EVEN A GUILT TRIP can have a plus side. Indeed, one can profit from a guilt trip by accepting its hard-earned lesson, and vowing that it will never happen again.
We are reminded of this as the Persian Gulf war ends. We must vow that "never again" will any U.S. military forces suffer what our Vietnam vets were forced to endure.
No sane person wants war. But that doesn't mean the Middle East military operation wasn't necessary. It was forced on us by Saddam Hussein, a man sick with power and unconcerned with the suffering he wrought.
Thank God, the men and women who served the allied cause so well won't share the tragic fate suffered by those who served, just as admirably in Vietnam.
When was the last time you drove down a street without seeing Old Glory, waving proudly from a building, flag pole or car antenna? How many yellow ribbons have you seen displayed of late, beaming their silent message to the troops: "We love you. Come home safe. And we'll be here to greet you."?
How many Americans are proudly wearing lapel buttons or sporting bumper stickers on their cars to show their support for the U.S. troops in the Middle East? When was the last time you saw the "Star-Spangled Banner" being marketed in record and video stores as is being done with Whitney Houston's moving performance of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl a few months back?
Even those who were demonstrating against the Persian Gulf war (with a few exceptions, such as actress-activist Margot Kidder, who mouthed some disgusting remarks about our servicemen and -women) were careful to avoid any negative reflection on our troops.
Radio stations were active, collecting listeners' phoned-in messages and music requests to record on tape and send overseas. Contributions of food, suntan lotion, golf equipment, footballs and other items were airlifted to our troops to help boost their morale and give them a touch of home. Many entertainers -- Cher, Bob Hope, Whoopie Goldberg, Jaclyn Smith and Sean Connery, among them -- visited Middle East bases, or taped messages for U.S. forces, or lent their celebrity status to newspaper ads in support of Operation Desert Storm.
At least part of this outpouring of support for our troops was no doubt a direct result of the mistreatment heaped on the Vietnam vets. It's been almost two decades since the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina, but many Americans still harbor a deep sense of shame over the disgraceful treatment of those who returned from that war.
The victory in the gulf war has closed the door on one Vietnam shadow -- the feeling of U.S. impotence. Now, it's time to eliminate the guilt trip as well. We can do so by giving our returning desert warriors the biggest "welcome home" party ever! The House Appropriations Committee has already approved funds for a Memorial Day celebration and concert in Washington to honor the veterans of Operation Desert Storm.
Let's have marching bands, waving flags, ticker-tape parades, the full celebration. Let the troops and their families know how much we love them, how proud we are of what they accomplished. Let's tell the families of those who gave "that last full measure of devotion" that their loved ones did not die in vain.
And, to compensate for what we should have said and done in the '70s, let's invite all those who wore those khaki and blue uniforms in Vietnam to head the welcoming committee and take a proud position in the parades.
Let's remind them that we know they did not lose in Indochina; the Vietnam War was lost in Washington. They just weren't fortunate enough to have a commander-in-chief who would allow them to use both hands and all necessary weapons in that engagement, as did our forces in the gulf.
Giving our Vietnam heroes and heroines a front-row position in the welcome back celebrations for the Persian Gulf troops will send a message to the world: "We were wrong in the '70s. We allowed our men and women to be ignored and -- worse -- abused when they came home to the nation they served so well. But, never again!"
Andy Seamans is an editor at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.