I spent almost 21 years in the military so it should be no surprise when I tell you that I still spend a lot of time thinking about it. What is surprising however is that I generally have a negative view of the military, from the time I spent in it and all that has happened since I left. It is really hard for me to adequately express my opinions about the military to people that have never served in the military and it is just as difficult to express my views to someone that did serve.
Why would I want to write about it then? It is probably because the military has been such a large part of my life, and because it is an exceptional reflection of our nation's dysfunctional political system and also our morally bankrupt foreign policy. I would like to start by examining the American people's view of the military.
When I enlisted in January 1968, one day after the Tet Offensive began, I was seventeen and the nation was in turmoil. The Vietnam War was in full swing and the country was becoming more divided by the day. I was fully aware of the danger I was putting myself into, but I felt at the time that if I didn't enlist, I would have been drafted and I would have ended up in Vietnam as an infantryman. I thought that by enlisting, I could avoid the prospect of being a ground-pounder in the jungle. I also wanted the GI Bill so that I could attend college if I survived my enlistment. I'm still here... I guess it worked.
While I didn't experience a tour of duty in Southeast Asia (I went to Korea three times), I didn't escape the effects of the war. The Army was not the most socially acceptable occupation during the late sixties and early 70's. Many of my friends either got drafted or were in the streets protesting the war. Many of those that returned from the war were among the most politically radical. It was difficult to find anyone without an opinion. The worst part of that for me, was that those who supported the war (in my opinion) were usually right wing ideologues that didn't have a clue as to what was really happening. Many people that were opposed to the war wanted nothing to do with me.
I was OK with that, mainly because I was also against US policy in Vietnam. The people who understood me best were my fellow soldiers. Still, even in the army, problems existed. There was a huge disconnect between the younger soldiers who were usually either draftee's or on their first enlistment and, for the most part, against the war. The older, career soldiers that were NCO's and field grade Officers, were for the war. The army was a microcosm of the society at large. This made life difficult for everyone. Just as in the society we were spawned from, the young people and the older people were at odds.
For many soldiers, returning to civilian life after a tour of duty in Vietnam was exceedingly difficult. The usual tour of duty in Vietnam was thirteen months. The experience of being in the jungle or out on some firebase, hours away from any large military installations, and then suddenly, almost as if by magic, being transported back to the US and mustered out of the military. Within 24 to 48 hours, they walked through their front door. It was surreal.
Compounding this transition was the reality of going through it alone because most soldiers didn't arrive and leave with a unit. There was no "band of brothers" as portrayed in World War II. Every soldier had his DERO's date (Date Estimated Return from Overseas). A soldier arrived in Vietnam individually and left individually. How they processed that... was up to them.
The result of the thirteen month "combat tour", was that it usually took a solid month to train a green soldier and when a soldier got close to his DEROS date (or "got short"), they were loath to take any chances. This, along with a mid-tour leave which was usually thirty days, gave commanders 10 months of time to use a soldier. It was also hard to give a man a reason to defeat the enemy. Performing well in combat and gaining victories that did not result in the war's end and a great homecoming. It was a thirteen month tour, whether or not battles were won or lost. This was not the best method of fighting a war. Being there "for the duration" was a thing of the past.
Homecoming wasn't exactly a hero's welcome either. I remember hitch-hiking from Fort Lewis to the Seattle-Tacoma airport on a fine summer day in 1970. Someone leaned out of a car window and threw a half full beer can at me and then, getting struck in the head to the words "baby-killer", and having my khaki shirt covered in beer and blood. I'm sure I didn't experience anything unique for that period.
People were also very suspicious of Vietnam vets. The anti-war movement rhetoric and news reports of atrocities from places like My Lai didn't elevate veterans to celebrity status. This was one reason why many Vietnam era veterans didn't talk much about the war they has suffered through. Most Americans didn't want to hear about their experiences and if a vet insisted on sharing what he went through, the welcome mat was nowhere to be seen.
This isn't the case today. Now people go out of their way to shake the hand of a returning Vet and thank them for their service. "I support out troops" and "Army Mom (or Dad)" stickers grace the bumpers of SUV's. Yellow ribbons are everywhere... on everything. What has changed? Why are today's Vets being adored while Vietnam's Vets were vilified? What has changed and who are the hero worshipers?
One thing I find disturbing is this "Wounded Warrior Program". Why do we have celebrities asking American taxpayers to send $19.00 a month to this project that is providing assistance to Veterans to recover from physical and psychological wounds? Why are these celebrities asking us to pay at all? I'm not complaining about to helping them, but the fact is, they should already be receiving help. The government sent these people into harm's way and it should be the government that supplies care for their wounds. What I find outrageous is that these Veterans have to ask for anything! If the government can't or won't provide for the people they have asked to sacrifice for the nation, they should never again put them in harm's way!
First of all, one of the reasons why our Veterans are once again heroes is because there are very few people in the United States with any "skin in the game", so to speak. In the years during the Vietnam War, almost everyone had or knew someone participating. Sons were being drafted and everyone had a lottery number dancing around in their heads. Everyone couldn't just soil their boxers like Ted Nugent and get a deferment. Dick Cheney had hemorrhoids but everyone didn't get so lucky. There were only so many potential Army Dads and Moms with a Senate or Congressional seat. It was cold in Canada and Sweden, and to be there without a guaranteed income could make for some mighty cold winters.
Today, some of the same people that protested the "imperialism" that America practiced in Vietnam now have "I support our troops" bumper stickers. It is quite possible that the person that threw that beer can at me outside of Seattle is now thanking veterans "for their service". Do I sound bitter? You're damn right I am! I'm also disgusted and revolted. Where are all of the people that "couldn't live with the war on their conscience" during Vietnam? I could go on, but I won't. I've already said enough. The people I'm talking about know who they are and if they don't, if amnesia has fully engulfed them, no amount of shame will reach them anyway.
Still, after watching history unfold in my lifetime, and my knowledge of the military, I have come to some conclusions about how we as a nation could rectify some of the harm that American Presidents, Congress critters and foreign policy "experts" as well as some military people have wrought. Maybe rectify is the wrong word. Maybe I should use the word "prevent".
These are some basic policy changes that could be made to prevent illegal and unnecessary wars:
1. State clear objectives for any military action. We are involved in a war in Afghanistan that has objectives that have changed so many times that most people have no idea why we ever sent troops there in the first place! So far we have claimed to be fighting the people that conducted the attack on 9/11, to bring equality to their women and to give them democracy. The war in Iraq was more of the same. We bomb Yemen and unleash drones with very little justification. We find our nation supporting in Syria, the same groups we are fighting in Afghanistan. We bombed Libya, the most advanced nation in North Africa, back to the stone-age in order to bring them "democracy". Now we have a nation of warlord fiefdoms controlled by radical fundamentalists. The same thing is happening in Iraq with the body count rising every day.
2. Unless directly attacked, make it mandatory for any military action to be approved by Congress. It should also be a requirement that no information that could result in military action be kept from the American people. There is nothing more sacrosanct as human life, whether it is an American or foreign life. It is wrong to take lives from people based on secrets. To do otherwise is barbaric and against all International Law. We invaded Iraq based on lies, a violation of International Law, in fact it was aggression as defined by the Nuremberg trials, yet there were no charges against anyone ever filed. This was a war crime of the gr
3. If the United States enters into an armed conflict with any nation, a declaration of War must be declared. Police actions, preventative military actions, regime change are illegal and a ruse in order to enable a state of war to exist without actually declaring a state of war.
4. In order to maintain a large standing Army, Selective Service must be authorized. We can no longer use the economically disadvantaged to fight this nation's armed conflicts. Unless everyone shares this nation's military burden equally, there will be a disproportionate number of poor people that will fight in our military. The wealthiest among us, the same people that now make up a majority of our elected representatives, cannot be exempt from seeing their sons and daughters participation in wars that are justified by these same representatives. The reason for this is self-evident. Legislators would think twice because they would have "skin in the game".
5. "Whistle Blowers". When an enlisted person sees’s war crimes or observes plans to commit war crimes, people must understand that the "Chain of Command" will not suffice to rectify the situation. Bringing information about illegal actions by higher ranking individuals, will never see the light of day... up the chain. The Army protects its own. The military does not embrace those that question authority. Exposing war crimes by telling your superiors about your findings will not be appreciated. Understand that in a combat zone, they have your life in their hands. There are people wasting away in cells. There are Bradley Manning's everywhere, but their stories haven't been told.
6. Disabled Veterans. Soldiers that have suffered disabilities from fighting for people that watch the action on a TV screen or a computer monitor or even a Drone viewer with a joystick, apply for benefits in order to help them make their way through life, and face a bureaucratic nightmare. It is easier to bury someone or replace a damaged tank than it is to help a damaged soldier. The government doesn't mind risking a soldier’s life, but it is not that interested in restoring that same soldier so that he or she can resume a semblance of a "normal life". Six to eight months is the waiting time a veteran must endure before their case is evaluated. Once in review, that soldier faces a mountain of paperwork and medical evaluations by Doctors employed by the Veterans Administration. Many veterans must employ a lawyer in order to get "a fair shake" from the VA. The government is loath to provide assistance to veterans. The money spent on a veteran could repair a missile launcher.
7. Drone Attacks. The use of drones launching "Hellfire Missiles" in nations we are not at war with is an act of aggression and violates International Law. It doesn't matter who the "high value target" is. Killing people that have been put on a list is assassination. People in Yemen and Pakistan have been ruthlessly attacked and murdered by unseen drones they never see coning. The President of the United State acting as "Commander in Chief" is the one that authorizes the execution of certain human beings. Now we understand that American citizens are not exempt from an attack they never saw coming. Anwar Al-Alaki died in a desert in Yemen. His crime? He was disillusioned with his government's policy of indiscriminately killing Muslims. He was a journalist and was writing the truth for the wrong side. His punishment? Death from the sky. As if this wasn't bad enough, his young sixteen year old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who lived in Denver and was searching for his father's remains in Yemen, was the victim of a military "mistake" as the Commander in Chief explained it. This is Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks) explains this:
What have we become? What is our government capable of doing? This must end.
8. The United States pivoting to Asia. What exactly does that mean? Why are we "pivoting to Asia"? What are we pivoting anyway? Are we bringing the mighty military machine to the East? What are our intentions and objectives? The American people blindly accept this shift in policy without question. Why is this so? Are Americans so cowed that they dare not question the Empire? Are the legions of America's war machine now going back to Asia to finish the job they started in Vietnam? We are developing ties to Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand Australia and the Philippines. We are insisting that the Japanese re-arm in violation of their Constitution that we helped to write after World war II. What is the purpose and objective in this? Are we there to intimidate China, a nation that holds three Trillion dollars of US debt? Why is the public quiet? Where are the mainstream media? Why aren't they asking probing questions? Maybe because they are controlled by the same corporations that control the government.
9. Guantanamo. The President insists that we close the detention facilities there. He doesn't want to release the people there, he just wants to move them to the US. The Congress and the military are opposed to this. They don't want them to have the rights afforded to Americans like charges being brought and their right to a lawyer and the right of a trial by jury. Where is the "Commander in Chief" that has the power to execute those he deems dangerous and a threat to America like the sixteen year old kid from Denver? With power like that, why can't he issue an executive order to shut the place down and bring these dangerous people that have been held in limbo for almost a decade so that they can be charged and given the right to defend themselves?
He won't because aside from all this President's bluster. most of the prisoners have no real evidence against them, and would probably be freed.
10. The NSA and The First Amendment. This must be included in this article because of the significance of it. What Edward Snowden has revealed so far is that virtually every phone call, every text sent, everything said online on Facebook and other media sites , every tweet and every blog, along with every cell phone conversation is recorded and saved by the NSA. The President said that we need this to protect Americans from the "terrorists" that are everywhere. He also claimed that the government doesn't listen to your conversations or read you blog posts or your comments on Facebook. He revealed that calls to and from places outside of the United States may be looked at because the laws of the US no longer apply. He says that the courts decide what information may be looked at as long as there is a warrant. The real question here is how stupid does he think the American people are? The fact is that there is no way in hell that they could ascertain whether information about Americans was looked at or not. If you become "a person of interest", I can assure you that they can pull up every conversation, article, blog entry, Facebook comment or tweet going back years. Still the American people remain docile and dormant in the face of the greatest surveillance state the World has ever known.
I'm just making suggestions, asking questions and informing my fellow Americans on issues they should be aware of. I believe that most Americans are afraid to question authority and those that are not are lulled into a false sense of security by the mainstream media. Still there are many Americans that are justifiably as outraged as I am by the behavior of our government. Many of the facts presented here must be addressed. In reality, they will be addressed at some time. It will be resolved by war, execution, dictatorship or the destruction of our nation for violating International Law. and basic human rights.
Discarded by America, The Magna Charta, The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights (Posse Comitaitus (John Warner Defense Bill), NSA violations, Assassination without due process, conducting war without the consent of Congress, internment camps including camps in Afghanistan and the Balkans at Camp Bondsteel, and other violations of the Constitution and basic human rights along with violations of International Law). This is a short list, there are other violations.
As a former member of the military for a long period of my life, it pains me to write this. The truth is that as an American, it is my duty to inform the people of my country. In fact, at this present time, the government is meeting with some of the nations of Asia to perfect and implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will basically destroy much of our sovereignty. The Administration is trying to "fast-track" this bill by presenting the bill to Congress and demanding an up or down vote even though the TPP was written in secret and most of our vacant-minded Congress has not even read it. The treaty was exposed by Wikileaks and I advise all Americans to read it.
"Negotiated just as the worldwide democracy uprising threatens to reign in corporate interests, the agreement will limit governments’ ability to write banking regulations, energy policy, food safety standards and even government purchasing decisions. It will allow corporations and investors to sue governments for lost profits if the governments try to make and enforce environmental, labor and other laws." (Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future)
The question is this: When will my fellow Americans wake up and smell the deceit and corruption of Congress, The President and the Supreme Court? We all have a stake in these issues. There is so much more I could write about and I will, but I tried to stay on the military in this article. There will be another. We are all in an precarious situation and I feel that we all should be aware of what is happening as well as what is at stake. I thank you for reading this.
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