Cold War

In theory, there’s nothing objectionable to permitting the Alabama National Guard to award the state’s Cold War veterans with a service medal. Home and abroad, they performed vital military roles during one of our nation’s longest and most worrisome periods.

That’s what State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, wants rectified. His bill in the Alabama Legislature would create a “Cold War Victory Medal” for Guard or active-duty Alabamians who served between September 1945 and December 1991, as long as they were state residents when they joined. The idea is simple enough.

Still, there is no national Cold War Victory Medal. Only three states — Texas, Alaska and Louisiana — issue such a medal, though lawmakers in other states, like Alabama, either have or are considering it. And that hints at the underbelly of this debate, which isn’t really a debate about the worthiness of a medal. Instead, it’s about the definition of war.

Can there be war without fighting, without bombings and air raids, without casualty lists?

Can soldiers be combat veterans if they served in a conflict of electronic surveillance, deterrence and espionage?

If the Cold War wasn’t war in the classic sense, what was it?

Combined with the military’s strict regulations about issuing and wearing of service medals, those questions form the crux of the debate. They’re also why a solution is so prickly.

America’s other wartime veterans saw combat, supported infantry, repaired planes and ships, flew bombers, operated on injured men and served on battleships. Millions died or were wounded. Never was there a question about their valor or wartime service.

But the inherent differences of the Cold War are undeniable. Within the Cold War were the wars of Korea and Vietnam, traditional battles with awful human consequences. But war never broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union, despite the tension of Cuba and Berlin and the nuclear buildup of the 1980s. If that wasn’t war, was it peace? And if it was peace, does it deserve its own medal?

McClendon’s stance is clear. “A bit of recognition for them seems appropriate,” he said.

The best option would be for Congress to pass legislation authorizing a national Cold War Victory Medal. (U.S. Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, introduced a Cold War medal bill last March.) Alabama’s congressional delegation would be wise to lend its assistance. Those veterans deserve that much.

We’d also take it a step further. Since Alabamians love wartime monuments, we’d suggest a Cold War victory memorial near the state Capitol in Montgomery, a granite testament to the men and women who kept the world safe during that dangerous time.