Tag Archive for war

Reminds me of 1968

Looking at photos of the demonstrations in Chicago reminds me a little of the Democratic National Convention in 1968. During that steamy summer, Chicago exploded as protesters gathered there to show solidarity against the war in Vietnam.

Once again, we the people are pissed off about our money being spent on wars abroad instead of people in need both here and abroad. Many of us see this as a gathering of warmongers. Veterans marched to return their medals and people  by the tens of thousands supported them.

While news outlets were describing the “hundreds” who came out to protests, we see pictures of tens of thousands filling the streets.

We see photos of unruly crowds, just as we did in 1968, but we also see people who are peaceful, who want nothing more than to express their thoughts in a land that boasts freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

I have been to many demonstrations in my time. I wish I could be in Chicago today.

In 1968, we were told we couldn’t leave Vietnam because the Communists would overrun South Vietnam and then all the neighboring countries and then go on to conquer the world, known as the “Domino Theory.” It was “fight ‘em there or fight ‘em here.” Today that same argument is being used to keep us in Afghanistan for 11 years and counting. Terrorists will come and kill us in our sleep.

Well, the Commies didn’t show up on our shores, and if we stop meddling with the governments of the Middle East, the terrorists will have no reason to come after us.

War is a very profitable endeavor when it’s not your country that’s being shot up or bombed back to the stone age.

The most important difference between our most recent wars and the war in Vietnam is the lack of information Americans today receive about what’s really happening. Correspondents in Afghanistan have to fight to get any stories on the evening news. Reporters are “embedded” rather than allowed to go in search of the truth.

During the Vietnam war, we saw the horrors every night on the news. We watched as American soldiers torched villages where they suspected Vietcong soldiers were hiding. We saw a man executed by a gunshot to the head, we saw children lit afire with napalm. We saw our own gravely wounded soldiers loaded up into helicopters.

We aren’t allowed to see that now, because if we did, we would demand this slaughter in our name be stopped immediately. This war isn’t as unpopular at home as the Vietnam war was because we’re not seeing the destruction being wrought in our name. That’s how NATO wants it, and that’s why we have to stop it.

Average Americans aren’t being asked to contribute anything to the war effort except our sons and daughters, who may be deployed three, four or five times before they are too broken to be deployed again, unless, of course, they die.

Like Vietnam, it isn’t the wealthy whose children are going to fight. During Vietnam, the wealthy could buy spots for their children in the National Guard after they had run out their college deferments. Back then, the Guard didn’t deploy overseas; we had the draft to fill the ranks of the regular military services. But the draft is so unpopular politically we now recruit poor kids out of high school and promise them a college education when they get back — if they get back.

In Vietnam, the majority of draftees were from the working class. The wealthier you were, the better your chances for avoiding the draft, either through college deferments or medical deferments (I’m thinking of Rush Limbaugh’s anal cysts). It’s no coincidence that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of the chicken hawks never served in the military (well, George’s daddy got him into the National Guard, where we all know his record of not showing up).

Meanwhile, military contractors are lining their pockets with billions of our tax dollars. The rich are getting richer while the rest of us are getting screwed.

Is it any wonder Americans are crowding into the streets of Chicago to protest?

 

 

 

Don’t assume …

This image reminds me of my friend, Jerry Donnellan, who left his war medals at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. I asked whether, in his experience, liberals hate soldiers. As a rule, he said, they do not.

Yesterday, as I was doing my regular Wednesday co-host gig with Blake Butler on Local Edge Radio (880 The Revolution), we had a caller who identified himself as conservative. That doesn’t bother me — I’m happy to talk to people who disagree with me as long as we keep the conversation civil.

“I was born in 1969, so I remember the tail end of the Vietnam thing,” he said. “All you liberals spat on the soldiers when they came home.”

I had news for him: We did not. I was born in 1952 and I had a lot of friends who went to that war. Some didn’t come home; most came home much different people than the ones who left.

I mentioned I’m a Christian and he broke in. “A Christian and  a Democrat? Ain’t no such thing!”

Blake cut him off, but I was deeply offended.

I spent the Vietnam war writing to men I didn’t know and sending care packages so they would know someone back home was thinking about them and praying for their safe return.

When I lived in Rockland County, NY, one of my good friends was Jerry Donnellan, who now heads the Veterans’ Services Agency in the county.

“I ‘m good,” he said when I called him today. “I got me a government job. Of course, it was my first government job that led to the need for this government job.”

Jerry came home with three Purple Hearts and minus a leg. He is one of the funniest people I know, and to hear him tell the story of his second Purple Heart made me laugh till I cried. He was shot by a sniper, but a ration can of pineapple chunks saved his life.

“I thought I was gone,” he says. “I felt my chest and there was a warm, sticky liquid. I couldn’t look. But then I looked at my hand and there wasn’t any blood. That sonofabitch  had ruined my pineapple chunks!”

In the end, Jerry took out the sniper. A few months later, he stepped on a land mine and blew off half his leg.

My friend, Jerry Donnellan, a Vietnam Vet, wasn't spat on when he returned home; in fact, a he counts a whole lot of liberals as his friends. He is receiving an honorary doctorate from Dominican College in Rockland County, NY

So, as the liberal old friend of an old Vietnam soldier, I figured I could ask Jerry whether he knew any liberal people who care about veterans.

“There are plenty of conservatives who wave the flag and don’t do anything more,” Jerry said. “My father used to say you have to watch out for someone waving a flag because he had a stick and could be dangerous.”

Jerry and other vets came back from Vietnam and they founded Vietnam Vets against the War.

“We didn’t join the traditional peace groups because there were people among them who thought we all were war criminals,” he said. “But most of us were drafted.”

Jerry once told me he “still had pieces of my mama’s porch under my fingernails when I got there.”

During the Vietnam War, those with connections (George W. Bush and Dan Quayle among them) got into the National Guard and didn’t have to risk their lives on the front lines; they stayed stateside. Today, however, National Guard men and women serve two, three — up to six — deployments. The soldier who opened fire on Afghan civilians last week was in his fourth deployment. After all that, he likely will face the death penalty.

“Can you imagine how much sooner this thing would have ended if there had been a draft?” Jerry asked. “But you don’t see college campuses erupting because their lives aren’t at risk. Back during Vietnam if you were warm and not pregnant, you got drafted.

“But we came back and we formed Vietnam Veterans against the war. … We were saying, ‘We went, we fought your stupid war and now we’re back to tell you it’s wrong. Stop it.’”

People who go to war come back changed, Jerry said.

“Imagine being taken away from your family and sent anywhere for a year, let alone being sent to war,” he said. “Then imagine it happening four or five times. You come home changed each time. It’s a lot to ask.”

My heart is, and always has been, with the men and women who risk their lives to fight the stupid wars our politicians get us into. They are heroes, and I am deeply offended when someone says I don’t support them.

Don’t assume that because I’m liberal that I hate soldiers and don’t believe in the redemptive power of Jesus.  Don’t make assumptions about me, don’t call me names and I’ll show the same respect toward you.

 

 

July 4 isn’t for chest-thumping

I celebrated the Fourth by going to a baseball game, which was followed by fireworks. Seemed like a good, all-American evening, and it included a tribute to veterans, which I found quite moving.

During the seventh inning, the Rev. Scott Rogers to0k to the field to talk about the vets who didn’t come back. He named the people from our area who have died on foreign soil, and introduced a flag-folding ceremony.

I always get emotional at flag-folding ceremonies because I’ve seen far too many of them as a newspaper reporter covering the funerals of fallen soldiers. Every time I see the ceremony, I’m reminded of the mother who insisted her son’s casket remain open, even though his face was replaced by a mask because it had been blown away. She kept reaching into the casket to touch his gloved hand. I’m reminded of the devastated young wife trying to comfort her weeping child who just wants his Daddy. I’m reminded of families and friends whose lives will never again be whole because of their loss. I’m reminded of the lost potential of this life cut short on a battlefield halfway around the world.

I know first-hand what it is to lose a child, but I can’t comprehend losing one in a war. I at least got to say goodbye to my son.

As the flag was being folded, a woman near me started chanting “USA!” She stopped pretty quilckly. I’m hoping it was because someone gave her the reality slap she deserved.

This ceremony was to honor the dead, not to chest-thump as though the whole thing was a sports event. Patriotism is about a lot more than chanting simplistic slogans. It’s not about, “America, right or wrong,” nor is it about allowing our freedoms to be swallowed up by a war on terrorism that does little more than kill innocent people and enrich corporations.

Part of our problem in the world is that we’re arrogant; we’re convinced we’re better than anyone else, and we impose our will whether our way is appropriate or not. Those in power — the very wealthy and huge corporations – love war, and their sons and daughters are rarely the ones who are maimed or killed in these conflicts.

The people who serve in our military believe they are doing what’s right for their country. They are honorable and brave, and they deserve our respect, although many come home wounded and emotionally damaged and we don’t give them what they need. They become homeless, and often become addicted to drugs and or alcohol in an attempt to numb the pain. We slash veterans’ programs and figure they should just buck up and get on with their lives after repeated deployments. But when we see someone in uniform, we thank them for their service as though that’s all we need to do.

This nebulous thing they’re fighting for, “freedom,” isn’t about competition and us being Number One. When we say freedom isn’t free, it shouldn’t be about spending innocent lives on the battlefield, but about participating in Democracy. We need to learn about the issues, understand and see through the crap that’s being thrown at us by the media and our politicians, and take our country back.

Democracy is participatory. If we the people are too lazy to vote intelligently, our country loses its greatness. We are at the threshhold of disaster now. It’s time to stop chanting stupid slogans and work to really understand the issues. That’s the price of freedom, and if we don’t pay that price, we will lose our freedoms.

Black tag of courage or a Liberal learns about war

I was a Paramedic in the Air Force in the early 90′s.  Joining the military was one of the better decisions I have made in my almost 50 years and even at the old age of 27, the training I went through gave me a wealth of discipline I previously did not have. There’s a plethora that I completely disagree with in how our military personal are utilized, but I was lucky to be at their disposal before the right wing, corporate quest for empire began to pick up speed in earnest.  Pretending to assist the wounded and pick up dead soldiers on the battlefield is all fun and games until it really happens.

The Air Force Medical Core / Paramedic training was (at that time) conducted at Shepard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. I love Wichita Falls, but that’s another post. We slept in tents, ate MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) out of plastic pouches plucked out of 55 gal. drums of boiling water, rescued the pilots of a long forgotten war from their rusting C-2 Greyhound and learned about triage. The pic to the left was taken during my time at the Med Red (Medical Readiness) training grounds somewhere near or on Shepard Air force Base.

The one and only time I ever argued with a superior officer was in triage class over the black tag. In the military they call the black tag “expectant” and in the civilian world the term “morgue” is used.  The protocol for the black tag soldier was a simple one… pain meds until dead. How could anyone not do all that could be done to treat all the wounded, no matter how badly they were injured, I asked? To the instructor’s credit he was very kind to me as he explained that war is not about helping the few, it’s about helping the many. Maybe I was not the first bleeding heart liberal he ever had in his class. That was probably lesson one for me on my way to seeing what all soldiers probably know, even the person of peace is sometimes called upon to fight and die for it. A person who hates war must sometimes wage war to stop it. Until humans decide to deal with our differences differently, create a world where despots have no place and stop ignoring that our precious freedoms depend on all of us finding our common ground and contributing what we can to that common good… there will always be bloodshed.

I wrote the following letter to the editor of my conservative, East Tennessee town in early October, 2004. It was my first act of publicly putting my thoughts in front of the Republican faithful. I didn’t get lynched and a couple of people even told me, in confidence of course, that they felt the same way.

The Policy is not the Soldier

A Memorial Day flashback to October 2004

The Republican party would have you believe that their policy is the Soldier. They would prefer that no one make the distinction between their personal agenda and the Soldier that dies in Iraq.  As Mr. Bush’s comments clearly stated: that would simply send the wrong message, “mixed messages” to our brave troops.  How indeed could they follow a leader of questionable intent, morals and leadership?

How indeed? The Republican Party’s story is that this is all about freedom, bringing democracy to the middle east and fighting terrorists wherever they may be.  Those of us who don’t believe that story is entirely true are considered by many as un-patriotic and un-supportive of our sons and daughters fighting and dying in Mr. Bush’s war.

Every person that I meet who cannot allow my right to that opinion has cited the same sentiment, that it disrespected the soldier. No! The Soldier and the policy are not the same thing.

As a Gulf war veteran, I respect those who have chosen to protect our country. I do not respect a commander and chief that would spill their blood for profit, power and a personal vendetta while lying about it.

This president seriously underestimated the consequences of his actions; he will not admit his error in judgement and he hoping that Americans will not be able to separate his failed policy and premature actions from the brave men and women he put in harm’s way.

The spin is relentless in keeping the idea going that one cannot disagree with poor decision-making without disrespecting the troops, and sadly, it seems to be working.  I imagine Mr. Bush and his cronies having a good laugh at just how much the American people are willing to swallow.  And after numbing us out with the unprecedented fear this administration generated in the wake of 9/11, the religious right was waiting to take us all in and show us the error of our ways and their path to salvation.  The path of writing discrimination into the constitution, the path of altering the idea of separation of church and state, the path of intolerance and judgement.

The right to disagree, the right to speak out belong to us all for the moment. Even Mr. Bush and his ilk have the right to express themselves under the same principles, but they do not have the right to legislate for their own purposes and enrichment. It is our duty as informed citizens to keep them in check for the day they overtake us the “other” terrorists will be the least of our worries.  that will be the day none of us are free any longer, not even the right-wing, Republican, Moral majority, Christian Coalition, NRA life member.

Happy Memorial Day and Peace Y’all

 

 

The politics of scarcity

We are on the side of the people of Libya, but it is a third war, which we can afford to fight even as we prepare to make draconian cuts to human services because we're too broke.

Apparently, we have enough money for another war.

We don’t have enough to give access to quality health care to everyone.

We can’t afford to make sure schools aren’t shortchanged.

We can’t improve our public infrastructure or expand or modernize public transportation.

Upgrading the electrical grid is beyond our means.

We have to take away collective bargaining rights for people who work for a living because it’s just too expensive.

We’re talking about draconian cuts to human services because we’re in such a financial crunch.

Workers have been losing ground for 30 years because the government just can’t keep spending on regulation. And besides, it’s just too intrusive for big corporations to be regulated.

But we can afford another war.

We also can afford more tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, which we turn around and make up for with more cuts to human services.

There is enough for everyone to have what they need in this country. The gap between the rich and the working class has never been wider, but it is the middle class that is asked to sacrifice everything — including our children, who are the ones dying in these ill-conceived wars.

We don’t need a draft if we can keep working Americans down because their children will join the military for the opportunities it offers. That is, if you come out alive after repeated tours in the wars that are enriching huge, corrupt corporations.

It’s time for real change. If the people of the Middle East can take to the streets, perhaps it’s time for more of us to do the same thing.

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