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 piñatas 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.