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Earlier this week, a photo popped up showing my little sister pinning on one of my gold bars as I was commissioned an Army  2nd Lieutenant out of the OCS Brigade at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in 1969. Ten months and 10 days after enlisting in the OCS program, I’d been propelled from recruit to officer. I had skipped my college graduation in May in order to take a cruise of Lake Michigan and the North Channel with my family before reporting for duty. My enlistment was forced by the draft, which proposed to grab me within two weeks of graduation.

What followed were two years of active service, in places ranging from the Army War College (where I served as officer in charge of 43 military funerals at Gettysburg National Cemetery) to working as a press escort officer out of a forward corps press camp in Vietnam.

While a proper sense of the appropriateness of honoring those who fought and died in war was imbued in me through my own service and exposure, it was only years later that I learned that the war in Vietnam had been extended, with the loss of 20,000 additional Americans and a million Asians, by a political calculation to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger when they maneuvered to cancel the proposed Paris Peace Talks of 1969 in order to deny the Democrats the Presidential election that year.

My god, how can politicians play tinker toys with the lives of millions of people, as if we were just pawns on a board? And that’s just what they did, and what they have continued to do in the generations since Vietnam, despite the lessons we could have learned there, but didn’t.

So, this Memorial Day, I do mourn the lost, those who were sacrificed as much as gave sacrifice for their country. But I also mourn the continuation of the crass, inhuman brand of politics that characterize the highest levels of leadership in our country., then and now.  If only humanity were our true brand of politics, and that humanitarians were our one and only brand of politicians.

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

Following is an except of an essay I’m writing on my experiences during the Vietnam War era:

“The confluence of my coming to adulthood, influenced by world affairs in the late 60s, and so much of my subsequent life, seem to all stem from events around that cataclysm which history now knows as the Vietnam War. Similar personal stories surely grow out of the current debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they did from the Korean War, and other breakdowns of civilization through all of human history.

“As an adult touching old age, I now look at war as the most abominable form of wholesale natural selection, and I’m bitter that the politicians and counselors who commit us to our wars almost universally remain exempt from real personal consequences of their decisions, besides obligatory consolation of the bereaved and being the recipients of abusive rantings in the blogosphere. Instead, those “brave” leaders invariably commit a generation of excitable youth to be the proxies for their own complex, bruised egos, and plots to secure needed oil inventories and pressures to sustain the military/industrial complex. The young warriors lead the way with their own deaths and personal and family sacrifices, while the nation’s leadership continues to politic, govern, prosper and then move on to honored, gracefully reflective retirements, often discussing their “difficult” decisions in their memoirs and in endless book tours.”

A peaceful Memorial Day to all.

September 2019
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