On a picture-perfect St. Patrick’s Day morning, I heard that strangely seductive lament of bagpipes drifting through the open window of my downtown Sacramento apartment, a second-story unit right across the street from beautiful Capitol Park (an expanse of delightful urban greenery sullied only by the presence of the White Sepulcher of Corruption, otherwise known as the State Capitol, sitting smack dab in its middle).
Curious, I headed outside.
Spotting a sizeable crowd near the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial that sits just inside the park, I moseyed over.
As I neared, even these failing old eyes could make out soon enough it was some sort of support the troops/war/killing-of-swarthy-people rally. There were probably about two hundred folks present. Vets, obviously, but also wives, husbands, moms, dads and youngsters.
Including a few “Young Marines,” proudly decked out in big black boots and camouflage finery, signifying they were, indeed, well on their way to unquestioningly serving the good, ol’ Imperialistic States of America.
The Web site for “Young Marines” says it “is a youth education and service program for boys and girls, ages 8 through completion of high school. The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral, and physical development of its members.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this unsettling. What about all the six and seven year-olds who want to join, too?
Anyway, back at the park, it took but moments to sense a weird vibe.
A man, about sixty, wearing a military-type cap and adorned with a military-type vest with military-type patches on it -- in other words, a military type -- appeared to bark something at a woman near the memorial’s granite pedestal upon which was displayed, under glass, the cold, static names of California’s Vietnam War dead, all 5,622 of them. He then stood in front of it with arms crossed, staring straight ahead as if protecting it.
From whom? The woman? Oh my god, was she a terrorist? I just can’t tell who I’m supposed to be afraid of anymore. (Maybe that’s the point.)
Or maybe she’d violated some lesser-known provision of, say, the Military Commissions Act. You know, the one our freedom-loving Congress passed in October that, along with jettisoning habeas corpus and giving the current King George the power to unilaterally send any of us to the hoosegow forever, perhaps now also makes it a crime to read the names of Americans killed in war.
I just can’t tell what’s illegal anymore. (Maybe that’s also the point.)
Wondering what would happen if I audaciously began perusing the names of the hyper-vigilant vet’s unfortunate brethren who’d been soullessly used as corporate cannon fodder in Southeast Asia, I ambled over to the pedestal and began silently reading. I wasn’t told to move so I guess I’d not yet broken any unknown law, rule, regulation, tradition or superstition.
He was focused elsewhere at the moment anyway, for I soon heard him boom: “Get off my map!!” Within moments, he was striding over to the large bas-relief depiction of South Vietnam laid out at the memorial’s entrance, ready to admonish any hapless passersby who might happen to tread on it.
I was tempted to ask him what made it his map but thought better of it. Perhaps it was also forbidden now in these Orwellian days to walk on public property. More likely, of course, the poor guy had forever left a good part of his psyche fighting a pointless war inside the very country the map represented.
It appeared his body had fared no better, given his stiff gait which looked to belie the existence of an artificial leg inside those crisply-pressed slacks.
He soon returned to reassume his prior somber, cross-armed position.
In the meantime, a couple of other men, big guys who were also presumably veterans, had approached the pedestal from behind and were now leaning against it.
The first made small talk with Map Man and then asked: “So all these people, are they all supporters out here today?”
“Oh, yes,” came the authoritative response, “they’re all supporters.”
“Well,” the first vet rejoined, chuckling, “it’d take an awfully brave person not to be with this crowd.”
Now I’m not a brave person but I play one in my reverie. Besides, I could stay silent no longer.
“I don’t support the war,” I said, looking up.
“D’ya support the troops?” the second man shot back with amazing quickness, his sharp narrowed eyes zeroed in on mine.
With scant hesitation, I responded: “To engage in an illegal activity? No.”
“Well, love you my friend,” he said before immediately walking away.
I think he might have been being sarcastic.
I left soon thereafter because, as noted, I am not a brave person. I also had no great desire to determine if I could trigger a case (or several) of post-traumatic stress disorder all on my own.
I was not happy later with my response, however, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I should’ve asked my knee-jerk inquisitor: “When you say ‘support the troops,’ just what, exactly, do you mean?”
Because, really, what does it mean? We’ve all heard and seen it for years now and yet no one, to my knowledge, has ever defined it. Here was a prime opportunity for me to at last find out for all of us, and I blew it.
For another, I’d prettied up my reply. What I was thinking of saying was: “You mean, support their ongoing murder of innocents and continuing engagement in one colossal war crime? No.”
There. I said it.
As anti-war activist Stephen S. Pearcy stated so well recently in Counterpunch:
[W]e’re all presumed to know the law. If we accept that fundamental legal presumption, then those of us who claim that the war is illegal must also acknowledge that the troops are unexcused aiders and abettors.
Publicly available information about the Iraq invasion has become plentiful over the last several years. Reasonable people contemplating service in the U.S. military should know that people throughout the world regard participation in the occupation as tantamount to aiding and abetting in mass murder, fraud, human rights violations, and international war crimes. By now, all of the troops should recognize this, and ignorance is no excuse.
So, no, I don’t support any aspect of the slaughter of over half a million innocents that the illicit presence and actions of American armed forces in Iraq have clearly precipitated, directly or not (dead is dead). This unquestioned “support for the troops,” regardless the troops’ actions or the reason(s) they’re there, has got to stop.
It’s time to end the slavish glorification of the U.S. military, the sanctity of warriorhood we’ve all been sold from day one in this country, a nonstop snake oil job from the ruling mega-wealthy warmakers who’ve forever wrapped their lust for new markets in the red, white and blue so they could once again scurry atop the resultant carnage to grab every last viscera-drenched dollar possible while making sure to never once personally risk setting foot in the firing line.
In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn reports how a young James Mellon, who had (legally) paid three hundred dollars to avoid fighting in the American Civil War, subsequently received this heartwarming reassurance from his father Thomas, founder of Mellon Bank and patriarch of the filthy rich Mellon clan:
“. . . a man may be a patriot without risking his own life or sacrificing his health. There are plenty of lives less valuable.”
Yeah. One can only hope it works out quite well for them.
What kills me is how those who have killed, almost been killed and seen plenty of killing can still so vigorously perpetuate the notion that going to war in a U.S. military uniform is all invariably done in the defense of life, liberty and preservatives-laden apple pie. You’d think just about any surviving soldier ill-fated enough to have served in Vietnam would have a leg up (if lucky enough to still have one, that is) on this old load of tripe, especially given the extreme rankness of the travesty in question (not that any war is a “good” war but some are more obviously onerous than others).
Yet, while many do, too many don’t, as verified by my experience in Capitol Park, which, unsurprisingly, included espying a banner sporting this classic hackneyed propaganda tailor-made for a paranoid populace:
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
Freedom to what, shop? (Nine days after 9/11, George W. Bush exhorted traumatized Americans to show their patriotic mettle via “continued participation and confidence in the American economy.”)
Steve Vogel and Clarence Williams of The Washington Post, reporting on Washington, D.C., anti-war activities surrounding the Iraq War’s just-passed fourth anniversary, relay the following comments regarding “war protestors past and present” from Vietnam vet and counter-protestor Rod Linkous:
“We defended their right to say whatever they want. They have the freedom of speech. We gave that freedom by fighting and dying for it.”
No, Mr. Linkous, you didn’t. Truly, with all due respect to you and Map Man and all your soldier brothers, you weren’t shipped off half a planet away to kill to protect freedom of speech or even to stop commies from taking over the world. You were sent there to secure the considerable perimeter so American munitions makers could ceaselessly leap for joy and other U.S. corporate interests could do what they do best: steal as many resources as possible while maximizing profits and minimizing losses (your and your buddies’ irrecoverable ones glaringly excepted).
Same as it ever was.
“Early in 1963, [President John F.] Kennedy’s Undersecretary of State, U. Alexis Johnson, was speaking before the Economic Club of Detroit:
What is the attraction that Southeast Asia has exerted for centuries on the great powers flanking it on all sides? Why is it desirable, and why is it important? First, it provides a lush climate, fertile soil, rich natural resources, a relatively sparse population in most areas, and room to expand. The countries of Southeast Asia produce rich exportable surpluses such as rice, rubber, teak, corn, tin, spice, oil, and many others...”
Now, I’m no foreign policy expert, but somehow I’m not thinkin’ this is what the U.S. government meant when it kept intoning all those years about the “domino effect.”
Mind you, it makes complete sense how one who had suffered through the soul-pulverizing madness that was Vietnam (or any war) would be desperately driven to use whatever rationalization it took to somehow “make sense of it all” because the alternative -- that one’s ass was on the line simply to (over)fill some anonymous greedhead’s pocket -- is too horrifying to contemplate.
Yet, for all their ham-fisted attempts at subterfuge, the plain fact is one couldn’t find a crew more obvious about its sick motives than this current crop of arrogant death-dealing fascists composing the Bush administration. From the very get-go, they couldn’t have been more breathtakingly overt about their intentions than if they’d been broadcast live on all seven thousand cable channels unlocking the doors to the U.S. Treasury, marching into an open vault and then cramming giant sacks full of bazillion dollar bills, the whole time evilly smiling (how else would they smile?) and leering straight into the camera, cackling: “Look what we’re doing here: ripping you all off big-time! Here, now we’re doing it again. And now, see? -- again! Hot-damn, here’s some more. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee! Suck-ers!”
The only surprise at this point, is that anyone would be surprised at this point.
For what it’s worth (zilch), at least the Democrats’ cover now has been thoroughly pulled (for those who still had doubt as to how shamefully compromised they are). Seems they’ve come up a bit short in stopping the war, since now there are even more troops in Iraq than there were before the Dems curiously “won” both houses in November. And that power of the purse thing? Not only do Democratic “leaders” agree to fully fund Bush’s latest wholesale money-grubbin’ grab for his (and their) weapons industry buds, they want to give him a billion dollars more!
I almost put the following on my sign at the March 18th San Francisco anti-war march: “Good thing the Dems have Congress. Else, we’d be in a real fix.”
What I wrote instead, though, was “Just imagine if America were war-like!” and, on the other side, “War is a racket -- Smedley Butler.”
For some strange reason (hmm, what could it be?), Americans aren’t taught in school about Smedley Butler, an important figure in United States history who spent thirty-three years in the Marine Corps before retiring as a major general in 1931. Widely respected (he’s one of only two Marines to win the Congressional Medal of Honor twice), he was recruited in 1933 by fascism-admiring, über-rich American businessmen to lead a coup against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Imagine their surprise when Butler reported the plan to a congressional committee instead.
Though the committee’s final report corroborated Butler’s testimony, no further action was taken.
Bluntly honest, Butler frequently spoke after his retirement to gatherings sponsored by “veterans, communists, pacifists and church groups” (Wikipedia) in which he made no bones about the masters he truly served during his career. Probably Butler’s best-known quote comes from a 1935 issue of Common Sense, a socialist newspaper:
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.
Not a whole lot there about defending the Bill of Rights, I see.
In 1935, Butler penned a damning, no-frills booklet, War is a Racket, detailing his dim views on the real motivations behind armed conflict. In his short work, he asserts American military forces should be used only for defensive purposes. This would appear to be a no-brainer, although that’s obviously not quite how the no-brainers driving the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and next, Iran (count on it), see it.
And, hey -- what’s this? Even the Constitution supports Butler on this point, declaring it has been ordained and established to help we the people, among other stuffy stuff, “provide for the common defence….” (Yes, I know the Constitution no longer exists but I like to quote it now and again just for old time’s sake.)
So let’s not pretend “our troops” are innocent bystanders in America’s relentless wars of imperialism and profiteering. Let’s not try to have it both ways by (rightly) asserting how horrified we are by a conflict that is irrefutably illegal while at the same time saying that somehow those who continue the killing and the maiming and the torturing and the razing are blameless or have no choice. Granted, standing up to the mighty ‘merican military machine by refusing to follow illegal orders and risking incarceration for a good long while is an excruciatingly tough row to hoe -- just ask First Lieutenant Ehren Watada -- but so is the alternative: a lifetime of knowing you participated in immorally destroying an entire country just so the animals who sent you there can buy that nice little second yacht they’ve had their beady, greedy little eyes on for some time.
‘Course, there’s another pitiable group: the ones who never can see past the nationalistic catchphrases that were so freely bandied about to cynically insert them and their dead and crippled comrades into an utter hell, the same slogans they continue to swallow whole and unthinkingly repeat as they pass the bloody baton on to, say, Young Marines.
Signed your eight-year-old up yet?
Mark Drolette is a writer from Sacramento, California. His upcoming book Why Costa Rica? Why the hell not? will be available once it’s finished, published and then made available. In the meantime, Mark can be reached at: email@example.com.
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