Over the last 25 years or so, starting with Desert Storm, there has been a concerted effort to avoid the kind of hatred and abuse that was heaped upon returning Vietnam veterans. This is commendable. Men should not be spat upon and vilified simply because they did their duty and went to war. Most of the hatred of the Vietnam generation (and some of the attempted gin-up of such hatred against the Afghan-Iraq veterans by such groups as IVAW) was based purely on North Vietnamese and Soviet propaganda.

But there is a dark side, a real danger, to taking this too far, and many people have done so. “Listen to the man on the ground” as an operational axiom has been extended to “The man on the ground can do no wrong.” “Support the troops!” has become an ideological bludgeon. Worst case, it has turned into a growing perception that soldiers, especially special operations troops, are infallible, morally superior angels.

No man is an angel. SOF troops, while trained and disciplined to a higher standard than many, are still men. They are still subject to the same fallibilities, frailties, and temptations as any other man. And they are facing them in a much uglier environment than the ideological cheerleaders have or ever will experience. Many manage to rise above the violence and the horror, upheld by their code. Some fall to temptation, if they ever even really cared about the moral side of it at all. Some do what they see they have to at the time, and eventually leave to try to put the ugliness behind them.

Romanticizing warriors is nothing new. In pre-Christian times, it was easier, because killing and reaving didn’t have the moral shade that it does under the Christian worldview. As war continued in Judeo-Christian, post-pagan societies, rules were enforced to attempt to mitigate some of the horror. But even then, it was generally understood that war is a necessary evil—a dirty, nasty business that must sometimes be engaged in for the good of the country.