Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dear Vets, part three: You Think I Got a Complex?

I swear i am not making this up, but today, again just prior to tonight's writing, i had another encounter with another vet. However this week's encounter with a vet just prior to writing was not nearly as cinematic as the previous one, but was as equally intense in the opposite way to the point of seeming a hyperbolically invented stereotype. I stopped to get gas following a performance heading home when a truck pulled in with more veteran related signage that most 4th of July parades. Just roared up big and heavy. Among other things it had that well-worn line about demanding that "If I love my freedoms" then "i should thank a vet."
And i wanted to say, "why?"
But in all honesty i wondered if i asked if he would want to shoot me. I mean he was a vet, trained to kill. That is the point of being a soldier right? Being the kind of person who would kill you if you piss them off. Many Americans actually think that projecting that kind of image is a strength, and most of those folks are vets, and that by itself is a problem in a society that claims to want peace. When your average citizen wants war with his next average citizen over issues of taste how civil can that society be? I wanted to ask him why he expected i should thank him for fighting some recent war whose only clear purpose was to squander America's resources or her global good will.
I had been thinking about that question for a couple of weeks now since i first received the survey. As i had expected when my colleague initially asked me to help distribute his survey, the actual point was to get people think about and discuss how much they appreciate veterans. Since writing part one of this column, i have had many opportunities to reconsider my initial statements and try as i might (and i have tried) there are a couple of basic points i can't get past when it comes to changing my mind.
First, war is murder. It's arson, it's assault multiplied exponentially, it's vandalism on a massive scale and as somebody once said, it's "a theft" from the American people. That person by the way was a Republican president, Dwight David Eisenhower, who later in 1961 as he was leaving office warned the American people that after two world wars and fifteen years of the "Cold War," the power elite of this country were coming to dominate our government and were addicting us to a war economy.
But in 1953, at the beginning of his administration he first framed the essence of his anti-war message with this famous quote from one of the most beloved Republican presidents in his time and, significantly, a soldier/vet: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron." ("The Chance for Peace." April 16, 1953.)
As he prepared to leave office Eisenhower struck the same chords in his farewell speech warning that our country's drift to a militarization of our government and our attitudes will have "grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together." ("Farewell Address," Jan. 17, 1961).
And as Eisenhower predicted, fifty years later our country is addicted to war and the violence and brutality it creates. And that is something vets have created. And for these things i do not thank you.
Vietnam, Iraq I or II, Grenada, Panama? Where is the good being done? An invading American force is like a Haitian earthquake, except it doesn't expect to be greeted with flowers. Chile? El Salvador? Guatemala? Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras? Why don't they love us for our freedom?
Could it be that every one of these wars on every one of these countries has since been revealed as boondoggles and shams, a disgrace upon our country and a damage to the planet. What exactly is it the rest of us are thanking you veterans for? But instead of trying to ask, i pumped my gas trying to keep a silence.
I lost count in the stickers, master sergeant insignia, Army crest with gold, American Legion embossed, more proclamations of the "veteran" and "army. It was the most insecure display i ever have seen and thought what an over-the-top Looney i must look like with all my peace signs, Jail Bush/anti-GOP assortment, and quotes from liberals like Gandhi and Zinn. I mean if i'm overcompensating then he is too, right?
But before we both finished guzzling our gas, the question spurted out of me, "So what war were you in?"
And he says, "Vietnam."
There's nothing more to say. We already know the truth: There was, and still is, little to be thankful for from that war: It was sold on a lie, based on a loyalty to a 20th Century colonial French oppressor, then to a country whose government wasn't worth propping up. Then to a cabal of corruption on both sides of the globe. Our politicians destroyed any chance our soldiers might have had for winning. Even though they were wasting our time and our money, and most of all our children.
And our society didn't care as long as we had our diet Coke we'd teach the world to sing. Meanwhile, our supposed "Great Society" was snorted up the barrel of a gun like the war addiction it was. And still our generals and spiritual leaders wouldn't bring the lives they were squandering home. Even when the press turned against it, like any honest person would they still wouldn't bring them home. So sons and brothers and cousins and fathers were destroyed. Their enemies were capable of mind-altering evil and our nation's brave children turned to monsters themselves, whom the hippies sometimes rightly called baby-killers. But those beautiful hippies turned out to be druggies and wastoids. They ruined our fashions, trampled our morals and trashed their own dreams. And then everything got ugly and by the time that war was done, our black and white and young and old will never forgive each other again. And we're all still trying to even the score and that all gets so tiring.
And, thanks to the Gulf of Tonkin, besides the catalog of the damage we did, the whole world knows of the deception that created the carnage, just like some "weapon of mass destruction" to the reputation of America. We all know the sad sorry truth. But no one explains why our government neither apologizes or changes its ways. And why the rest of America is supposed to be thankful for that kind of behavior or how it equates to freedom.
And so the question followed me home to where my copy of the original survey that started the experience more than a month ago was still waiting for me to type it or go on. " If i love my freedoms then i should thank a vet. And i want to ask, "why?"
Lord knows there is continuing awful news every day. Like the two minute hate of Orwell's '84 the daily news is designed to anger. Murdock and Fox proved long ago that anger sells which is why there are so many screaming jerks in Primetime on a supposed news show. The only way a liberal like me can even deal with is to laugh and work on our little "for the common good" projects and pray America's not become Rwanda 1994. The right wing shift some of us predicted when Obama took office has indeed launched into violence mode with piƱatas of Pelosi at CPAC. And i detest Pelosi too, the sell out, the shill, just like Gingrich, packaging a different set of talking points while still being a mouthpiece for the forces that endanger everybody's health and well being and the essence of America. Yeah, i find plenty of Democrats out there who suck and compromise away our country in ways that don't truly advance either the right or the left's ideology and yet those and the ideas that win again and again.
And that's just one problem: Wall Street now giving themselves billions as their reward for stealing trillions from us, global warming deniers and all sorts of other rightwing paranoia propaganda being passed off as legitimate as the rest of the world, the angry rest of the world sours on Obama the way we have. Lords knows there plenty to write about.
But now having opened that can of worms with the veterans and i need to finish it.
Part Four next week.
-mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dear Veterans part two: The Veritable Parable

Judging by the array of responses to part one of this column, I admit I was a bit reluctant to get to part two. Which, of course, means that the terrorists won. It always amazes me when people who take so much hubris in being American, act in such decidedly un-American ways while claiming to defend the country. Any country weak enough to be threatened by my petty keyboard clattering couldn't have been that strong in the first place. After all, the concept of free speech is a meaningless slogan if it only extends to agreeable speech. Those who claim they fought for our right to free speech and then threaten and harass those they disagree with are themselves enemies of the very rights they claim to care so much about.
All that said, let me tell you a story before I really get around to pissing you off.
Once upon a time there was a loyal citizen who was attacked and robbed and left by the side of the road for dead. A priest passed by, ignoring the wounded man and even moved to the opposite side of the street to avoid contact. Next a proudly religious man came by and hurried off, leaving his wounded fellow citizen in the dirt. Then a hated, supposed enemy of the state came upon the wounded citizen and helped him up. He treated the wounds as best he could and gave the man a ride to a place he would be safe while he healed.
I know that many of you are unfamiliar with this story since it is a parable of Jesus telling us how Christians should care for each other. How do I know that you are unfamiliar with the way Christians are supposed to act, my fellow Kingmanites? Well, because it is also the story of the homeless Gulf War veteran I picked up alongside the road yesterday after he had collapsed while hitchhiking to his hometown of Kingman. He was my age, 51, Kingman High School class of '77. The bone thin sun browned grizzle bearded former war hero had been on the road for 3 days trying to get from Nellis to his camp under a bridge off highway 93 before heading on to the VA office in Prescott to continue struggling in his losing battle with government red tape while trying to get treatment in his continuing losing battle with Gulf War Syndrome. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of cars had passed the man, who was so worn down by the time I saw him, he couldn't even sit up properly and was simply leaning against his GI issue duffel bag, less than a mile from the bridge out of Laughlin.
ACL, TBI, COPD, PTSD, the man's medical history was a veritable alphabet of misery. It all started downhill that day in 1991 when his commander, while wearing his own gasmask, told the men it was safe for them to take off theirs and they needed to "clean up the shell casings Saddam's boys left lying around." That commander is now dead and so are most of the men from that group, or are like him, fast headed that way.
"One of every four homeless guys you see on the road is a vet, you know?" he explained. "But they don't want to talk about that. The way the VA tries to deny and deny and deny you till you give up. What all we did, they should be helping us, instead of using our own laws as an excuse to not have to. At Nellis I waited in line 7 hours to get seen. When the doctor finally looked at me he said, 'Boy, I can't help you. You got to go to the VA for that down in Prescott.' I said, 'How am I gonna get there?' He said, 'How did you get here?' I told him 'I walked.' And he laughed at me, laughed at me and said, 'Well, boy, you better got going.' Half my age and calls me boy. Doesn't even know what I've been througha nd calls me boy. Look at these spots," he said and pulled back his sleeve to reveal a baked brown arm covered with pinhead sized white dots. "There's thousands of them, all over. Been driving me crazy for like 20 years; but you can't get help on this. They say it's chemical related, related to the chemicals we got into over there. They say that now; but for the first ten years they kept telling folks nothing ever happened."
The black ball cap plainly said US Army, the duffle bag was that unmistakable olive drab; but that hadn't made much difference . "Folks don't trust each other anymore, don't help each other. I put that on the media. Media's America's biggest enemy these days, sets everyone after each other's jaw. All the time. It's the anger that sells. Besides, " he stroked his cheek, "they see this suntan and this lack of shave and a lot of them they figure I'm not their kind. If it wasn't for faith in the Lord, I don't know how I'd keep going. It's not like the government's going to help you. It's like anymore the government tries to make matters worse, not better for the average man, unless you're rich I guess, then that's not average. Recession hell, the rich are still doing just fine. Used to be government tried to do stuff for the people, but now it's just who gets the next tax cut."
He explained he kept up with the news on his walkman. "I listen to a bunch of talk radio; but they don't know what they're talking about. They're always running down Obama, like the mess we are is was his fault. They never give the man a chance. The man came into a bees' nest that Bush left it in. You know they don't talk about any of the trouble that man made, just try to turn us all against Obama, to keep him from doing anything. You know that Bush he cut Vet benefits. Sure did; but nobody talks about that. They just wave that flag at you and tell you how much they need you, then leave you on the side of the road."
He said more, but you get the point. Just as so many of you noted, it is easy for me to type words against vets, when I had not faced their fight; it is also easy you to claim you care about veterans, as you blithely drive by and leave your fellow soldier in the desert to die.
Part Three Next Week.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Dear Veterans," a Q&A Part One

An associate of mine recently asked me to distribute a survey for him about Veterans. Having served in the military and believing that joining the armed forces is a way that some people express their love of country, I agreed to do it, even though i myself have been a pacifist and strongly anti-military since leaving the Navy in 1981. However, i did not realize how strong these feelings were until i decided to take the survey myself. And at the risk of further PO-ing even more gun-toters in Kingman. I want to share my answers with you.
First full disclosure: Like so many other people, i joined the military in a time when i was young and in crisis: in spring of 1981 my apartment burned down while i was listlessly failing my way out of college. You know the story, that "small town kid now homeless in bigger city, lost everything he has" kind of thing, including my glasses. Who do you turn to? You can get friends to feed you and house you, even give you clothes. But when you look to glasses, that generally requires self sufficiency or family support. So i went to my Uncle Sam.
I actually walked into my local armed forces recruitment station barefoot. Lost those too. First they laughed, then they had me take an ASVAB and then they offered me advanced placement in the Navy as a boiler tech. Idiot, that i was, i took it. I had done well in boot camp--2 letters of commendation--and then, a couple of months into service school when facing some emotional trouble conveyed through letters and phone calls with my later-to-be wife back home, i was sent to a counselor who sent me on a weekend retreat.
The program was called CREDO. I don't know what they had in mind. What we got was a series of intense marathon group therapy sessions that climaxed in a "Come to Jesus" sort of thing. The counseler was a PTSD ridden Vietnam vet hero chaplain, Ray Stubbe (he later wrote a book his time in Vietnam). I don't know what his intentions were either, but over the course of the weekend, without actually suggesting in anyway he himself felt that way, he convinced that the whole enterprise of the military was a sham and an abomination of ideals i held important and i was signing on to destroy my soul for worthless propaganda for war profiteers and make misery around the world in a lie of freedom. Not that he discussed the military in this fashion. LCDR Ray Stubbe, was indeed a decorated Viet vet and among other things is the founder of the Khe Sahn Veterans Inc., whom you can find online. He is, after almost 30 years, still a hero to me.
And so when i found he was still alive, i stopped and posted this letter his website to apologize before continuing this column:
"Ray Stubbe was my chaplain in 1981 at GLNTC and a counselor at a CREDO retreat i took while stationed there. While at the retreat, through no intention of his own, though after extensive counseling with LCDR Stubbe, i decided i opposed the military and became a pacifist, leading to my subsequent honorable discharge in Aug. 1981, and a lifetime spent promoting peace and social justice causes. I am now a school teacher and author/artist. I am also still an activist, the liberal kind, have a blog and publish my political writing elsewhere as well. I am writing about my personal choice of pacifism in my liberal political commentary column in the Kingman Daily Miner in Kingman, AZ, a seriously rightwing city. I will be mentioning Ray Stubbe, whom i hold in great esteem, though my anti-war, anti-military sentiment has only increased through the years. I am writing to thank Chaplain Stubbe for the choice he helped me make, let him know about the article, and note that i still cherish the fatigue jacket he once gave me and to this day display it to guests. Thanks again, sir. "
All that said and done, here my answers to the survey. What are yours?
How have veterans helped to make sure that you continue to have American rights and freedoms?
Excepting the military in WWII, the American military has not helped protect or ensure my American rights or freedoms. In fact, they've endangered and degraded them through the violence promoting attitudes they insist pervade our country and the horrendous violence my country has wreaked on mankind. Over the course of American history, there have only been an extremely limited number of engagements where the US armed forces were instructed to work towards a purpose related to protecting or securing the rights or the soil of America. Other than that, the US military has been used as the brute force behind American business interests--terrorizing the rest of the planet while impoverishing Americans. Aside from WWII, name me another war, including the decidedly uncivil one, that wasn't about inflicting our government's will upon another people at a cost of extreme misery and devastation and valuing plutocrats' interests over the lives of the public.
And here is the sad, sad part: Though in our past, Vietnam for example, citizens were once enslaved to do the killing the politicians call for, the draft ended in 1975. Everyone since then who have chosen the military have chosen to be wanton killers, or felt willing to be part of an apparatus whose ultimate purpose is violence and oppression. Everyone, including the stupid homeless kids like me, knows that beyond the rhetoric about pride, nationalism, liberty and freedom, potential murder is part of the package you agree to perform.
I am, today, so ashamed of what i was willing to do back then.
I am also scared because i was not alone. Because to this day that means we have a couple of million folks in this country and abroad who actually support the idea that the murder and destruction of strangers and their strange lands is just another day at work. Further we have extra millions of parasite-type vampires walking our streets who work in industries that profit from this calculated carnage. And then there's the tens of millions who think the whole thing is a jolly fine venture and we should wave flags about it ... as long as somebody else dodges the bullets and slits the throats and has to sleep in the mud to do it and as long as they don't have to watch too much of it on TV.
But the saddest and often the most pathetic is what happens to the veterans, who like myself once allowed professional hucksters to con them into deluding themselves that patriotism erases the stains of murder. See war kills all comers, both those who die and those who survive to have to remember it, to spend the rest of their lives marching its step.
While there are former military who renounce their bloody deeds and their willingness to support such values, the people who proclaim their parts in the American infernal enterprise and then expect we should celebrate them as "veterans" are not doing my country any good at all, including those who expect that their former masochism and sadism should earn them our adulation.
What do you think our country would be like if we didn't have people who served in the military?
We would have fewer wife-beaters, fewer alcoholics, and fewer homeless guys; but most important we'd have fewer red-white-&-blue fashion faux pas on the 4th. No wonder veterans wives' outfits get so outrageous. They have to get gaudy to drown out doubts. And we have to be ridiculously hyperbolic in our patriotism to hide our crimes from ourselves. But as the late great Howard Zinn once wrote, "No flag is big enough to hide the killing of innocent people."
A country where men did not abandon their families to go destroy the families of others? We would have fewer traumatized families trying to figure out how to adjust to the man who came home who wasn't the guy that went away. We would have fewer prosthetic limbs. We would have a government that did not act like it had the force to bully its way around the world because there would be fewer bullies around to back it up.
Again to give all credit due to the repenters, but with fewer veterans we would have fewer arrogant people acting like violence is an acceptable answer, and fewer insisting that they fought for your freedom, but if you hadn't joined the oppression apparatus yourself then your opinion doesn't matter next to a person who went and killed someone somewhere. Or as often happens with former military and even for numerous combat vets, if a person once supported the military and had developed a conscious then they too have no right to an opinion next to someone who went somewhere and killed someone and still insists on being proud of it.
End Part One