Chapter 7 – Public Writings: War, Military & Patriotism

Flying Flags Downtown (1-11)

As a former combat Marine, I am insulted by the ridiculously inadequate request to fly flags downtown to show support for the troops while the local Reserve unit is overseas in Afghanistan. Flags, indeed.

If you really want to support the troops you should contact the IRS and tell them to start deducting 20 percent of your income to pay for the wars. No American money to date has been paid for the Afghanistan or Iraq wars. The troops’ children and grandchildren will pay the Chinese back for the costs for these wars.

If you really want to support the troops you should contact your congressman and ask that as part of a compulsory national service for all young Americans, the military draft be reinstated. That way the troops will know that everyone must share in the fighting of these wars. Right now less than 1 percent of Americans are in the military.

If you really want to support the troops, you should contact your congressman and ask that Congress declare war on Afghanistan and Iraq since we have never done that. If these two actions cannot be declared wars by Congress because they are illegal and immoral invasions of sovereign countries which never attacked us, ask your congressman to have our political leaders tried as war criminals for putting the troops in harm’s way through their reckless and illegal actions.

From my own experience, whether or not flags are being flown in one’s hometown matters not a whit to a person in combat.

Flags. Ridiculous. There are serious conversations that need to be taking place. Flags are not one of them.

Militarization (7-09)

It is with a sense of dismay, sadness and creeping foreboding, that I see the continued militarisation of our holidays and our larger society. Our society has been trending towards that end, but with the Bush Administration’s invasion of two sovereign nations, it has accelerated at an alarming rate these last eight years.

The July 4th holiday is supposed to be about our country’s celebration of our independence from England. In all of the media that I encountered that day, television, radio, and newspapers, the main message was to support our troops that were fighting overseas. It was the same for Christmas, New Years, Easter, etc.

Holidays have been turned into military shows of protecting the “Homeland”. We are to honor active military personnel. But, that is hard to do when what they are doing is not honorable. How can we honor what is being done by our military in illegal and immoral invasions and occupations of nations we have destroyed?

What is happening to individual military members may be tragic; it may even be criminal. But, it is not honorable and should not be honored. Bush and Cheney, along with Johnson, Nixon and Reagan should all be prosecuted for war crimes. And, we as a nation should hang our collective heads in shame at having let this happen.

In our efforts to separate ourselves from military service, we have enabled this malaise to overtake us. Without the draft, without the shared burden and responsibility of making war on others, we have let our politicians enter into wars of choice since 1954. And if we question why our leaders would invade other countries “just because”, we are labeled as non-patriots.

Because of this, the military no longer has a sense of what it is for and where it stands in our society and in the larger scheme of things. The military and its members have an overblown sense of their importance. As an example, at the Fair last week the Marine recruiters were placed right next to the “Music Tent”. Their vehicle, which was constantly running, was six feet from the back of the tent. What little breeze there was, and it was a hot day, was blowing both the exhaust and the engine heat into the tent. When they were asked by people, and Fair representatives, to turn that engine off while people were sitting in the tent and listening to music, their answer was a resounding “NO”. They couldn’t turn off the engine because it was running a TV and that TV was part of their recruiting. That Marines can’t recruit without a TV for an hour is a ludicrous notion on its own. The second reason given was that they paid for that spot and they could, and would, do as they pleased whether or not it inconvenienced those 50-60 people who had come to listen to music.

Many people had to leave the tent as a result of the exhaust and heat from the Marine recruiter’s vehicle. I had the senior Marine call his superior so that I could explain the situation and ask him to have the vehicle turned off while people six feet away were listening to music. The Staff Sergeant I talked to on the phone said that they paid for that spot and they weren’t going to turn that vehicle off!

It is very disappointing to me as a former combat Marine to see what is happening to Marines, and other service members, in their understanding of what their place in the larger society is because of this supposed constant war footing. As I mentioned to the Marines that day, as a Marine 40 years ago I was more considerate of villagers in Vietnam than they were being towards Winneshiek County residents who were simply trying to listen to their kids and friends play music at the fair.

Dismaying, sad, and foreboding.

Sinclair Media Airing (10-15-04)

Dear Editor,

While still in the Marine Corps and shortly after my return from a year fighting in the rice paddies and mountains of Vietnam, because of my association with leaders of the organization ‘Members for a Democratic Military’, I was investigated by the Office of Naval Intelligence for ‘subversive activities and treason’. My conversations with MDM members gave a context to my serious misgivings about the war in Vietnam and the ONI investigation was enough to set me firmly in the anti-war movement.

It is an irony that most of the veterans who were in the anti-war movement during Vietnam were combat veterans. You had to have medals to throw them away, and to experience war is to know its insanity and its uselessness. Those who were vilified most at home were some of those who gave the most during the war.

If they are former POW’s, the officers who will appear in the ‘Sinclair airing’ are lucky to be alive today. Almost all of our enlisted personnel captured during Vietnam were simply shot.

There used to be an unspoken ethic between combat veterans to not denigrate another veterans’ combat experience.

We combat veterans who were in the Vietnam anti-war movement, and continue to work today for peace and justice in this country, are used to being misunderstood and misperceived both by the general public and by many veterans’ organizations. John Kerry is not alone in that respect. But, it is not a particularly comfortable situation especially considering all that we have done, and continue to do, for our country.


How long will we be prisoners? (9-7-04)

Dear Editor,

How long will we be prisoners?

The last paragraph of an article by Neil A. Lewis in the New York Times reads: “Some of the journalists at Guantanamo for the war crimes trials attended the other proceedings and acted as a media pool. The pool reporters said there had been disputes about the quality of these translations as well. At one hearing, the pool journalists reported that a Saudi prisoner in his 20s denied charges he had been at a certain Al-Qaida training facility and asked who had made that charge. The three-member panel said the information was classified and could not be shared with him.”

Those of us who actually fight wars more often than not have more in common with those we are daily fighting against than we do with those who have sent us to war. Rather than sadly prostituting themselves in crass politics, US combat veterans should be voicing concern with, and opposition to, what is happening to foreign combat veterans captured in Afghanistan.

For the first time in modern warfare, leaders of one country, the Bush administration, are redefining the role of the everyday combat soldier and subjecting them to the absurd Kafkaesque-like condition portrayed in Neil Lewis’s article; secret proceedings with secret accusers. How long will we hold these young men prisoner? Till they are 80? For what? For fighting in a war?

This sets the chilling precedent of never returning combatants to their lawful homes. What would US citizens say about US combat soldiers taken prisoner in a war never being returned from capture? What would US mothers say about a system which denies their captured sons or daughters the right to even know who was charging them of what war crime?

Today many US veterans are busy dumping on the time honored tradition of never casting doubt on a combat veteran’s combat experience. Whether because of senility or a jealous sense of inadequacy, it is very sad for me to see these US veterans, some of whom actually are combat veterans themselves, dirtying themselves for some perceived political gain, rather than paying attention to what these crass Orwellian leaders are doing to the status of future prisoners of war.

We would be much better off if we had someone steeped in ‘peace making’ running this country. Maybe then, “Let my people go” would have real meaning, and combat prisoners of war could look forward to going home instead of spending their life in a cage.

When War is not the Answer-a View From a U.S. Veteran (4-26-04)

One of the reasons for my undertaking this speaking tour is selfish. I want our society to stop creating people like me. I am both the best and the worst person to be speaking to you about these subjects. The best, because I speak from personal experience, and, the worst, because I must deal, every day of my life, with what that experience has done to me.

For the last 50 years the United States has followed a Military/Interventionist foreign policy. Because the military has been an instrument in that foreign policy, veterans have gained an experiential knowledge unique to U.S. citizens. That knowledge takes two different forms and informs us in two different areas. One form is emotive and the message is about war itself. The other form is intellectual and the message is a factual/historical account of the way the U.S. has created its own wars.

We as a society have been indifferent, unable or loathe to hear those messages. Part of the problem in hearing the emotive message about modern offensive combat and what it does to people is that those veterans who have gained that knowledge are too young, usually 19 to 20, to be sophisticated enough to articulate that story. Another part of the problem is society’s inability to hear what the veterans are saying. We simply have no cultural milieu, no categories in which the account of modern combat can fit. We, as a society, are not receptive to this life changing information, and even more, may not want to hear it.

What is the evidence that our society refuses to hear this message from combat veterans? A full 60,000 vets, as many as actually died fighting in Vietnam, committed suicide after their return, though they are not officially counted as casualties of that war. We did not, or could not, listen to them. Internalizing these rejections, and the emotive message itself, has resulted in alcohol and drug abuse, violence and homelessness for veterans. We incarcerated so many veterans that Vietnam veterans made up the largest minority population in U.S. prisons in the ’70’s and ’80’s. Factor in the half million Vietnam vets still suffering from untreated combat related PTSD, and our responding silence is deafening. This rejection is not unique to Vietnam veterans. It also applies to veterans from our other recent wars in Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Implementing foreign policy has given the combat veteran personal experience in how our country proceeds overseas. The intellectual message the veteran has for us is a fact-based historical account of our actions leading up to and during our last five major military conflicts. In brief, military interventionist foreign policy is often carried out covertly by the CIA/NSA and has poisoned the attitude of much of the world toward the U.S. Employing dirty tricks, bribery, intimidation, assassination, and invasion by CIA armies or CIA controlled armies, this foreign policy has created the conditions which have resulted in our military’s last five major conflicts.

Political leaders are once again asking why the CIA didn’t know some important body of intelligence like the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, or the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. To combat veterans who have been in or worked with CIA armies and assassins, the answer is simple. The CIA was originally, and still is today, a covert military organization. Any intelligence is simply a by-product of those endeavors.

The real questions to be asked of the CIA should be why it has its own armies, assassins, and weapons systems procurement programs? Why was the first soldier killed in Afghanistan in a CIA army? Why, when the Army’s weapons are not lethal enough, are they able to bring in much more lethal versions that belong to the CIA? Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Noriega’s Panama and Afghanistan are all former CIA covert operations and former U.S. allies. Other countries which have suffered from our military/interventionist foreign policy include, but are not limited to: Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Cuba, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.

I would like to expand on this notion with a little history of American combat since 1954.

In the early ’40s, after the capitulation of the French to the Japanese in what was then called French Indochina, the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s original name, chose Ho Chi Minh’s Nationalist Vietminh Party to carry on the fight against the Japanese. The OSS funded, armed and supplied intelligence to the Vietnamese who undertook this war with the understanding that the U.S. would recognize their independence and sovereignty if a successful end was achieved. It was and the OSS Station Chief, a U.S. Army Major, is shown with Ho during Vietnam’s Independence ceremonies.

Because DeGaulle’s condition for allowing the Marshall Plan to be undertaken in France after World War II was the U.S.’s help in retaking French Indochina, we threw over the Vietnamese and supplied, armed and transported French forces in their campaign to regain their old possessions. Because we were involved throughout this new war supplying arms and materiel, when the French were finally defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, we were easily able to pick up the struggle, which we did.

After Dien Bien Phu we can, with historical certainty, show the old paradigm of using the military for our country’s defense is wholly superceded by the new paradigm of using the military as an instrument to bring about this country’s governments’ political and business ambitions throughout the world.

All American soldiers killed in combat since 1954 have died unnecessarily and unjustly. All those wounded, either physically or psychologically, have been cheated out of great portions of their lives because of the misguided notion of U.S. politicians that all decisions made by other cultures throughout the world, as to how they choose to set up their societies, are subject to U.S. approval. If our government doesn’t approve, through the application of force by the CIA or our military, we will attempt to change it. Obviously for us, and for the rest of the world, this has been a catastrophic policy and needs to end.

Panama, along with most of Central America, has been controlled by the U.S. military and the CIA since we first dug the canal. Noriega’s mistake was to think that he truly was the leader of Panama, and that he could cash in on some of the lucrative drug trade that was passing through Central America. A former Marine I know says that in his ten year career in the Marines he went to Panama and put Noriega in power, and then went down and took him out again.

To understand Afghanistan we must go back to the early and middle ’70s when Henry Kissenger was trying to figure out a way to give Russia their own Vietnam. Contrary to most people’s understanding of when we became involved in Afghanistan, (most believe we went in after the Russians invaded), Henry bet that if we armed the anti-modernity warlords in the mountains, they would attack the modern secularists in the cities and the Russians would invade to protect the cities. That is exactly what happened and history has marched on, with U.S. support of the mujahadine fighters and even the Taliban, all the way to 9-11. We reap what we sow.

Iraq became our ally after the Iranian hostage crisis, although the CIA first hired Saddam as an assassin in 1958 and orchestrated the coup which brought the Baath Party to power in 1972. We funded, armed, sold precursors to WMD, and supplied Iraq with intelligence all through the ’80s in their war against the Iranians. It was only when Iraq had views of an expanded empire, and received mixed messages from the State Department about that endeavor, that they made the mistake of trying to annex Kuwait and we once again had to reign in a monster of our own making. Iraq II follows and is still ongoing.

For obvious reasons, both for political leaders, and for our citizens’ sense of who they are in the world, this message from veterans, that we have been fighting our own creations, is very uncomfortable. But, as the Berrigans are fond of saying, we can’t just protest against each individual war, we must change the underlying structural behavior of our nation which creates war in the first place.

One behavior we should discuss is the history of our country’s use of ‘just’ and ‘moral’ language when talking about war.

War is death and destruction, mayhem and terror. There is nothing that happens within a war that can have anything to do with ‘just’ or ‘moral’ language.

There are many different kinds of war. There are wars of aggression, conquest and revenge. There are wars for material goods, markets, raw materials, energy sources, food, and water. There are genocidal wars, religious wars, racial wars, wars of honor, national interest and national security. There may even be wars that are necessary. A war to defend the land you live on from an invasion might be one, but there can never be a ‘just war’ or a theory using ‘just’ or ‘moral’ language to say it’s okay to fight a war, or to talk about actions within a war. Fighting a defensive war has nothing to do with ‘just’ or ‘moral’, but fighting a defensive war might sometimes be a ‘necessary’ action to save your life and those you love. I contend that although war is sometimes ‘necessary’, it is always outside of what we normally consider human moral action.

There is nothing ‘just’, either, about war for those people, typically males between the ages of 17 and 35, who must actually fight it. Why they individually of their society must fight a war, or why their generation must fight a war, can never be justified in relation to those who don’t have to fight. Even in today’s so-called volunteer armies, the volunteers are mostly from the lower socio-economic classes who see the military as an occupation to better themselves and don’t typically enlist to be killed. Those fighting will always die unjustly. A war that is necessary to defend one’s land doesn’t need any jingoism or convincing to get people to fight. Most people will fight to defend their kin and what is theirs. The adoption of Universal Service for all citizens of this country would lay the groundwork for that to happen if the need ever arises. I will have more to say on Universal Service later.

The logical argument against a ‘just’ or ‘moral’ aspect to war is this: if we allow rules or conventions for war, we ritualize that behavior. By ritualizing or justifying with rules when a war is okay, or when certain actions in a war are okay, we create an institution of war within society. Because institutions seem to have a life of their own, we would never be able to rid ourselves of war.

By considering war always outside morality, or amoral, I think we can allow war to be discussed in its reality, with positive steps towards its decline.

By having no conventions (war in reality), all people of a society will be responsible for its prosecution or consequences. This would result in a quantum leap in individual peoples concerns and stakes in a war involving their society. In essence, there would be no protections for any individuals. All would risk all.

If actions within all wars, including defensive wars, were considered immoral or amoral, we would create no positive role models, no heroes, to be aspired to. This would, I think, hasten the demise of war. Those people who might have to engage in a defensive war would not be considered immoral, but rather would be amoral/necessary actors.

I still have war but I don’t have arguments about who’s right. Everyone is always wrong. I believe that is a positive step towards war’s demise.

Well, what can we do? We can start by abolishing the CIA and the NSA. We can bring our military home from the 130-plus countries they are currently in and cut their budget in half. We can let the State Department conduct foreign policy through diplomacy. We can fully fund the United Nations and all its programs.

To do those things we will have to take back our political process. Like it or not, the political realm is where we make our national decisions. Because money and corporate interests now control our politics, and because the Supreme Court has concluded both that money is free speech, and that corporations are people, those two rulings must be changed in order to have true campaign finance reform, and to be able to regulate politics. Those of you in non-profit organizations, you who, more than most others in our society, educate yourselves and pay attention to what is going on in this country, must find a way to use your collective voice in the political arena.

People must care about their country in order to put forth the effort to accomplish these things. All too often, Americans sense of freedom is a freedom from. Free from duties and responsibilities. Free from government. To re-instill a sense of ownership of our country, and all that that ownership would entail for an appropriate sense of rights and duties, we should have Universal Service for all citizens. Today we can spend our whole lives seeing and interacting with only those who think and look like ourselves. Universal Service, through working for your country, would instill a sense of ownership of the country in people and bring back all the positives that accrue from working with others in the melting pot.

Finally, end Military/Interventionist Foreign Policy. Quit using the military as an instrument of foreign policy and let future veterans return to the honorable role of defenders of our land and its people. Thank you.

Ashcroft conducting religious war in Iowa? (2-19-04)

So, now that, courtesy of the Patriot Act, we in Iowa are completely through the ‘looking glass’ where peace activists are now considered terrorists and other upside down things abound, we can safely ask the question, “Is John Ashcroft conducting a religious war in Iowa?”

Admittedly there was a dangerous message coming out of the planning committee, dangerous in the sense that if citizens hear and understand it, they might not want to continue the behavior which creates and sustains our American Empire overseas. But that message was from me and other combat veterans who by prosecuting U.S. foreign policy through war, working with or having been in CIA Armies and assassins, have gained an experiential knowledge unique to U.S. citizens. Since I was not subpoenaed, and was the only combat veteran on the planning committee, apparently danger to the U.S. is not what this secret, secret Grand Jury is really about.

What do the peace activists who have been subpoenaed have in common that might be dangerous to the fundamentalist Christian John Ashcroft? They all are, or were, part of the Catholic Worker movement, and as such, are all followers of the ‘historical Jesus’ who is, and who’s message is in stark contrast to the sanitized, mythologized version of Jesus found in John Ashcroft’s fundamentalist Bible.

Absurd you say? Well, no more absurd than to think that avowed non-violent Catholic Workers who have succored the poor and downtrodden in Des Moines for the last 25 years are suddenly terrorists, just because an Administration built on lies and deceptions and that is crumbling from within, says they are.

Iowans should be repulsed by this action.

Peace Vigil Remarks (2-15-04)

For the last 50 years the United States has followed a Military/Interventionist foreign policy. Because the military has been an instrument in that foreign policy, veterans have gained an experiential knowledge unique to U.S. citizens. That knowledge takes two different forms and informs us in two different areas. One form is emotive and the message is about war itself. The other form is intellectual and the message is a factual/historical account of the way the U.S. has created its own wars.

We as a society have been indifferent, unable or loathe to hear those messages. Part of the problem in hearing the emotive message about modern offensive combat and what it does to people is that those veterans who have gained that knowledge are too young, usually 19 to 20, to be sophisticated enough to articulate that story. Another part of the problem is society’s inability to hear what the veterans are saying. We simply have no cultural milieu, no categories in which the account of modern combat can fit. We, as a society, are not receptive to this life changing information, and even more, may not want to hear it.

What is the evidence for us not wanting to hear this message from combat veterans? A full 60,000 vets, as many as actually died fighting in Vietnam, committed suicide after their return. We did not, or could not, listen to them. Internalizing these rejections, and the emotive message itself, has resulted in alcohol and drug abuse, violence and homelessness for veterans. We incarcerated so many veterans that Vietnam veterans made up the largest minority population in U.S. prisons in the ’70’s and ’80’s. Factor in the half million Vietnam vets still suffering from untreated combat related PTSD, and our responding silence is deafening. This rejection is not unique to Vietnam veterans. It also applies to veterans from our other recent wars in Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Prosecuting foreign policy has given the combat veteran personal experience in how our country proceeds overseas. The intellectual message the veteran has for us is a fact based historical account of our actions leading up to and during our last five major military conflicts. In brief, military interventionist foreign policy is often carried out covertly by the CIA/NSA and has poisoned the attitude of much of the world toward the U.S. Employing dirty tricks, bribery, intimidation, assassination, and invasion by CIA armies or CIA controlled armies, this foreign policy has created the conditions which have resulted in our military’s last five major conflicts.

Political leaders are once again asking why the CIA didn’t know some important body of intelligence like the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11, or the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. To combat veterans who have been in or worked with CIA armies and assassins, the answer is simple. The CIA was originally, and still is today, a covert military organization. Any intelligence is simply a by-product of those endeavors. The real questions to be asked of the CIA should be why it has its own armies, assassins, and weapons systems procurement programs? Why was the first soldier killed in Afghanistan in a CIA army? Why, when the Army’s weapons are not lethal enough, are they able to bring in much more lethal versions that belong to the CIA? Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Noriega’s Panama and Afghanistan are all former CIA covert operations and former U.S. allies. Other countries which have suffered from our military/interventionist foreign policy include, but are not limited to: Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Cuba, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.

For obvious reasons, both for political leaders, and for our citizens sense of who they are in the world, this message from veterans, that we have been fighting our own creations, is very uncomfortable. But, as the Berrigans are fond of saying, we can’t just protest against each individual war, we must change the underlying structural behavior of our nation which creates war in the first place.

Well, what can we do? We can start by abolishing the CIA and the NSA. We can bring our military home and cut their budget in half. We can let the State Department conduct foreign policy through diplomacy. We can fully fund the United Nations and all its programs.

To do those things we will have to take back our political process. Like it or not, the political realm is where we make our national decisions. Because money and corporate interests now control our politics, and because the Supreme Court has concluded both that money is free speech, and that corporations are people, those two rulings must be changed in order to have true campaign finance reform, and to be able to regulate politics.

People must care about their country in order to put forth the effort to accomplish these things. All too often, Americans sense of freedom is a freedom from. Free from duties and responsibilities. Free from government. To re-instill a sense of ownership for our country, and all that that ownership would entail for an appropriate sense of rights and duties, we should have Universal Service for all citizens. The melting pot was one element which identified and built this country. Today we can spend our whole lives seeing and interacting with only those who think and look like ourselves. Universal Service, through working for your country, would instill a sense of ownership of the country in people and bring back all the positives that accrue from working with others in the melting pot.

Finally, let future veterans return to the honorable role of defenders of our land and its people.

Thank you.

Leaders should face consequences of war (10-28-03)

In an Ethics class, I was once in the unenviable position of holding seemingly contradictory moral stances concerning war. In one week I argued that there could be no moral justification of or for war. In the next week I argued that there could be no morality in war once war had been undertaken. Although the two positions are seemingly contradictory, I had it on the highest authority that the two could be and were true–myself. As a former combat Marine in Vietnam, my government had given me the equivalent of an ‘Advanced Degree in Applied Foreign Policy’ with a complimentary degree in ‘Moral and Ethical Decisions in Real Life Settings’.

In the Sunday, October 19th, Des Moines Register story, ‘Marine reservists to face charges for POW treatment’, we see once again foot soldiers facing the difficulties and costs of a governments unwise use of military might. Since 1954 this country has only fought against its former allies and/or former CIA client states or organizations. In other words, none of us who are veterans from Vietnam onward needed to be veterans. Through our use of military/interventionist foreign policy (mostly through CIA invasions and assassinations), we created the conditions in Vietnam, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan that we then felt we needed to end with a military invasion.

All Marines are trained to be foot soldiers. From boot camp on, the tactics and weapons training have only one purpose, to kill people. As I argued as a philosophy student, when you are in war you are either killed or you kill someone else, there are no rules for combatants if you want to stay alive.

As was the case with my combat battalion, Marines in Iraq go from a seemingly normal environment to one that rains death and destruction with no warning. You just blow up and are dead. Your response to that has nothing to do with what we as civilized people consider moral or ethical. You simply kill the people who are trying to kill you. Sorry. If we as a country don’t like that, then we shouldn’t be creating wars when they don’t need to be created.

It is the American leaders who should face the consequences and charges for unwisely using war as a foreign policy tool, further justifying the hatred that many people around the world have for us and our children.

 

Fighting Against Our Own Foreign Policy (4-1-03)

Dear Editor,

I wholeheartedly agree with Rick Fromm’s statement in his Tuesday column. I quote Fromm: “Those who produce weapons of mass slaughter, and are willing to give/sell them to those who would gleefully use them against innocent people, anywhere on earth, must be stopped.”

And who was it who gave/sold Saddam his weapons of mass slaughter? It was us. Part of the billions in arms aid we gave Iraq in the ’80’s, our tax dollars at work, were chemical and biological precursors. We are not fighting for freedom. We are fighting against our own foreign policy!

Is this the first time we have had to fight against our own foreign policy? No. We funded and armed Ho Chi Minh and then fought him. We funded and armed Noriega and then fought him. We funded and armed Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and had to, and still are, fighting him and them.

We need to regain control of our government from those who would pursue economic domination of the world through military might. We need to clean house of those politicians who take money from corporations and then turn a blind eye to the havoc they create throughout the world while pursuing the almighty dollar. If we don’t stop the foreign policy we have been pursuing for the last 55 years, peace activists will always be protesting our latest war, and, military mothers and fathers will always be sending sons and daughters to die on foreign soil.

Patriotism and Sports (3-9-03)

Nancy Clark’s rant against women’s college basketball player Toni Smith is absurd.

The argument seems to be that veterans fought and died for freedom, but woe be to anyone who expresses freedom if we don’t like that particular expression. Does that mean then that those veterans who died for freedom actually died in vain?

I suggest Clark think about decoupling flags, anthems and sporting events rather than piling on some kid who shows guts and thoughtfulness where little of that is evident in the country right now.

As a former combat Marine and a disabled Vietnam veteran, I’m glad Smith is using the freedoms I fought for.


Making A Case For Veterans Creating A World Where Veterans Are Not Created (12-25-02)

I am a former bush Marine. In my year in the rice paddies and mountains of Vietnam I was a radio operator with 2nd Battalion 5th Marines 1st Marine Division. I ran air and arty as well as worked general communications in this grunt outfit. I walked point, sat lines and was a tunnel rat with my flashlight and 45. I was in ambushes, crashed in helicopters and lived in foxholes. Our outfit was always out in the bush. We had firefights most every day or night. Regiment trolled with us. When we hit the shit, if we couldn’t handle it ourselves, Regiment would send out reinforcements. Even our rear area, if and when we got to go there, was so dangerous that no USO shows were allowed. We lived with Agent Orange missions being sprayed everywhere we went. Seventy percent of our casualties were from boobytraps. We’d be humping along and people would just blow up. We were bush Marines baptized into the brotherhood of warriors through combat. But now I’m a peace and justice candidate for the U.S. Senate believing that veterans are the people with the experience to create a world where veterans like us don’t need to be created. How can that be?

Combat has both a physical, and a psychological and spiritual side to it. The physical includes death, wounds, pain, sleeplessness, fatigue, superhuman effort, sickness, disease, cold, heat, dry, wet, and anything else associated with living in the elements with pieces of metal and flames constantly shredding, burning and blowing up anything and anyone around you .

The psychological and spiritual side of combat include fear, terror, worry, anxiety, paranoia, regret, sadness, disgust, distaste, remorse, care, love, bravery, kindness, honor, respect, selfless regard, regard for others, trust, distrust, like, dislike, morals, ethics and any other mental situation or construct that a conscious being must deal with in a constant life threatening situation, a situation which goes on for days, weeks, and even months without a break.

When combat veterans talk about war, these are the things they talk about. Conversations and descriptions concerning these combat conditions in war from combat veterans can be found in histories and literature going back to antiquity. Combat, and the brotherhood that it creates, is a universal trait and exists for the veteran no matter what kind of war he was in or when in history or prehistory he was in it. The experience of combat is the universal experience which bonds veterans and gives them their warrior identity regardless of the particular war this combat was experienced in. Wars are different and particular, combat is universal.

There are many different kinds of war. There are wars of aggression, conquest and revenge. There are wars for material goods, markets, raw materials, energy sources, food, and water. There are genocidal wars, religious wars, racial wars, wars of honor, national interest and national security. Finally, there are wars to actually defend a country’s land and its people from invasion. And, there have even been philosophical arguments put forth that try to justify a particular war on moral or ethical grounds.

There may be wars that are necessary, a war to defend the land you live on from an invasion might be one, but, there can never be a ‘just war’ or a theory using ‘just’ language to say it’s okay to fight a war. From an experiential viewpoint there is nothing just about war. War is death and destruction, mayhem and terror. There is nothing just either about war for those people, typically males between the ages of 17 and 35, who must actually fight the war. Even in today’s so-called volunteer armies, the volunteers are mostly from the lower socio-economic classes who see the military as an occupation to better themselves and don’t typically enlist to be killed. A war that is necessary to defend ones land doesn’t need any jingoism or convincing to get people to fight. Most people will fight to defend their kin and what is theirs. Fighting has nothing to do with ‘just’ or ‘justice’, but fighting might sometime be necessary and, instead of ‘just’, has everything to do with saving your life and saving those you love.

What does this have to do with veterans creating a world without veterans? Well, we now have veterans whose camaraderie and identity is with fellow combat veterans throughout the ages regardless of the particular war they fought in. We have veterans who know they win honor in ‘combat’ and the honor won has to do with their combat experience and has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the particular war in which they fought. Honor can be won personally in combat without regard to the larger conflicts’ standing. That leaves the veteran with the ability to pass judgment on whether or not a proposed war should be fought and not have to be for any and all wars in order to retain his or her honor and identity. The veterans’ legitimacy and identity comes from the universal combat experience and not the particular war.

The combat veteran is the person in a society with the experience to understand war in all its ramifications. If that veteran understands the particular issues for which a government might want to use war, and also understands that there are no just or moral wars, government arguments aside, that veteran would be free to say no to any war, without compromising his identity, except for the necessary war of defending his land from invasion. Again, the veterans’ identity has been freed up from war in general. He no longer has to be for all wars to retain his legitimate identity. The veterans’ identity comes from the ‘universal combat experience’ and gives that veteran the ability to speak to a particular war without jeopardizing his identity as an honorable combat veteran.

I’m hoping all combat veterans will join me in the journey from ‘bush Marine’ to peace and justice advocate working towards ending wars’ use as a political tool and returning war to its necessary role in defending a country’s people and land. War is a sign that the political process has failed, just as illness is a sign that the immune system has failed. This is where we veterans are especially important: we, more than anyone, should have the motivation to make sure that the political process does not fail – because we, more than anyone, know what it means for the political process to have failed. Together we veterans can help create a world where veterans like us are no longer created.

Bob Watson
www.oneota.net/~watsoncampaign


Colombia, Venezuela strategy familiar one.  (1-2000)

It seems manifest destiny is alive and well both in the outgoing Clinton and incoming Bush administrations.  Specifically in regards to Colombia and Venezuela.

Dressed in the guise of fighting drugs, we are spending $1.6 billion and counting on Colombia’s civil war.  So far, this has meant U.S. Green Berets and other U.S. “trainers” and “advisors” in Colombia.

We have given them 57 helicopters with parts and support, personnel, weapons, ammunition and defoliants.  We are, unbeknownst to the Senate oversight committee, building up base assets in neighboring countries to support our Colombian activities costing us millions more, and costing thousands of Colombians their lives.

Does this sound remotely familiar?  Shades of Guatemala 1954, Indonesia 1965, Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia in the 1960s and ‘70s, Chile in the 1970s and El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s.

We assassinated heads of state, overthrew legitimate governments and killed “millions” of peasants and campesenos.  We ruined ecosystems and environments for years to come and left surviving populations genetically predisposed to horrible birth defects in their children.

Meanwhile, at home, we lied to our own citizens about causes, purposes, costs and the legitimacy of our actions.

Because Venezuelan oil makes up 18 percent of our oil imports, and their new president seems unwilling to kowtow to Washington, members of the new Bush team are already plotting Chavez’s overthrow.  The strategy is to build up Venezuela’s military with U.S. funding and training in hopes that their supposed unease with Chavez would result in his ouster and guarantee our continued access to Venezuela’s oil.

I’m never sure who to be more angry at, the fools creating and carrying out these militaristic policies, or the seeming lemmings in whose name and with whose apparent acquiescence these policies are carried out.

End the drug war.  Leave Colombia and its people alone.  Take the crime, criminals and money out of drugs by legalizing them.  Let those already in prison because of non-violent drug offenses out.

Leave Venezuela to the Venezuelans.  Rather than wasting our money and scientists on a second star wars debacle, we should be committing our resources to developing an infrastructure based on renewable energy sources and do it before present oil reserves are exhausted.

We wouldn’t have enemies around the world if we didn’t need their resources.

 

Flag burning. (1-23-94)

It is at least somewhat comforting to know that State Representative Teresa Garman will have a “very warm feeling” toward me “as a veteran” when, if Ms. Garman is successful in her flag-burning resolution (“Flag Debate Looks Likely,” Jan. 14 Register), I am arrested for burning a flag in protest of her law.

Those of us who spent enough time in combat to have our minds twisted enough can once again see clearly, like the framers of our Constitution before us who were also reborn to the human condition through their own baptism by gunfire.  They recognized that it is the human that is important, and not the symbol.

To elevate a symbol in value above a human being, to throw a human in prison because of a piece of cloth, is sheer folly.  I would expect this kind of law coming from Russia’s ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but not from a fellow Iowan.

It is ironic that those of us who risked so much in our youth might, once again, have to risk much in order to protect our freedoms.  It is doubly ironic that this enemy comes from within.

 

U.S. Should Aid Viet Nam, Purge War’s Memories.  (1-1993)

So Senator Grassley says that he is still not prepared to favor lifting U.S. sanctions against the government of Vietnam.  And, can’t say specifically what would change his mind (Re: Jan. 14, 1993 Register article, “Grassley: Search for MIA’s has Ended with Questions”).

I can give Senator Grassley millions of reasons to lift sanctions.  Namely, to allow those of us, Vietnamese and Americans alike, who prosecuted the war, lived in and through the war and its devastation, and protested involvement in or vehemently supported the war, the ability to experience catharsis.

“Catharsis: The ability to purge or purify the emotions; to eliminate a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression.”  In essence, the same ability this country has always afforded its enemies and its own people.

The Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Japan after World War II, and, the effort to help Russia after the Cold War are examples of catharsis.  Access to travel and cultural exchanges promote cathartic experiences.  Jingoistic “We Put Vietnam Behind Us” by bombing Iraq, or pop psychology “Why can’t they just get on with their lives” is not catharsis.

The specter of Vietnam remains with us.  Until we as a whole society learn to deal with it and quit trying to deny it, Vietnam will continue to pop up and haunt us at the most inopportune times.  Recently, “Where were you during the war, Mr. Clinton?” intruded upon the American psyche.  And this American problem doesn’t even begin to speak to the injustice being done to the people of Vietnam by the U.S. imposed sanctions.

Those in our government, like Senator Grassley, who because of position or power were able to stay aloof from the conflict and controversy during the Vietnam War can’t seem to sympathize, let alone empathize, with those of us still affected by it today.  To them, Vietnam is an objective political pawn to be used to further a narrow political agenda.  They cannot seem to understand that because of the inability to obtain a catharsis between the two societies, millions still suffer.  Rather, people like Grassley use the MIA/POW issue (itself a crass and cruel hoax) to pander to a particular political segment of the population, defining for themselves political turf to be protected over and against “them.”

So, if Senator Grassley needs reasons to lift the sanctions, he should look around at the millions of us who are waiting for our own Marshall Plan, waiting for the chance to finally unravel the riddles that Vietnam has made of our lives.


Gays in the Military.  (1992)

As a combat veteran (U.S. Marine Corps, 1966-70), I have always been interested in the denial mentality that exists when Americans talk about their military.

Whether or not people want to admit it, the military’s job, ultimately, is killing people.  If you are proficient in this category, I cannot understand the relevance of your sexual preference.  Sexual preference pales in relation to killing other human beings.


Vets: zoning is freedom we fought for.  (1992)

Although I was personally not at the last public zoning meeting, it has come to my attention that an argument I hold dear and use upon occasion may have been used inappropriately.  The argument I am speaking of was put forth by some veterans who attended that meeting and are opposed to any county zoning.

Their argument states that county zoning would take away many of the freedoms they fought for in wars.  I believe they are profoundly mistaken and do an injustice to other veterans who use that argument in appropriate situations.  Because this argument is such a powerful argument if used correctly, many people are swayed or cowed simply by its use.  People also assume those veterans using it are correct and know what they are talking about.

Because of this argument’s power of  persuasion, and because this argument can be used only so many times incorrectly (the Peter-cried-wolf syndrome) before its political capital is bankrupt, we should see if its application to county zoning is correct.

Freedom as a concept has many different meanings, different connotations and different relative priorities to different people.

Normally when we speak of why we fight wars, the freedoms which are verbalized are those outlined in our constitution, namely to be free to speak our minds, to hold opinions different than others, to practice religious or personal beliefs without persecution.  We also fight to be free to live where we want, to associate with whom we want, to live as we want in our own lives.  These are some senses of freedom, among others that can be named, that I feel are important enough to stand my ground about against someone trying to take them away from me.

There exist other things that I am free to do but because I live in a society of other humans I am not at liberty to do.  Or if I do them, I forfeit some or all of my freedoms and even sometimes my life.  These freedoms are of the kind that if I do them I take away others’ freedoms.

For instance, I am free to kill my neighbor but I am not at liberty to do so.  I have agreed not to do certain things in order for all of us in the society to live at peace with one another.  If I do kill my neighbor, and I am free to do so, society will take away all my freedoms in response.  We have agreed that for all of us to enjoy life, the freedom to take a life is not a freedom we will allow.

County zoning, although certainly not about killing, is of this type of freedom.  We as a society agree that there are certain things we will not allow neighbors to do to other neighbors.  If I have worked all my life for a beautiful and peaceful piece of property, I would hope no one would be so insensitive and rude as to buy property beside me and, say, turn it into a rock quarry, thereby depriving me of the fruits of my lifelong work simply because they had enough money to do so.  You can all think of something that is now not in your neighborhood which, if you could not prevent it from being in your neighborhood, would basically ruin your life.

This sense of freedom, freedom from unwanted and unwarranted intrusions upon our lives, is what county zoning is about.  We all agree, or as many as possible, what and where new kinds of things will be allowed into our neighborhoods.

In fact, if those veterans at the last zoning meeting had been clear about what zoning is, they would have understood that zoning is the type of freedom they fought to preserve.

Zoning is a freedom from unscrupulous and uncaring people who have too much money and don’t give a damn about anyone else’s life.  As a veteran, I would gladly fight again to preserve that freedom.

If at further zoning meetings these veterans persist in their line of argument, please don’t hold it against all of us.  Or when we use that argument, please don’t tell us you’ve heard it all before.

And to you veterans who are using this argument, please try to figure out what’s really going on before no one will listen to any of us.


Clinton dodged the real war issue.  (2-24-92)

What Bill Clinton or anyone else did in order to serve or not serve in Vietnam is not the point.  What Bill Clinton learned from Vietnam is important.

Apparently he learned nothing about the ravages of war itself.  I guess he thinks war waged by someone other than himself, against others than himself, is just fine.

How else to explain his bestowing Arkansas “Traveller” citations on contra figures Adolfo and Mario Calero and Gen. John Singlaub, and Clinton’s other numerous shady connections with the illegal war against Nicaragua?

No, it is not in itself important whether Clinton served in Vietnam.  It is important whether Clinton learned anything from our generation’s most defining question.  I submit he maintains an elitist attitude toward war.  It’s OK for somebody else but not for me.

As a 20-year-old Marine Corps sergeant in 1969 in the rice paddies and mountains of Vietnam, what I learned about war was totally different.

 

Concerns Group seeks unified county position.  (2-6-92)

The Central America Concerns Group of Winneshiek County recently met to draft planks for inclusion in our upcoming county party platforms in the area of Latin America.

If you have supported our group’s efforts in the past and would like to help us present a unified position throughout the county, please take this letter to your precinct caucus and introduce these three planks into your platform.

1. Since we recognize that no nation has the right to interfere with the free self-determination of other peoples,

And since we recognize that no one is free while anyone’s human rights are violated,

And since the New World order requires that U.S. forces be limited to action within U.S. borders,

We demand that the U.S. government prohibit all sales or transfer of military arms to foreign nations.  That the U.S. government cease all training, funding and advising of foreign military, security and police forces, and that the U.S. government refuse to trade with any nation whose own policies are not consistent with these principles.

2. Lift the trade embargo against Cuba.

3. Since the U.S. has determined that certain industrial and agricultural practices and substances have contributed to global environmental deterioration and injustices, we insist that the U.S. not allow the export of practices or substances which are prohibited in the U.S.


Opinion (Thoughts on the Gulf War)  (2-21-91)

Is the war in the Gulf cheating our children out of their patriotism?  I think the answer is yes and that a good argument can be made to prove it.

First, let me say that I believe joining the military to protect America an honorable endeavor.  In fact, I did so myself in 1966.  Is, though, the Gulf War protecting America or even an honorable undertaking?

One of the main reasons we hear we are in the Gulf is to stop naked aggression.  Iraq invaded Kuwait and we, the United States, must act.  Well – yes?

China invaded Tibet and still occupies it.  To date 1,250,000 Tibetans are dead resisting the invasion.  Did we invade China to free Tibet?

Indonesia invaded East Timor and continues to conduct what has been called nothing short of a genocidal war against the Timorese.  The Indonesian government slaughtered 500,000 of its own people in the 60’s (the specter of Hitler?).  Did we invade Indonesia?

France, with U.S. weapons, war material and U.S. Navy ships as transport, re-invaded Vietnam after WWII.  DeGaulle told Truman there would be no Marshall Plan in France unless we helped them reclaim Vietnam.  Did we invade France?

When France was finally defeated in Vietnam, the U.S. government cooked up a complete fabrication, the ‘Gulf of  Tonkin’ incident, and President Johnson, with a straight face, lied to all of us and we invaded Vietnam.  Are we going to invade ourselves?

Should we also invade ourselves for: overthrowing the government of Iran and putting the Shah in power?  Overthrowing the Guatamalan government in ’54?  Allende and Chile in ’73?  Santo Domingo in ’65?  Reagan’s war against Nicaragua?  The continuing war in El Salvador which we totally bankroll?  Panama in ’90?  Grenada?

There are approximately 40 major wars now going on in the world and if we are going to stand up to all naked aggression we are going to be awfully busy.  What I am saying is we are leaving out the majority of naked aggression in the world as well as being a major contributor to it.  We are being terribly selective in which cases (case) of naked aggression we are going to combat.  So maybe stopping aggression isn’t a reason for the Gulf War.

Another reason given for the Gulf War is that our troops are defending America.  When you join the military you swear to defend the Constitution and the country.  The Constitution’s authority stops at the geographical border as I believe the country does also.  If the troops are defending America, which I understand to be the lower 48, Alaska and Hawaii, then I missed the invasion of America.

President Bush and others have said this is a just war and is being waged in a just manner.  Using the Christian just-war theory even allowed Bush to declare a national day of prayer on Sunday, Feb. 3.

An odd perspective in light of the fact that this war fails to meet even one of the criteria of just-war theory.  This fact was duly noted in the Catholic paper of the Des Moines diocese, and many spiritual leaders have called for immediate cessation of hostilities.

What is it then that we are asking our troops, who joined the military with the patriotic ideal of defending America as their reason and the promised reason, to do?

The last argument that is given, and I find this the strangest argument of them all, is that no matter what the reason is that we are in the war, we are now in the war and we must do all we can to support our troops to allow them to do their job the best they can.  Even if: 1. We do not always combat aggression; 2. It is not a just war on any count; and 3. We are not really defending the United States from attack – we must support the war in the form of our troops or we are aiding the enemy and are un-American.

If in fact you ascribe to this fourth argument, that we must support the troops even if none of the reasons given for the war are valid, then I would suggest that the Nuremberg Trials should never have happened.  There is no known way to logically distinguish between the actor and the action.  Our troops are prosecuting the war, therefore they are the war and we are accountable for their actions even if we don’t know why we are in the war and we are found wanting in the end.

If our troops are not fighting for any of the first three reasons, and the fourth is logically inconsistent, then our troops must again be fighting for a U.S. business concern.  In this case, it is oil and power in the region.  Not exactly a patriotic (def: love of one’s country) ideal.

I suggest to you we are cheating our children and grandchildren out of their patriotic ideals, and some out of their lives, for oil.  How crass and ignoble a reason to offer up children to slaughter.

Why should American youth be expected to fight for U.S. business interests in this supposed age of enlightenment?

I would hope that American policy would move toward military isolationism so that defending America is a real patriotic ideal.

 

Disappointed with Memorial Day speeches.  (5-31-90)

I would like to express my disappointment and dissatisfaction with whomever the committee is which selects Memorial Day speakers.

Last year was bad enough what with having to sit through Professor Richard Cole’s revisionist history lesson.  According to Cole’s recollection, the United States never started a war and was always on the right side.

This allows him to then state that, therefore, all dead U.S. soldiers died an honorable death.  Of course, both statements are rather suspect (ask any Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese, etc.) unless Cole subscribes to the post-modern word theory which claims meanings have value only within a particular setting spoken to a particular group.  In other words, words mean whatever we want them to and we don’t have to be consistent with them.

Wendell Berry, in his essay “Standing By Words,” from his book of the same title, has refuted that notion much more eloquently and effectively than I could so I’ll refer you to him.

This year’s speaker is more troubling than Cole because he had all the right credentials for a Memorial Day speaker.  My problem is that he advocates and stated he would gladly participate in doing violence upon his fellow Americans.

Toward the end of his talk, Carl Johnson took a rather pointed swipe at those people currently embroiled in the flag-burning controversy.  Afterwards, when I asked him what he would do if he saw someone burning a flag he answered he would do anything he had to to stop them, including physical violence.

In essence, he would beat them up.  When I reminded him that the Supreme Court had ruled that flag burning was a constitutionally protected form of protest, he replied: Yes, but it was a 5-4 vote – as if that makes it any less a decision – and that flag burners were communists who also wanted to take people’s guns away from them.  Apparently, Johnson feels if he labels someone a communist, they then have no rights.

I then called to Johnson’s attention that co-defendants in the Supreme Court trial were a group of Vietnam vets from Seattle who burned the flag.  He said he’d beat them up too.

I realize it is very difficult for many people to come to grips with what freedom means in a democracy.  It must be even more difficult for many veterans who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they fought for that freedom to see and experience the full range of expression of that freedom.  Nonetheless, bitter pill or no, the freedom fought for is not just your idea of freedom alone but everyone’s idea of freedom who lives protected under this constitution.

Political protest is not an anti-American sentiment, but comes, as often as not, from the most patriotic of stances.  Charlie Leidtky, former Marine Corps chaplain and Congressional Medal of Honor winner, comes to mind as an example.  Charlie is a famous protester and hunger striker who is simply enraged that the U.S. government can do such hideous things to other country’s people in his name.  He protests vehemently as a patriot.

It seems that Carl Johnson, and those like him, have succumbed to what is sometimes called “thingism.”  The symbol is mistaken as reality, and, therefore, becomes more important than those people who live represented by it.  To Johnson and others the flag is important, it must be saved.  The people who would burn it are unimportant, therefore bust their heads.

If there is a committee which selects speakers (if not, the city should seriously consider forming one), I would suggest that minimally they would want a speaker who is intellectually honest, and also someone who does not advocate vigilanteism in America.


‘The apology’ so absurd it’s sick.  (3-13-90)

I am somewhat confused on how to discuss the topic of my letter.

The absurdity invites parody.  The seriousness dictates sound reasoning.  The anger it invokes in me creates blind rage blanking out any rational argument tending towards understanding or meaningful dialogue.

I am of course referring to “the apology.”  “The apology” is the result of some very deep soul searching on the part of an “unidentified Decorah man” and the honorable Charles Grassley, Republican Senator of Iowa.

What is it that has these two profoundly Christian gentlemen in such a tiff?  Why it’s General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And what is it that Colin has done which obligated these two men to call for an apology from him?  Could it be masterminding the illegal invasion of Panama?  No.  Lying about Panama’s importance in transshipping drugs to the U.S.?  No.  How about conspiring to hide from the American people that at least 2,500 Panamanians died in the invasion and not the 250 reported by the Pentagon?  Wrong again.

No, what these two have against Colin is not that he spearheaded an invasion that killed innocent Panamanians, they applaud the invasion.  It is much, much more insidious than that.  It is in fact so terrible they wanted, demanded, and got “the apology.”  Colin (dare I say it!) blasphemed.

Yes folks, can you believe it?  Colin, conqueror, killer, invader, apparently swore.  Blasphemed actually.  Something probably like, “God damn, you guys sure kicked their … good.”  Or something equally terrible.

Well, I don’t know about you but I am comforted knowing that “Christian Chuck” and the “unidentified Decorah man” are watching out for the moral stature of this country.

Yup.  It’s okay to kill ‘em Colin.  Just mind ye don’t blaspheme after.

Sick, isn’t it?  Morality stood on its head – right here in River City.

As a minister friend of mine remarked to me this weekend, “If Colin said ‘God damn,’ it was probably the only truthful thing he said about the whole invasion.”

 

What Iowans think. (7-4-89)

As a former USMC sergeant, disabled Vietnam veteran, holder of the National Defense Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Meritorious Unit Citation, RVN Service Medal, RVN Cross of Gallantry, and the RVN Campaign Medal awarded for duty as a radio operator with the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines (a grunt outfit) during 1969-70, let me state to your readers and especially to Senator Charles Grassley that if a constitutional amendment is passed prohibiting flag burning I will be the first to publicly burn a flag.

Having made a mockery out of virtually all our Vietnam experiences, it would be nice if politicians (read: non-statesmen) would leave intact our fantasy that we at least fought for freedom.

The flag is merely a symbol.  It is not the Ayatollah’s shroud invoking religious fanaticism; nor something so sacred as to warrant a bullet in the back of the head as in China.

Give not patriotic words to dead men who have died in war.  Most of the men I knew who died, and they died every day, would have just as soon been home kicking ignorant politicians’ asses for being so unclear in their thinking as to have gotten those men into combat in the first place.

Respect the man, his symbols be damned.

 

Debates points made by CIA’s Bruemmer (6-88)

I wish to debate a few of the points Russell Bruemmer puts forth as facts in his letter of June 2.  His letter, as you may recall, disputes arguments made by Philip Agee concerning the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and positions taken in a subsequent Decorah Newspaper editorial.

Bruemmer’s argument, it seems, is to quote rules and regulations pertaining to the operation of the CIA, to personally discredit Philip Agee, to mouth platitudes on the high ideals and national importance of the CIA functions, and finally to couch all this in an air of authority by signing his letter: General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency.

First off, I agree it’s too bad Mr. Bruemmer wasn’t present at Agee’s presentation, for he does an admirable job of illustrating one of Agee’s main points: That the CIA employs many young people devoutly faithful to stated ideology and accepted high authority and who ask no questions when given a command.  People who see the world as black and white, right and wrong, us and them.  People for whom there are no shades of gray, who understand little of differing perspectives coming from different cultural, religious or ethnic backgrounds.

In short, people with little tolerance or time for anything or anyone perceived as different from themselves.

Agee used himself as a representative example.  He was from an upper-middle-class family, educated at Notre Dame, and an avid American ‘patriot” when he joined the CIA.

For Bruemmer to try to discredit Philip Agee because he compromised the identity of active CIA agents in the field is in this case a mistake.  If one professional agent dies as a trade-off for saving hundreds and sometimes thousands of innocent lives, so be it.  To me, Agee showed a moral courage where many others lacked.  I would accept that “responsibility” myself if put to me, as you will understand if you read on.

In quoting rules and regulations pertaining to the operation of the CIA, I guess Bruemmer wants us to believe that the CIA plays by the rules.  With all that has been written and in the news of late, only a blind and deaf man could still hold to that belief.  Agee is not the only ex-agent, CIA or FBI, to start telling the real stories.  Many books have been written on the subject by investigative journalists as well as ex-agents.

A dark and sordid story certainly, but one that is well documented from the early 1940s up to the present day.  Two of the most recent books are available at the public library.  “Crimes of Patriots” concerns the CIA, drugs and illegal banking schemes.  Leslie Cockburn’s “Out of Control” documents the CIA and NSC’s role in Central America, the attempted assassination of Eden Pastora and the Contra’s connection with illegal arms sales and drug running.

To see other recent disregard of rules and regulations by the CIA we can look to the Iran-Contra hearings or the revelations coming out of Sen. John Kerry’s hearings on drugs and the CIA connection with Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noriega.  All significant and visible abuses.

Judge Webster, as new CIA director, doesn’t make me feel any safer even though Bruemmer would like it to.  To say that one man can change the direction of an entire department is simplistic thinking at best.  That line of reasoning is even more suspect now that the CISPES scandal has been made public.

For those that don’t know, that was the illegal and unconstitutional FBI spying on church groups opposed to Reagan administration policies in Central America.  Spying done on Judge Webster’s watch, as it were.  No, the judge doesn’t instill me with confidence.

In mouthing platitudes on the high ideals and national importance of CIA functions, Mr. Bruemmer has, I think, bitten off more than he can chew.  Let me now tell you one of my experiences working with the CIA.

The story has to do with a confused blur of names, places and times.  Hill 52, Charlie Ridge, the Arizona Territory, the Quesons, Liberty Bridge, Son Giang, Sitting shotgun outside whorehouses.  Swan diving with a 3-ton generator into a rice paddy.  Both catapulted out of a rolling duce-and-a-half.  Tracers, screams and explosions in the night.  Crashing in a chopper.  Having a chopper crash on me.  Medivacs, fire fights and Rod McKuen poetry to try to cheer ourselves up.  All a kaleidoscopic slice of time.  But one thing remains crystal clear – the assassins.

Vietnamese nationals, CIA recruited, trained, supplied and directed assassins.  Hidden and protected by me and my outfit by day.  Let out quietly at night.  Informed by CIA agents as to which unarmed village was to be massacred or which headman to be murdered.  I will never forget those hard-faced, black-pajama-clad Vietnamese who killed only unarmed, fellow Vietnamese.

Many of you may remember this: The heinous Phoenix program.  A supposed pacification and resettlement program carried out at the direction of the CIA in Vietnam.  Official U.S. records now admit up to 40,000 assassinations.  Reliable estimates place the true number at closer to 100,000 innocent Vietnamese civilians killed, fingered by the CIA as being dangerous for crimes as serious as doubting the government’s voracity, calling for reform of abuses or simply wanting to be left alone.

These are high ideals?  This is U.S. national security?  Bruemmer, your letter is a sick lie to those of us who “have done.”  No matter what rules and regulations are written, no matter whose old-buddy system has okayed what covert operation, all the regulations and rules have been ignored, contravened or disregarded.  That has always been standard operating procedure for the CIA and it always will be.  “Off the shelf” I think the company calls it.

Mr. Bruemmer, I have a couple of suggestions for you.  First, go into operations for a few years.  Get some experience to ground your rock solid faith in the judgment of congress and the president.  Being a “General Counsel” for the CIA isn’t anything.  The CIA must retain hundreds of lawyers around the world.

Second, you should meet and talk to Philip Agee or any of the other ex-agents now trying to get the truth out.  You may find you like them, and, even more, that they are believable.

And last, Mr. Bruemmer, please don’t believe everything the CIA tells you.  I can still remember what Senator Grassley told me when we were discussing the CIA assassination manual printed up for the Contras.  He said, “The CIA told me assassination is against the rules.”

They are a happy and simple people, aren’t they?

 

Was memorial editorial a joke?  (2-88)

I read Tuesday’s editorial entitled “County Veterans Should Restore Statue.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought it was a joke.  You know, an updated version of the old Bill Cosby American Revolutionary war joke.

You remember how it goes:

“Heads.  You Americans win the toss so you wear green and brown and hide behind trees and stone walls.  You British lost the toss so you wear red and white and stand in a straight line out in the open.”

The new version in Tuesday’s editorial goes like this:

“Okay, you guys lost the toss so you join the military and fight the wars.  Many of you will be killed, many wounded, and many of you will never be able to forget the pain and destruction.  When and if you get home, lots of people will always consider you a little strange.  Oh yes, and if there are any war statues or memorials that need fixing, you guys have to pay for it.

“Okay, you other 98 percent of the population who won the coin toss, you stay home and go about business as usual.  Get an education.  Get a good job at an early age.  Have a nice normal American Family life.  And if anybody wants money for a stupid war statue, just blow it off.  You didn’t have to fight any dumb old war anyway, so what do you care?”

Well I’ll tell you what folks, a war memorial is a memorial in honor of the people who were in the war, from the people who were fought for.

If you don’t want any war statues that need fixing, then quit sending Iowa boys off to fight wars.

It’s gotta be a joke.

 

Challenges facts about Vietnam War.  (5-87)

Jim Ehrie of Rt. 6, Decorah, recently wrote a letter appearing in the Des Moines Register which I think should be dealt with.  Ehrie made some rather shocking assertions in trying to provide a basis for his argument.  I quote:

“Let’s get the facts straight about those ‘expendable’ people who were sent there by our country.  Throughout my year in Vietnam, I recall one or two high school dropouts, very few blacks (mostly high school graduates) and lots of white, well-off college graduates like myself.

“Selective Service does not select the undesirables or underclass whites to go to war.”

I don’t want to argue whatever point Ehrie wants to make about ‘Platoon,’ but I do want to argue his facts.

Even a cursory knowledge of history elicits one of the most well-known facts about the Vietnam conflict, that it was a war fought mainly by children.  The American soldier’s average age was 19.2 years.  This means many were even younger, noticeably younger, than a college graduate.

The U.S. government statistics on the education levels for Vietnam vets are: high school dropouts, 17.9 percent; high school graduates, 59.2 percent; 1-3 years of college, 15.2 percent; 4 or more years of college, 7.7 percent.

The ‘lots of college grads’ Ehrie claims is in fact 7.7 percent – 77.1 percent of vets were high school grads or less.

Ehrie also seems to want to claim minorities were not present in significant numbers.  Since he mentions blacks specifically, I will state those statistics – remembering blacks made up 11 percent of the U.S. population during this time: 10.6 percent of all Vietnam vets were black; 16.0 percent of veterans killed were black.

A clear correlation existed between being black and being in a combat zone.  Approximately one out of 10 men was black, but almost one out of six men killed were black.  A rather startling fact.

These statistics do not even take into account the major combat roles played by Mexican and Native American soldiers.

It is a historical given that the Selective Service operated on an implicit economic bias.  So much so that volumes have been written on that subject alone.  A book by John Hilmer contains a section titled “The Poor Man’s Army.”

Although seeming fair, the Selective Service used a system called channeling.  This allowed all kinds of exemptions for those occupations considered in the ‘national interest’ (including students).

Also, ‘Project 100,000’ is an infamous creation of the Vietnam era.  In this program the minimum physical and mental requirements were waived in order to tap those persons historically unfit for military service.

I don’t know what Jim Ehrie’s motive for writing his letter was or what corner of Vietnam he might have been in that his perspective is so far from the norm.  I do suggest to him, though, that he try to relate his experience to the larger and documented history of Vietnam.

Many of us veterans try to use Vietnam as an experiential basis for pushing for greater social justice and fairness.  If Ehrie wishes to join in using his experience as a basis for speaking out, I suggest he become cognizant of the true facts about Vietnam or remain silent.


Platoon (3-6-87)

“Platoon” is a movie, so let’s be realistic about it.

I have two suggestions.  First, for vets: Check your guns at the door.  Our reputation is bad enough as it is.  Second, for non-vets: As you watch this movie, keep in mind we never had any music.

 

Now understands Senator Grassley. (1986)

            The first inkling of understanding came to me the other night as I attended the “Farm Aid” meeting trying to help hammer out a resolution to take to the national “Farm Aid” conference.

I had always wondered what Senator Grassley had meant when he said he was way ahead of his constituency on Central America and consistently voted money for the Contras when Iowans are 4:1 against military aid.  Now I understand, and it’s one of the most creative and far- reaching policies I’ve ever heard.  My hat’s off to you, Senator Grassley.

You see it all has to do with foreign competition.  We know for a fact 90 percent of the people killed by the Contras are members of farm families, moms, dads and kids, nine percent are doctors, nurses, teachers, priests and the like, and the remaining one percent are young Nicaraguan soldiers unlucky enough to catch up to the Contras before they’ve hightailed it back to Honduras and the safety of American air cover.

Well, what with Chuck just voting to give $100 million in aid to the Contras, he has funded and virtually guaranteed the death of thousands of family farmers in Nicaragua.  If they are dead, they certainly can’t compete with farmers here.  Nor can they grow food for their own people.  The Nicaraguans will have to buy it from us.

That is an extremely thoughtful and effective policy, Senator Grassley, and I’m sorry I’ve criticized your judgment in the past.  I guess I just didn’t know.  I’m proud to have you represent me as an Iowan.

Say Chuck, I don’t want to seem insensitive or anything but you know all those farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin who compete with Iowa farmers?  Well, do you think them there “Freedom Fighters” might be able to come up here and…

 

Vietnam War far from over.  (1986)

Is the Vietnam War over because a parade was held in Chicago as was stated in a recent editorial?  Should the Vietnam War ever be over?  I believe it isn’t over, and to put forth such a statement is both myopic and dangerous.

Arms and legs blown off have little chance for regeneration.  Minds wracked with daily slaughter are written off as always to be a little strange.  Frequent trips back to battle are a burden to be forever borne.

For many of us vets, Vietnam can never end.  For many of you, the war should never be allowed to end, either.  It would be dangerous to us all.

It was 1865 when war last was fought in this land.  Four generations ago at least.  Time enough for traditional memory of war’s wanton carnage to be lost.  We, as a society, no longer have a shared experience of war which might help us avoid those situations that may lead to war.

To those who do have the experience of war, we have a history of paying pitifully little heed.  Whether it be Douglas MacArthur trashing a shanty town of protesting WWI vets, Dwight Eisenhower warning against the military-industrial complex or Vietnam vets against the war, messages concerning the dark side of war have not found sympathetic ears.  This society embraces only the John Wayne, Rambo side of war.

It has been so long since war has gripped us all at once, that we no longer understand it.

There is a sense in which honor can be gained through legitimate defense of one’s own, but it is seldom that we grant honor to the mercenary.  Mercenary is what we Vietnam vets were.

That only three percent of our total military budget is spent on actual national defense and that not a shot was fired in the continental United States are clear indicators of that mercenary role.  It was not as defenders that the vets in Chicago were cheered but as killers who, 15 years after Vietnam, this country again holds in high esteem.

Modern technological warfare is terrible in its own right.  Add to that a morality and mind-set which allows one society to wage war on another without knowing or caring about the real consequences, from a distance safe from those consequences, and you have a horrifying situation.  A situation all too common in the recent history of these United States of America.

No, the Vietnam War is not over.  Nor should it be over if by being over we are free to do it all again.  I and many others I know accept our legacy of being despised killers if by being that we help keep our sons from knowing war.  It is what we have been for 20 years anyway.  It does not bother us, we know who we are.  Do you know who you are?

           Life is sacred.  (1986)

“Life is sacrosanct is the only -ism:” Shawn Phillips, poet and musician.

From that statement, we can inductively arrive at all other morals and ultimately all values as well.  Even those who steadfastly cling to ‘just war theory,’ the mind boggling moral justification of an always immoral act, must today be completely fed up with Ronnie Reagan nationally and Charles Grassley regionally.

If Kaadafy is the madman of the East, Reagan is surely the lunatic of the West.  To never ask questions of root causes and simply assume there are no prior reasons leading up to terrorist attacks on Americans is to beg the question.  Ronnie Reagan should be impeached for misusing the military might of the United States to kill innocent people, Libyan and Nicaraguan.

Anthropologists have given as one theory of cannibalism the objectification of those not of your tribe.  In other words, we simply do not conceive of others as being human beings and therefore do not accord them rights, feelings, needs, etc. that we would normally ascribe to our fellow humans.

This allows us to treat them as less than human and to act towards them as we would towards any non-human object.  This, I think, is a fair assessment of what Chuck Grassley has done in order to vote consistently with Ronnie Reagan to give money to the raping, child and priest killing, gun and drug-running band of international outlaws commonly known as the ‘contras.’

Chuck Grassley has grossly misused the trust of the Iowa people.  He has voted against morality, justice and the wishes of the peace loving people of Iowa.  Chuck no longer sees the Nicaraguan peasant as a person but as an objectified ‘communist’ and therefore feels these peasants have no right to be treated with moral courtesies nor to life itself.  No matter what Chuck has done for Iowa, he has lost the moral perspective it takes to be a leader of people.

No matter what race you are, no matter from what country, and no matter which mythology you choose to explain your ‘being,’ you only go around one time in this life.  To contemplate contributing to the death of any person should be done only in the most dire of circumstances and surely not for imbecilic posturing or as a matter of political policy.

 

Home is a sanctuary.  (1986)

‘Tis the season to think of ‘home.’

For people coming home, people going home, and people already home for the season, the call of ‘home’ is strong.

For those of us who have grown up in rural America, grown up with the land around us, ‘home’ has a special, a spatial meaning.

You are home.  It is your town, your land.  You are free to be yourself, to speak your mind.  It is your home, your place on earth.  It is where you are happy, sad, cared for.

It is your home; it is good.  You have helped make it; it has helped make you.

Home, for people of the land, has a sense of belonging-to-it: you to the land, the land to you.

I remember as a kid, in Strawberry Point, the day a so-called motorcycle gang from Waterloo was reported heading our way.  Our town cop and the volunteer fire department, along with some others, set up a roadblock outside of town.  When the gang came, they were told they couldn’t come in.

It was our town.  It is a good town.  It is our home.

I also remember sweeping through villages in Vietnam, blowing up bunkers, burning hootches, shooting animals and at people.  Most who had lived there were gone.  Some were not.

For some ‘home’ was too strong, even in the face of death.  When the shooting was over, they would come out; women and kids mostly, swearing at you, spitting on you.  You ruined their home.

History is full of the gravestones of those for whom ‘home’ was not to be given up.  Think of the hundreds of Indian tribes now extinct, millions of Indians to whom this land was home.  They died fighting for their home.  They wouldn’t leave.

Many of us are much the same.  Some died in the Depression rather than give up their land.  Some have died more recently.  More, surely, are yet to die.  After all, it’s their home.  It’s where they belong.

Most reading this will agree ‘home’ has a special meaning.  Home is the place one wants to be.  You don’t want to leave home.  You like it.  You live there.

I wonder why many think people from other countries don’t feel the same way we do about ‘home.’  Why do we think people want to leave their home and live in the United States?  Do we really think that they, so vastly unlike us or the Indians before us, want to leave their home to go somewhere else?

Or might there be something tragically wrong with their home?  Something from which only flight can save them?

Think about it.  Would you rather be home, or live as a refugee in a foreign land?

I am speaking now specifically about people from Guatemala and El Salvador.  Our government says these refugees from war-torn countries have no legitimate fears of death and are simple economic refugees.

Why is it these people are singled out from the hundreds of thousands of refugees we take in?  Why does our government apprehend and deport them, forcing many to go back to certain death, rather than grant them the safe asylum they certainly need?

Meanwhile, those who help them, mostly respectable members of the clergy, are hounded, harassed, taken to court, and thrown in jail.  All this in the name of the United States, for the supposed national security of our country.

What is wrong that we cannot see these are people, not unlike us, afraid and in real need?

This is not the way of my home.  Violence is not in my home or my people.  We are peaceful and good.

Some time ago Jim Rhodes and I put together a resolution, which we hope will be considered on a countywide referendum vote in next fall’s elections.  That resolution would make Winneshiek a county of sanctuary, in spirit if not in actuality.  Guided by the efforts of the Madison, Wis. City Council, we fashioned a sanctuary resolution for our home.

April is the deadline to gather the required number of petition signatures to place the sanctuary resolution on the ballot.  If you are interested in knowing more about the resolution, helping with the signature drive, signing the petition, or having your group or organization endorse the resolution, please let me know.

If there is overwhelming support for the resolution, we may be able to forego the expense of a resolution election and simply have the supervisors adopt it as county policy.

 

Guns and flags: symbols of militarism, not patriotism.  (10-2-84)

I’m pleased so many people felt concerned enough to join the discussion concerning my charge of militarism in schools.  I think they have brought to the forefront the basic problem we face, mainly, confusion over what we are really teaching our children through symbols.

Patriotism, as opposed to militarism, has been cited as what ‘guns’ and flags portray in a band.  Let’s examine these two concepts, and their practical extensions, and see which more accurately describes the situation.

Normally one begins a comparison of this sort by going to the culturally accepted meanings of words, so let’s look at Websters’s:

Militarism – a.  predominance of the military class or its ideals; b. exaltation of military virtues and ideals.

Webster’s also indicates the synonyms martial and warlike:

Martial – suggests especially the pomp and circumstance of war.

Warlike – implies especially the feeling or temper that leads to or accompanies war.

Now let’s look at Patriotism.  Again Webster’s:

Patriotism – love for or devotion to one’s country.

There are no synonyms offered.  We notice the striking absence of symbols of any kind.  The concept of loving one’s people and land seems simple, positive and light.

That these two concepts have been confused is not new.  The results are familiar to all of us.  A short history might read something like this:

My father’s generation, the children who fought World War II, was confused about this distinction following its bitter struggle.  After WWII the military became an enormous industry immersed in the everyday life and thoughts of the people.  President Eisenhower warned us against the ramifications of this in his now famous military/industrial complex speech.  The ideas of the military and the idea of patriotism began to merge.

In the phenomenon of John Kennedy, that merging was completed.  We would wage war anywhere in the name of patriotic duty to country, and we did.

The children of the children who fought WWII, namely my generation, were the children who accepted at face value what our parents and leaders told us.  We acted unquestioningly, with tragic results.

We, whose parents confused militarism and patriotism, willingly, believing in the honesty of words, waged a war so brutal the world’s conscience still has not been soothed.  History has judged that war unlawful and an act of aggression on our part.

We were lied to and deceived about the reasons for the war and about the war’s actual conduct.  We children couldn’t know that.  We had learned knee-jerk responses to magic words.  The practical results: 59,000 of us killed, 250,000 wounded and maimed, 2,500 still missing in action.

Uncounted millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians and Thai were dead, their lands virtually destroyed, their cultures smashed.  Add to these the 60,000 Vietnam veterans who have so far committed suicide as a direct result of combat experience.

We have, by any measure, a heinous result from not understanding clearly the concepts and symbols we use.

What does all that have to do with militarism in schools?  We’ve come now to the children of the children who fought the Vietnam War; the confusion of concepts still seems to exist.  The American government again is coming under pressure from home and abroad concerning military and political policies, this time in Central America.

This is what scares me.  I have talked to young men from Decorah, yesterday’s children, who have proudly told me they are joining the military and will soon be killing communists in Central America.  This is the same knee-jerk response my generation had to Vietnam!

How has this attitude remained alive in light of its terrible results?  Among things we might consider is the confused sense of patriotism put forth in letters responding to mine.

I think as a child today growing up in northeast Iowa (as I did) I would be fortunate if someone who has survived war called into question symbols and concepts that may lead to war.  If that had happened for me and my generation, maybe we would have walked a different path and this struggle would have already been waged.

Patriotism, that love for one’s people and land, might have been identified with ‘Amber Waves of Grain’ or ‘Purple Mountains Majesty’, and bands made up of hard-working, deserving children would twirl the benign baton or just themselves rather than ‘guns’ and flags.

Conceptual clarity.  We must be sure we understand what it is we ask our children to understand.