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The Only Thing that Matters - by Steve Russell

With public Sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. – Abraham Lincoln


When I returned home from yet another war, I was shocked at the views of Iraq as expressed by large numbers of Americans.  Even today I reflect on how much harder it is for soldiers to bear these burdens without public support.  And the added stress on the soldiers’ families as they are fed a steady diet of disillusionment and defeatism while their loved ones fight, or even die, is reprehensible.  Many today hold the view that because of the tragedies of combat and the suffering that soldiers face, America should not take up the effort.  Some reason that our lives are the only thing that matters.  I do not hold this view.  When I commanded an Infantry battalion in Iraq I told my men that I believed that if God intended for us to die in Iraq, then it would happen.  If not, then there was nothing the enemy could do to make it so.  And I emphasized to them while we may face difficulty, we cannot be defeated in this war. 

That was true then, and it’s still true today.  It is possible, however, that as a nation we may choose to lose this war.

Many Americans today want to move backward.  It’s almost as if the enemy is working within our own borders, prompting America to lose heart.  I have had people tell me, “Well, I support the troops but not the war.”  This is an absurd statement.  It is like suiting up in the colors of your favorite sports team and then rooting for the other side.  If Americans truly want to support, the soldiers, – then let us win!

As career American soldier that fought in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, I reject the notion that there is a moral superiority in non-involvement and non-commitment. These were not the views of the greatest generation.  My hope is that they will not become the views of what could be remembered as a pathetic generation.  A ‘new direction’ called for by many vocal opponents of the war in Iraq must never advance in the same direction our enemies would wish. 

We must never be apologetic when taking a stand against tyranny.  America used to hurl her men onto beaches to defend freedom and to liberate the oppressed.  Today, we see our nation’s leaders hurling insults at our men while we extend rights and tolerance to those oppressing freedom.  These same leaders speak of the need to step into our enemies’ shoes and address their grievances.  It is high time for Americans step into our own shoes and stand against the enemies that face us. We cannot lose heart.  We must prevail.  Yet without public sentiment behind those who fight the nation’s wars, it will be difficult.

After 9/11 we, the soldiers, were sent into the game under bright lights and cheering fans. Now, half of those in the stands have become impatient.  They want to see the 40-yard pass followed by the breakaway run.  We on the field see ‘smash-mouth’ football.  Each three to four yard gain is moving the chains down the field.  Each 1st down moves us closer to another score.  And yet, the commentators in the box have predicted each score was going to fail.  Here were a few of the press box predictions:


  • You will never be able to defeat the Iraqi army with that small of force in that amount of time.
  • You will never be able to take and hold Baghdad without enormous loss.
  • You will never catch Saddam.
  • You will never see a free election that represents anything like a majority of the Iraqi people.
  • You will never see a constitution written, or an assembly or a parliament formed that includes women and Christians and Kurds and Shias and Sunnis.
  • You will never see a Sunni defense minister in a Shia-led Iraq.
  • You will never get Zarqawi.


America, it is time to look at the scoreboard. 

And while the score is ignored, here is what we, the players, see.  More fans are beginning to leave the stadium, convinced of our defeat.  Others have become nasty while they say they speak on ‘behalf’ of the players.  Half the franchise’s board members have told the team manager they are going to pull the plug on the lights because it is time to go home—they think the game is over.  The players on the field plead with the disgruntled, and with the impatient—stick around; we’re closer to the final goal line than we’ve ever been before.  We also wonder what the score would be with the full energy and support of the home crowd in the stands.  And to those who want to pull the plug on the lights, we the soldiers say—please -  do no favors on our behalf. 

We all want to come home to our families, but to safe homes and a nation no longer threatened by enemies who hate everything we are and everything we stand for.  We want to come home, but not until we win!  If we fail our nation, what is next?  Do we extend the same attitude of non-involvement to our community?  Our places of worship?  Our own children?  There are still things worth fighting for.  America was not built on the backs of the cynic and the critic.  Americans of the past knew how to sacrifice.  And they knew the difference between what was evil and what was good…who was a threat and who was harmless…whether to live free—or die.

So where do we go from here?  What can Americans do at this critical hour?  America must sacrifice today along with her soldiers.  We must be more than an Army at war and a nation at peace.  Here are some things America can sacrifice on behalf of her soldiers.  Sacrifice doubt.  Sacrifice anxiety.  Sacrifice cynicism.  Sacrifice any notion that will cause us to come home as losers.  It will not be enough to remember our service and our losses in this war on slabs of white marble and national monuments of black stone.  That will not be enough.  It is only remembering.  But if we want to honor those who will not come home, then we must honor why they fought  and honor it with victory.  To a soldier, it is the only thing that matters.

Americans today are apprehensive.  We fret about so many things.  But the difference between what is good and what is evil has not changed—only our ability to identify it. SDR

Steve Russell, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (ret.).  The unit LTC Russell commanded was a central player in the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein. Steve Russell serves as Chairman of Vets for Victory and speaks across the nation to rally the American public to support the troops with victory, not just words. For information on how to book him for a speaking engagement or media event go to

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