The militarization of American Society has been going on at least since World War II ended and the vast Pentagon military establishment created to fight that war, evolved into what I call the Corporate/Military/Intelligence Complex (CMIC). This great war illustrated to many large manufacturing corporations that there was a whole lot of profit to be garnered by catering to war and to the Pentagon As we celebrate the founding of our country on this July 4th, all around you can be seen references that conflate the military and warfare with our American independence and indeed versions of a recurring phrase, which has become a meme. “We honor our troops and thank them for their service”. Not only do I find it sad that the apotheosis of America is seen in warlike service rather than democratic principles, but it is even more poignant that our Country really doesn’t honor those who have risked life and limb in its service.
Because of this sentiment on my part I am reprising this post today to counter the militaristic bombast of this Fourth of July and perhaps remind us that July Fourth actually has a deeper more revolutionary meaning. I first wrote this in 2014, looking back with sadness and anger at the two wars initiated by the George W. Bush Administration in the wake of 9/11. The unforeseen consequences of the two wars Bush launched remain with us today as American troops, though reduced in number, remain in harms way in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Today we have another President who Draft Dodged Vietnam and in his mentally disturbed failings may well look to find another war to quell the mounting tide of criticism against him. Samuel Johnson exclaimed 241 years ago that Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. He was referring to the false patriotism of jingoists and opportunists trying to impress their fellow citizens of their worth in order to gain some benefit. I love the fact that I am an American and I love my country and my fellow citizens. My love for my country is such that I will criticize it when it behaves badly and I will do my small part in trying to turn these United States towards the ideals of our heritage, rather than allow it to remain in the hands of those who use our emotions of patriotic affection for their personal gain.
The Hypocrisy of “We Honor Our Troops and Thank Them for Their Service”
The words “we honor your service”, as it is used today to address anyone who has served in the U.S. military, cause me to cringe. It is rank hypocrisy on many levels and I have a deep, abiding hatred of hypocrisy from my youth, where in matters religious and otherwise, I observed it in members of my own family and in the society that surrounded us. Let us look on this puerile phrase on a few levels.
The obvious place to begin is with the fact that this country does not honor its troops and hasn’t since the 1950’s. Our soldiers in World War II and the Korean War were at least honored when they returned from service with a great deal of benefits that would help them return to civilian life and put the horrors of their war experience at least at bay, if not fully sublimated. Can anyone doubt that the experience of being in a war is one of living through the horror of imminent death and the brutalization of having to harm others to keep oneself from harm? Facing days on end with ones adrenaline cranked up to maximum, knowing that death or maiming can come to you in an unsuspected moment, having to watch the grisly results upon those you kill to protect yourself and your friends, how then could someone come through this with their psyche unscathed? Yet when the soldier’s time of war is over and when he or she is returned to the normality of everyday life, they do so with little thought or caring from the country that has used them so harshly.
That wars are generally fought with teenagers and young adults, at growth stages too impressionable to be able to successfully incorporate them into adulthood, guarantees that their perspectives are forever skewed by what they must endure to keep alive. This country threw away the lives of more than 50,000 troops in the senseless Vietnam War and left 5 times that number physically and/or mentally maimed. They didn’t return home to an adoring public and despite propaganda to the contrary, they were mostly treated by the war-hawks among us as pariahs, who had failed in their impossible mission. The benefits were slow in coming and meager compared with WWII. PTSD, which is a real psychological condition, was viewed by many of our more “hawkish” congresspersons as a “failure of toughness” and the Veteran’s Administration actively worked at denying benefits and treatment to the vast amount of troops suffering from it. Many of our Vietnam vets wound up as homeless, which I well know because back then I was a Welfare Caseworker. As we’ve seen in the recent VA revelations, similar lack of care is happening for the veterans of both of the Iraq debacles and the Afghanistan misadventure.
“We Honor our Troops” is also unfortunate and hypocritical because we put them through untold suffering and in “harm’s way” for nothing other than multi-national oil interests, combined with the raging egos of the Presidential Administrations, where most of the architects of war had avoided military service when they were of age. By using the banal phrase “We honor our troops” we give these insane wars legitimacy on the backs of those who served, because by extension their service was in an “honorable cause”. There was nothing honorable in these causes and in implying there was, we are to my mind doing our troops a disservice. We shouldn’t be “honoring” our troops, we should be apologizing to them for harming their lives and their psyches, for the egos and for the greed of a few.
Many of our finest young people were enlisted in a phony cause by the implication that they were fighting enemies of our country. Many of their lives were thrown away in these phony causes and 100 times more suffered maiming and deep psychological trauma. Rather than “honoring” our troops, we should be making amends to our troops for all the harm inflicted upon them. We should make amends by inditing our former President and Vice President for treason, fraud, murder and torture in prosecuting those phony wars. We should make amends to our troops by issuing a formal government apology to them and to the families of those who died, for misleading them into actions that have left deep scars on their lives and the lives of their loved one. Finally, we should make amends to our troops by offering them the best medical care possible and ensuring that they will have employment, or benefits for the rest of their lives so that they can put their service behind them and try to find peace in their lives. We owe this to them and to ourselves and it is the least we can do to “honor their service”. Each year, whether on the Fourth, or on Veteran’s Day, we will see this false posturing and untrue meme played out all over the media and our country
This meme of “honoring our troops and thanking them for their service” has become ubiquitous at the mention of any veteran’s career in the military. The fact is though, my cynicism comes from one who in his youth opposed the Vietnam War and was lucky enough to escape the draft, due to high blood pressure, so my integrity on whether to serve in a war I felt was unjust never was tested. Perhaps the perspective of a real combat veteran will be appropriate. There is an article from someone who was a U.S. Army Ranger and served two tours in Afghanistan. His name is Rory Fanning and he writes with precision and eloquence. I will present excerpts from Rory’s article and you can click on his name to read his entire piece. It speaks elegantly to the hypocrisy that exists in the glorification of our troops and the reality this meme covers up, in service to the Corporate/Military/Intelligence/Complex (CMIC)
Thank You for Your Valor, Thank You for Your Service, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…
Still on the Thank-You Tour-of-Duty Circuit, 13 Years Later
By Rory Fanning
Last week, in a quiet indie bookstore on the north side of Chicago, I saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone resting on a chrome-colored plastic table a few feet from a barista brewing a vanilla latte. A cold October rain fell outside. A friend of mine grabbed the issue and began flipping through it. Knowing that I was a veteran, he said, “Hey, did you see this?” pointing to a news story that seemed more like an ad. It read in part:
“This Veterans Day, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Rihanna, Dave Grohl, and Metallica will be among numerous artists who will head to the National Mall in Washington D.C. on November 11th for ‘The Concert For Valor,’ an all-star event that will pay tribute to armed services.”
“Concert For Valor? That sounds like something the North Korean government would organize,” I said as I typed Concertforvalor.com into my MacBook Pro looking for more information.The sucking sound from the espresso maker was drowning out a 10-year-old Shins song. As I read, my heart sank, my shoulders slumped.
Special guests at the Concert for Valor were to include: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg. The mission of the concert, according to a press release, was to “raise awareness” of veterans issues and “provide a national stage for ensuring that veterans and their families know that their fellow Americans’ gratitude is genuine.” Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen were to serve in an advisory capacity, and Starbucks, HBO, and JPMorgan Chase were to pay for it all. “We are honored to play a small role to help raise awareness and support for our service men and women,” said HBO chairman Richard Plepler.
Though I couldn’t quite say why, that Concert for Valor ad felt tired and sad, despite the images of Rihanna singing full-throated into a gold microphone and James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica wailing away on their guitars. I had gotten my own share of “thanks” from civilians when I was still a U.S. Army Ranger. Who hadn’t? It had been the endless theme of the post-9/11 era, how thankful other Americans were that we would do… well, what exactly, for them? And here it was again. I couldn’t help wondering: Would veterans somewhere actually feel the gratitude that Starbucks and HBO hoped to convey?
I went home and cooked dinner for my wife and little girl in a semi-depressed state, thinking about that word “valor” which was to be at the heart of the event and wondering about the Hall of Fame line-up of twenty-first century liberalism that was promoting it or planning to turn out to hail it: Rolling Stone, the magazine of Hunter S. Thompson and all things rock and roll; Bruce Springsteen, the billion-dollar working-class hero; Eminem, the white rapper who has sold more records than Elvis; Metallica, the crew who sued Napster and the metal band of choice for so many long-haired, disenfranchised youth of the 1980s and 1990s. They were all going to say “thank you” — again.
Raising (Whose?) Awareness
Later that night, I sat down and Googled “vets honored.” Dozens and dozens of stories promptly queued up on my screen. (Try it yourself.) One of the first items I clicked on was the 50th anniversary celebration in Bangor, Maine, of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the alleged Pearl Harbor of the Vietnam War. Governor Paul LePage had spoken ringingly of the veterans of that war: “These men were just asked to go to a foreign land and protect our freedoms. And they weren’t treated with respect when they returned home. Now it’s time to acknowledge it.”
Vietnam, he insisted, was all about protecting freedom — such a simple and innocent explanation for such a long and horrific war. Lest you forget, the governor and those gathered in Bangor that day were celebrating a still-murky “incident” that touched off a massive American escalation of the war. It was claimed that North Vietnamese patrol boats had twice attacked an American destroyer, though President Lyndon Johnson later suggested that the incident might even have involved shooting at “flying fish” or “whales.” As for protecting freedom in Vietnam, tell the dead Vietnamese in America’s “free fire zones” about that.
No one, however, cared about such details. The point was that eternal “thank you.” If only, I thought, some inquisitive and valorous local reporter had asked the governor, “Treated with disrespect by whom?” And pointed out the mythology behind the idea that American civilians had mistreated GIs returning from Vietnam. (Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Veterans Administration, which denied returning soldiers proper healthcare, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, organizations that weren’t eager to claim the country’s defeated veterans of a disastrous war as their own.)
When it came to thanks and “awareness raising,” no American war with a still living veteran seemed too distant to be ignored. Google told me, for example, that Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, had recently celebrated its 12th annual “Multi-Cultural Day” by thanking its “forgotten Korean War Veterans.” According to a local newspaper report, included in the festivities were martial arts demonstrations and traditional Korean folk dancing.
The Korean War was the precursor to Vietnam, with similar results. As with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the precipitating event of the war that North Korea ignited on June 25, 1950, remains open to question. Evidence suggests that, with U.S. approval, South Korea initiated a bombardment of North Korean villages in the days leading up to the invasion. As in Vietnam, there, too, the U.S. supported a corrupt autocrat and used napalm on a mass scale. Millions died, including staggering numbers of civilians, and North Korea was left in rubble by war’s end. Folk dancing was surely in short supply. As for protecting our freedoms in Korea, enough said.
These two ceremonies seemed to catch a particular mood (reflected in so many similar, if more up-to-date versions of the same). They might have benefited from a little “awareness raising” when it came to what the American military has actually been doing these last years, not to say decades, beyond our borders. They certainly summed up much of the frustration I was feeling with the Concert for Valor. Plenty of thank yous, for sure, but no history when it came to what the thanks were being offered for in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, no statistics on taxpayer dollars spent or where they went, or on innocent lives lost and why.
Will the “Concert for Valor” mention the trillions of dollars rung up terrorizing Muslim countries for oil, the ratcheting up of the police and surveillance state in this country since 9/11, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost thanks to the wars of George W. Bush and Barack Obama? Is anyone going to dedicate a song to Chelsea Manning, or John Kiriakou, or Edward Snowden — two of them languishing in prison and one in exile — for their service to the American people? Will the Concert for Valor raise anyone’s awareness when it comes to the fact that, to this day, veterans lack proper medical attention, particularly for mental health issues, or that there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country? Let’s hope they find time in between drum solos, but myself, I’m not counting on it.
Please read Rory’s entire article (Here) because he makes points about which all Americans should be cognizant. When reading it remember that this is NOT coming from me, an aged anti-war hippie who never fought, but from a decorated Army Ranger, a highly competent killing machine who has seen the real horrors of real battle. Here is a final excerpt:
“We use the term hero in part because it makes us feel good and in part because it shuts soldiers up (which, believe me, makes the rest of us feel better). Labeled as a hero, it’s also hard to think twice about putting your weapons down. Thank yous to heroes discourage dissent, which is one reason military bureaucrats feed off the term.
There are American soldiers stationed around the globe who think about filing conscientious objector status (as I once did), and I sometimes hear from some of them. They often grasp the way in which the militarized acts of imperial America are helping to create the very enemies they are then being told to kill. They understand that the trillions of dollars being wasted on war will never be spent on education, health care, or the development of clean energy here at home. They know that they are fighting for American control over the flow of fossil fuels on this planet, the burning of which is warming our world and threatening human existence.
Then you have Bruce Springsteen and Metallica telling them “thank you” for wearing that uniform, that they are heroes, that whatever it is they’re doing in distant lands while we go about our lives here isn’t an issue. There is even the possibility that, one day, you, the veteran, might be ushered onto that stage during a concert or onto the field during a ballgame for a very public thank you. The conflicted soldier thinks twice.”
Rory’s article ends this way, though if you just read the excerpts you will miss the exceptional issues he raises and the elegant craftsmanship of the entire piece.
“I’m back at that indie bookstore sitting at the same chrome-colored table trying to hash all this out, including my own experiences in the Army Rangers, and end on a positive note. The latest issue of Rolling Stone appears to have sold out. Out the window, the sun is peeking through a thick web of clouds. They sell wine here, too. The sooner I finish this, the sooner I can start drinking.
There is no question that we should honor people who fight for justice and liberty. Many veterans enlisted in the military thinking that they were indeed serving a noble cause, and it’s no lie to say that they fought with valor for their brothers and sisters to their left and right. Unfortunately, good intentions at this stage are no substitute for good politics. The war on terror is going into its 14th year. If you really want to talk about “awareness raising,” it’s years past the time when anyone here should be able to pretend that our 18-year-olds are going off to kill and die for good reason. How about a couple of concerts to make that point?
Until then, I’m going to drink wine and try to enjoy the music over the sound of the espresso machine.”
Rory Fanning walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008-2009, following two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. Fanning became a conscientious objector after his second tour. He is the author of the new book Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America (Haymarket, 2014).
Now I “missed” my chance to serve in Vietnam because of high blood pressure, which led to three heart attacks, Congestive Heart Failure and then a heart transplant, so at least I had a serious medical issue that kept me from making a choice about “my generation’s war. Dick Cheney didn’t serve because he “had more important things to do” and George W. Bush got into the Texas Air National Guard and left it when he got bored. They have cost the lives of so, so many and yet somewhere on a July 4th, Veteran’s Day, or a Football Game, or a political speech, they no doubt will be “honoring their service”. We can really honor the boys and young men who have put themselves in “harm’s way,” believing that they were fighting to defend this country, if we see beyond the hypocrisy that sent them to war and grasp the poignancy of how they have been deceived into believing they were defending our country, rather than the oligarchs and the Generals material interests.
And let’s put a huge tax on those major corporations who make money killing, maiming and psychologically destroying our troops by involving them in long, meaningless wars. We should also make goddamned sure that those veterans/victims of combat, never have to struggle for the rest of their lives. Maybe that would really be honoring our troops and thanking them for their sacrifices.