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- Two things collided: I voted early today, and Tom Hayden died. We were not far from the same age. He helped organize the 1968 convention anti-war riot in Chicago. I was shipped to Vietnam a couple months later. That was 11 Presidential elections ago, and I’m still voting, but none of the 58,000 Americans listed on that long black wall in D.C. are now voting, nor the legions of their unborn potential progeny. That could add up to hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million in uncast
votes. Elections have been won and lost on less. So, if you wonder if your vote counts, think of all those votes lost because of decisions made 40 years ago, and the potential consequences of your vote, even 40 years from now.
In all the years since I was nearly drafted into the Army following college graduation, and instead went into an accelerated program to become an Army officer at legendary Fort Knox, Kentucky, I’ve never met or corresponded with any of the soldiers I served with, not attended any veteran’s event. But in October, 2014, a unique reunion is being planned — a gathering of surviving graduates of the Armor Officer’s Candidate School I attended there in 66-67. That school was only in operation there for four years during the Vietnam War. I plan to attend that reunion, both to hopefully meet a few of those I trained with, and to visit again the grounds of the old Armor School, where I trained for 10 months and 10 days through the heat of a Kentucky summer and a wild winter. My exploits there and through two years of active duty, including a brief stint in Vietnam, are the subject of my essay, “All That Glitters,” presented two years ago before Chicago Literary Club. The essay can be found at http://www.chilit.org. Search under “List of Members” then my name then the title.
Memorial Day is always a mixed bag for me. I do weep for those who served and suffered. But most of them were followers, even the officers, of political leaders who had made life and death decisions on their behalf, sometimes for very bad reasons. Of late, especially since Vietnam, those reasons have been somewhere on the scale between questionable and dead wrong.
When we had the draft, in the Vietnam era, one could have great compassion for the young who sacrificed their options in life to serve their country when called. Even those who dodged service gave up option then. Since the end of the draft, many who have served have done so just to get a job and some training that was not otherwise readily available for them. We can have sympathy for them that they made such a Hobson’s choice.
Today, as we honor those who served, and especially those who suffered and died in place of ourselves, and as we remember their families, we might best respect their loyalty to their nation by questioning the motives and the thinking of those who are our political leaders today, as to their military strategies. Do these strategies justify the continued use of our military might, and are the American people being served well by these strategies and the people behind them?
The loyalties and sacrifices of generations of Americans who have served and supported the military are best served, I believe, by an engaged, questioning, demanding public, that holds our leadership accountable for their strategies and decisions, and speaks out boldly on behalf of those who have served, are serving and those yet to be called.
America has too often been a nation of Forest Gumps, being led to the slaughter by cynical, distant leaders. Memorial Day should be about honoring those who serve by questioning those who lead. It’s not just about memories, but accountability. For a personal story about questioning and service, see my essay, “All That Glitters,” as presented to the Chicago Literary Club. http://www.chilit.org/Papers%20by%20author/Ebeling%20–%20All%20That%20Glitters.htm
Yes, today the Iraq War is officially over. I say, now is the time to bring back a draft.
If we had had a draft, Iraq might have ended under public pressure by 2004 or 5, saving thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.
Now would be a good time to institute a draft, not only to help prevent unsustainable wars like Iraq, but also to give young people a chance to serve their nation, either in the military or in other forms of public service, for a few formative years of their young lives.
Not only would we eliminate the risk that only one percent of the nation would be engaged by some future political decision to enter into conflict, but we would gain the low-cost, character-forming service of millions of a diverse corps of strong, smart young people. They would gain skills, discipline and a sense of service that would build character and maturity, and serve as a pre or post-college opportunity to help build the nation.
That’s it! I disown both the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S. Their inability to work together in the national interest is subverting the economic reputation of our country.
In college, I was a young Republican, and believed in economic conservatism, with a measure of social liberalism. Thanks to the Vietnam War and the greed of conservatives, I became a staunch Democrat.
It’s increasingly become clear that neither party any longer represents the range of my beliefs and interests, and I’ve concluded that the only hope for this country is a multi-party system like much of Europe has, where one can find at least a smaller set of issues to rally support around, and then form some sort of coalition to elect a government.
We badly need a Constitutional Convention to revisit the principles upon which this nation stands. We need to get rid of the archaic and dangerous Electoral College system of undemocratically electing our Presidents. We need something like a Balanced Budget Amendment to control debt and balance revenue with spending. We need some process to protect us from the military imperialism that now characterizes our nation. Our elitist economic structure is sliding down a path towards the modern-day equivalent of the French Revolution, unless Congress, the White House and the judiciary recognize and prioritize the social values that the American people, as a democracy, hold dear. We need to protect the State from all churches, if we hope to preserve freedom of religion and freedom from religion. We need to build a new commitment to education and an enlightened and compassionate dedication to protection of the poor into our culture and economy. We need Congressional term limits, to get fresh thinking and avoid entrenched politicians. We need to control campaign contributions so our representatives are not bought and sold. We need a military draft so that our population and government stay aligned on military adventurism. And we should start an alternative domestic service draft, sort of like the WPA of the Roosevelt era, to rebuild our infrastructure and build a sense of public service among our youth.
And if I never hear the tainted words Republican or Democrat again, that’s just fine with me. I will continue to vote, but with great hesitation to support any incumbent, of either current party, in future Federal elections, unless they demonstrate a commitment to higher principles than those who are currently sold-out to dogmatic, selfish interests.
I haven’t lost faith in the American people, just in the obsolete, insular and out-of-touch political parties that pose as representative of fundamentally good people.
As the debate begins over what to do about our massive military presence in Afghanistan, in the wake of the death of Osama Bin Laden, and even Senate Foreign Relations committee chair Kerry questions what our goals now are in that country, I recalled the following excerpt from an essay I’ve recently written on my own Vietnam experience, as follows:
“Even back in those days of a military draft, most American men had managed, either through dumb luck, political connections or serial deferments, to dodge active military service. I had embraced my bad luck, as it were, and sought to make the most of it. In some ways I’d succeeded. In other ways, my own experience was a microcosm of the futility, the waste and the lies of war. America didn’t end the bloodshed in Vietnam until 1975, thanks in large part to the cynical political maneuverings of Nixon, Kissinger and Chennault before that seminal election in the fall of 1968. America had lost its first war. I was reminded of a quotation from Isaac Asimov I’d seen at the foundation museum in Gernika, Spain, site of Franco and Hitler’s carpet-bombing atrocity during the Spanish Civil War, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” My experience suggests that the gold bars I once worked so diligently to earn, and proudly wore, were largely worn in vain.”
Amidst all the discussion about the convoluted and deteriorating status in Libya, the U.S. has lost sight of the compass. We should get out and stay out. We never should have gone in. Don’t we ever learn anything? Our hollow promises of help and support will only result in death and agony, not just for our enemies, but for our friends there.
And while we’re at it, let’s start to dismantle the imperial war machine, and bring back troops from Germany, Japan, S. Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, if for no other reason than to stop increasing the national debt and putting the financial stability of our nation in hoc. I’d sooner see us pull back our military than strip the retirement and health care system in the U.S. just to keep Wall Street afloat, which seems to be where our Congress and even our President are heading.
We need a proper defense, yes. But I bet we could do that on less than 50 cents on the dollar of what we are spending now on defense. Let’s put those soldiers coming home to work on restoring our national domestic infrastructure, if you want to talk about strategic security and strength. And let’s institute a draft, and put our out-of-work young people to work rebuilding our country with their brawn and brains, and not with guns.
See my other blog entries on Libya, defense and Congress. And while we’re fixing America, lets abolish the Electoral College so the people of the U.S. actually can elect their own Presidents.
Somehow, leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq to work as “trainers and advisors” doesn’t smack of an end to the war in Iraq, and it doesn’t even stack up to the shameful 60-year garrisons we’ve left behind in Germany, Japan and South Korea.
While the returning “combat” troops deserve our thanks and appreciation, I hope there are no victory ticker tape parades in NYC or DC, or any crowing from the imperial White House for a so-called “end” to the war that’s gone on longer than the Civil War or WWII.
The criminals in the last White House who committed all these people, all these deaths and injuries, all these resources to a fantasy, remain at large. And 50,000 “trainers” left in Iraq does not end the war, while we pile on new mistakes in Afghanistan. I’m ashamed of our country’s former and current elected and civil leadership in Federal government, and their sick and vicious “defense” strategies…
I started my adult life wasting 3 years in the Army during the dumb Vietnam War, and the beat goes on to this minute.
The Washington Post puts their finger on the issue today. Does the lack of civil engagement in our Iraq and Afghanistan wars (read professional military in place of a draft) signal a breakdown in military respect for civilian authority in the U.S.? Could be. The McChrystal mess may not be just a case of a public relations screw-up, but of a much deeper disease. In Vietnam, and I was there, there was a total breakdown in discipline of non-commissioned troops, but perhaps now the disease is reversed, with the professional officer corps, on an endless see-saw of combat assignments, feeling increasingly distanced from and cynical of civilian authority and wisdom.
If true, this is a dangerous development for our democracy. Just look at the headlines: we have great respect for those who have served and been injured and died, but little for those who sent them there. What’s next? Do we begin to trust and elect those in or of the military, and not our civilian leaders? Does the military elite begin to more openly display their disrespect for civilian authority, and begin to challenge it? Now is the time, I believe, for a return to citizen soldiers, and for those citizens who care about the country to demand peace.
Check out this disturbingly provocative story for an analysis of the Pentagon’s apparent long-term strategy.
It reminds me of a private presentation Colin Powell gave after the Gulf War of the early 90s, in which he said one of the Pentagon’s problems was that it no longer had a pervasive enemy as the U.S. had with the old Soviet Union in the Cold War. So it would be difficult to focus our defense development efforts. Well, now, apparently the Pentagon has crafted the future, with their Long War scenario.
Why don’t we hear more about this in the press? Why isn’t Congress debating it? Perhaps it’s because the Pentagon planners think public opinion is something to be manipulated, rather than sought out. This is the dark side of what was once a popular definition of public relations: the engineering of consent. However, in a democracy, even a representative democracy like our own, public opinion matters.
For the sake of this and future generations, look into this and start by going into the story at this website. Then, ask questions until you get answers. http://www.alternet.org/world/146236