day celebration at Times Square, which was hugely spontaneous, and everybody poured to the streets. And it's some of the most memorable footage of the Second World War.

NEARY: And that was just completely spontaneous, right? That was just people...

BRINKLEY: Right. And what it - but, you know, we have - in something like the Korean War, when Dwight Eisenhower pulled us out in 1953, we just got out in June of '53. There's some wisdom to sending home the troops and quietly calling it a victory when so many of our soldiers are still at harm's way right now. And that's what your very moving caller earlier, who was over there, saying they don't feel like doing victory marches - some of the veterans don't - in that kind of New York ceremony, when their brothers in arms are in harm's way.

And they're rotating the - to separate Iraq from Afghanistan isn't what history is going to do. They were both two peas in a pod of our response to 9/11 and the war on terror. So everybody has been on page today except for this notion, the false argument about the NFL. It can have...

NEARY: All right. We're going to - you know what, I 'm going to set that aside.


NEARY: We'll set that aside. We've had that - let's just take one more call, and then - we're going to go to Mo(ph) who's calling from Portland, Oregon. Hi, Mo.

MO: Hello?

NEARY: Go ahead, Mo.

MO: Hi there. Thanks for taking my call. I believe that before the break, your guest had mentioned something very similar to the point that I was trying to make, which is, why are we calling it the end of these conflicts when they're not really at the end? I believe that the time to have these types of recognitions are at the end of the events. And the premature disclosure or announcement that the previous administration made, and also mirrored by our current administration, it just seems that the timing is completely off, not the intent.

And that's just really the strength of my point, which is it seems to be a political decision, not a sort of - it seems like the politicians want to have some sort of recognition. The troops, they wanted to return home, I believe, to - well, that's why I wanted, to return home, return to my family, return to my opportunities to move forward, and not to return to some sort of circus. And that's what it kind of feels like. So I think the recognition is at hand when the time is appropriate. Now, if we're going to have a war and we're going to call it over, then it needs to be over, and not have legs into another theater or conflict, which is all part of a bigger war, as I mentioned the war on terror, et cetera, instead of the war in Iraq. It's the war on terror we're really fighting, and that's an endless war.

And so we'll just have a parade when the war is over, or let's define wars more appropriately so that we know when they're over like we did in the past when you're celebrating an event, such as Victory over Japan Day, et cetera. Those are events that we are celebrating as a nation, not - it wasn't a party.

NEARY: And it wasn't manufactured, I think, maybe is what you're saying. Mo, thank you very much and I gather from your comments that you - did you serve in Iraq?

MO: I did, yes.

NEARY: Well, thank you.

MO: Thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: OK. And I think we've ran out of time for this discussion now. Prof. Brinkley, thank you much for joining us.

BRINKLEY: Oh, thank you for having me.

NEARY: OK. Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, and he joined us from member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.