Endless War, Endless Con

Memorial Day again.

Yesterday I saw a piece on TV about staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, the first U.S. soldier since Vietnam to get the Medal of Honor while he was still alive. You usually get that one when you’re dead. Sergeant Giunta did some insane heroic stuff in Afghanistan, rescued a couple of guys who were certain to be killed, got shot himself and made it out alive.

This morning I saw the President make a speech about our brave fighting men and women. Obama stood in front of a flag and intoned the same old cliches that must be intoned every year, how they willingly went and got killed to preserve our freedom, and how more people had to be ready to do the same, or else the last bunch would have died in vain. I had to stop watching and go to work, but I would bet that the rest of the television day was all patriotism all the time, except for the soaps and reruns of George Lopez.Battle-Scene

If you’re reading here you might already know what I think about all this. I think it’s bullshit. Sergeant Giunta will almost certainly now be against war. He will tell anyone who’ll listen that he’s not a hero, that war is a brutal horror that does not lead to glory. And then in about 18 years, he will send his son off to fight, to kill, and maybe get killed.

I’m sad that it has taken me so long to recognize this pathetic truth, that we humans can’t get along, that our veneer of civility is so thin it barely hides the hatred and the violence in our hearts. That the bully always wins.

As I was growing up I watched my father relive the atrocities of World War 2, and I still shudder to think of what it did to him. As a young man I came to understand that the war in Vietnam was a sham, built on the ridiculous premise that somehow by destroying that beautiful little country and terrorizing its people we were stopping the international communist menace. It was laughable except for the real deaths and maimings that happened all day every day for years. When our protests finally forced the government to abandon that war, I thought we had won a lasting peace, that the nation had learned a lesson. Some joke.

Of course millions more have died and been injured since then. Every generation allows itself to be conned into believing that we must fight one more war, one more defense of our way of life. We know it is wrong and it will be horrible, we tell ourselves, but this time it is necessary, because our freedom is threatened, our honor is challenged, and we must not let the memory of our dead heroes be defiled. And so each generation repeats the stupidity.

The soldiers don’t realize it, but they are not fighting to protect our freedom. They are giving up their lives and their limbs and their brains to protect our oil companies and to enrich our arms dealers. I’m not saying they’re not brave or worthy of respect, or that they never accomplish anything good. I’m saying they’ve been conned, and they don’t know what they’re doing.

Moms and dads of America, how do you teach your little ones not to touch a hot stove? Do you let them touch it and burn themselves? Or do you advise them in the strongest possible way never, ever to put their precious little hands on the hot metal?

You know the danger, and they don’t. You should tell them.

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Bombing For Peace

The Israelis are now saying that they won’t stop their assault on Gaza until peace and tranquility are achieved.

Please forgive my anti-Semitic, overly simplistic stance on this, but that is like saying you are going to keep smashing up the china shop with a baseball bat until everything is back in one piece. The Palestinians and the Israelis might have intractable differences and tribal grudges and no doubt there is a history of ugliness between them such that almost all of them have some event in their family’s past to prove that the other side is evil and intent upon destroying them. They need to get over it and start trying to figure out how to settle their differences before any more schools or hospitals or lives are destroyed.

I used to think that my country, the U.S.A., had the responsibility and the credibility to enter into the violent affairs of others in the world and help negotiate a truce, one that might lead to a lasting peace. Certainly the parties in the Palestinian mess have demonstrated that they can’t manage it themselves. Sadly, the United States no longer holds the moral high ground in these matters, and any attempt at diplomatic intervention on our part would justifiably be met with suspicion, if not outright jeers. Who knows if any nation has clean enough hands to step in and help resolve the ongoing bitterness?

I’ve heard it said that the first casualty of war is truth. That’s a nice metaphor, but there is real blood spilling in Palestine right now, and no civilized nation should sit by and allow it to go on.

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A Veteran’s Day Proposal

It’s Veteran’s Day, and I never know what to say about the veterans.

I don’t support the troops, at least not in the fetishistic way most of us seem to. I don’t wish them harm — I wish them home. Back to work, back to school, back to wives and husbands, back to the world of life, and away from the killing fields.Cemetery

I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods, that there must always be war, and we must always be prepared for war, and we must always win at war, because “we” are better than “they.” But we never win wars, not us, not the ones who must fight them, and have our legs and heads blown off. Only the kings and commanders win, and the arms dealers.

Every war, regardless of which side eventually must surrender, begets the next war, and the next. We think it’s so important that we’ll go and get maimed and leave our babies behind, and our mothers, everybody in tears, over some prime minister’s theory, some president’s anger. We go thinking we must, and believing that if we fight fiercely, kill bravely, that it will put an end to war, and make us all safe.

This, of course, is bullshit.

Every war brings us all closer to death, as we develop more and more sophisticated and devastating weapons and techniques, as we humiliate and enrage populations around the world, who then develop their own devastating weaponry and methods. The troops and the veterans? I’m not mad at them. I’m just sick of the constant strife.

Look, we’ve been thinking since the beginning of history that it makes sense to kill for peace, right? What is that, six or seven thousand years? How about if we have a moratorium on this organized mayhem? Let’s say nobody signs up for the military for a hundred years. That seems fair to me. It’s a pretty short stretch of time in the scheme of things, to see if we really need all this violence and hatred.

At the end of that time, there would be no more veterans, no more regimented marching. The daily fear that grips us of someone else’s army would fade. The military cemeteries would be deserted and silent. After decades of rebuilding, the cities of the world would be healed and thriving. Our heroes would be the teachers, the artists, the musicians, the scientists, the healers. No mother would be holding her breath, hoping her child survives the next tour of duty. After a century of diplomacy, we would be sharing the planet with our earthly neighbors instead of trying to take it away from them. Maybe we’d be looking to the stars for some elbow room.

I know what you’re thinking. Sure, it’s a stupid idea. It’s almost as stupid as going on and on, making more veterans, endlessly fighting the Very Last War.

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Universal Soldier

Anybody else tired of hearing about the “blood and treasure” we are spending in Iraq?

What’s that all about, anyway? Is that supposed to be some sort of euphemism, so we don’t think about the dead and broken bodies and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are swirling down the drain? What’s a little blood, after all? Everyone’s cut themselves. No big deal, right? And treasure. Oooh, you mean like in “Pirates of the Caribbean” Yeah, pirate’s booty, not the pallets of cash, shipped literally by the ton in C-17’s, only to disappear down the Iraqi sinkhole. This happy talk is an extension of the U.S. policy of not showing pictures of military coffins as the dead are brought back, and the policy of not allowing cameras in the hospitals where the wounded are being treated. Sure it’s dishonest, but we’re talking about the Bush Administration, so what else is new?

And why is every military person, especially the grunts, now called a hero? Most of these kids didn’t know what they were getting into when they joined. They thought it was a good way to get out of their boring hometown, or they thought they’d learn a trade so they could later get a good civilian job (ha ha, the jobs are now in China), or they were packed off to the Army to get some discipline into their lives. Some of them were deluded into thinking they’d be defending freedom, or making the world safe for democracy, or liberating an oppressed people, or avenging the terrorist attacks on New York and DC, or [plug in the hyperpatriotic bullshit phrase of your choice]. Sure, now that they’re in, they’re doing a tough job and performing well, but who wouldn’t if the alternative was death or dismemberment? I’d like to see more of them stand up and say “This is wrong and I’m not going to take part in it.” That would be heroic. That would be taking a moral stand against overwhelming opposition.

In the sixties there was a bumper sticker that read “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” It was expressing the foolish idea that if we stopped lending our bodies to take part in the depraved militant fantasies of greedy old men, there would be no war, because there would be no one to fight it. We assumed that the politicians and generals wouldn’t do it themselves, and I don’t think we were wrong about that. And it recognized the reality that we — you know, The People — have the power to change things. All it takes is unity, across social class and national borders. If we stand up en masse and say “This is wrong and we’re not going to do it,” it’s over for the depraved, greedy old men who move us around on their chess board map of the world, “sacrificing” a thousand of us here, a million of us there, destroying whole countries, dislocating entire populations.

I’m not stupid enough to think anything like that is going to happen. I can’t say why, but it seems an impossible dream. Most of us will say we want peace on earth, but we stand ready to join up and kill our enemies, even though most of the time the enemy is us.

(Click here for the soundtrack to this post.)

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What Happened to the War?

For the past five years I have been a one-issue voter.

My issue? Stop the war.

I’m not much of a fighter. I grew up with a father who was haunted by his experience in World War 2. He could not stop reliving it, and forcing his horrible memories on me and my brothers and sisters. Despite this, my understanding was that it was a “good” war, one that we all could be proud of. In 1950’s America this was the overwhelmingly predominant sentiment, and even today I think most would concur.

But when my war came along — the one in Vietnam — I was no longer a child, and I didn’t think about it in that childlike way: Oh boy! Competition! Let’s kick some ass! I love kickin’ ass! Our leaders say we have to do this, so I’m going to do this. We have to stop the spread of communism — if Vietnam falls, all of Asia will go down like dominoes. My nation is superior and in this way we will prove it. Better dead than Red. The honor of my country is at stake. God is on our side.

We have at least one war every generation, and I have now been around long enough to know that there are two reasons: one is that wars are profitable for old guys. The other is that young guys like to fight, and are thus easily manipulated into believing they must fight.

I can look back at World War 2 now and see that it didn’t have to happen. International competition for land and resources, the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, the profit motive of arms dealers and the utter failure of diplomacy led to that conflagration. Don’t get all “Hitler was crazy” on me. I know that, but then what about Mussolini, Roosevelt, Tojo, Hirohito, Churchill? What about Charlemagne, Napoleon, George Washington, Che Guevara and Ghengis Khan? Were they all crazy? Are we all crazy? Because don’t we always, haven’t we always, resorted to robbing, raping and killing each other to resolve our differences? As if there were no other way! And doesn’t the end of each war set the stage for the next one? Didn’t we recently (90 years ago) have “the war to end all wars”? Heck, maybe we’re not crazy. Maybe we’re just stupid.

Look, I’m aware of all the practical arguments you can give me for fighting all these wars, and I’m sure to many of you I seem unpatriotic or naive. I admit I’m more interested in the world than the nation. I’d rather promote the survival of humanity than of Americans, and by definition this is unpatriotic. I can live with your censure for that. As for practicality, how many times are we going to “settle” things with mass violence, only to discover 20 years later that things aren’t settled at all, and we have to saddle up and go fight again? How many millenia of bloody destruction must we endure before we try something else? How practical is it to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting the results to be different?

Am I naive to suggest that we find another way? Now that there are six billion of us and we can see the end of existing global fuel supplies and the very climate is changing as a result of our presence, isn’t it time we stopped with the mindless killing and started to work together, to pool the world’s talent and try to save our planet — our home? I’m not a doomsayer. I’m really quite optimistic about what we might achieve if we cooperate, if we learn how to listen to each other, if we stifle the greed of old guys and derail the bloodlust of young guys and focus instead on making a better life for all of us and for our descendants.

Somehow I’ve lost sight of my one issue over the past year. Healthcare, Reverend Wright, Hillary’s brave campaign, our government’s blatant corruption, Larry Craig’s foot-tapping, cyclones, earthquakes, the unconscionable profits of Exxon, dappin’ on the podium — so much has crowded out my one issue. Meanwhile, way out on the edge of the media bubble, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq drag on. Atrocities are being committed every day. Even the legal stuff, the killing that has been officially sanctioned, the affronts to human dignity that are approved by international treaty, are hardly mentioned in the news anymore. I’m not blaming the press. It’s my bad that I’ve let this slip from my consciousness.

My One Big Issue is the reason I would have voted for any of the excellent Democratic candidates for president in 2008, and why I will now support the finalist, Barack Obama. It’s the overriding reason why I wouldn’t vote for McCain under any circumstance (although there are plenty of other compelling reasons not to vote for him). I know that the mess we have created in Iraq precludes any kind of immediate withdrawal of forces, but we must begin to wrap it up there and stop shooting, even if we can’t pull out for years. President Bush is trying to work out a deal — a “Status of Force Agreement” — that will make McCain’s dream of a hundred years there a reality. Congress needs to block this any way they can, and the next president needs to work out something that makes sense and actually leads to the U.S. departure from a country where we do not belong, playing a role that cannot be sustained, at a cost that is simply unimaginable.

Whatever the hell is going on in Afghanistan, it isn’t working. The Taliban is back big time, and the locals seems to be hiding and abetting Osama bin Laden, which I think makes our effort there a complete failure, so I would suggest looking for an alternative to the deployment of troops. The terrorist problem has always seemed to me a police matter anyway — it was the Bush Administration that tried to make it into an excuse for military action.

Nobody really wants to deal with this as a serious issue. Nobody wants to get at the causes and try to make real change. Six months ago all the candidates for President of the United States said, in response to prompting from the press, that they couldn’t promise we’d be out of Iraq by 2013 — the end of a first term, which to me was sort of a promise that we wouldn’t be out by then. So we don’t have an antiwar candidate, and the wind is out of those sails.

Nevertheless, as the earth’s population continues to explode, water and energy supplies dry up and pollution threatens all humanity, we may be at a tipping point, a point in history at which we do something together, or die separately in bunkers, proudly waving our tattered flags.

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