Friday, November 15, 2013

VETERAN'S DAY


VETERANS’ DAY

Originally Armistice Day celebrated the end of the First World War, November 11 is now known as Veteran’s Day, a time when the nation pauses to remember and celebrate the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made through the years.

I was never in the service. Too young for WWII, and a draft exempt father during the Korean War, I slipped between the cracks of the selective service lottery.

If called, of course, I would have gone. Not overjoyed, to be sure, but duty is duty. You do what you have to do.

I often think I missed something. My older brother was in the navy and my younger brother went into the army. Both drafted. Both gained a lot from the experience.

I was never a fan of peacetime conscription. Always sort of thought impressing citizens to bear arms was a rather extreme decision which needed to be grounded on rather serious reasons.

Musing about it today, I am not so sure.

The founders of our nation had a healthy distrust of standing armies. They even limited appropriations for an army to two years. They believed in citizen armies – militia – that could be called up when needed. Citizen soldiers who come forward to meet the challenge and then return to their homes and their private affairs.

That was what happened in 1917 and 1943. The last of those citizen – soldiers are dying these days. Their stories enrich our traditions and ennoble our history.

Today, we have what is called a volunteer army. The problem with recruiting a volunteer army in 2013 is the vagueness of the mission. In 1943 the enemies were Hitler and Hirohito. They could be cartooned. They could be hated.

The need to go to war was personalized and volunteers came forward. The draft wasn’t celebrated, but it was accepted because Americans understood the stakes.

Now compare how Americans felt about the draft during Viet Nam. Draft protesters effectively swayed public opinion. There were still many young men who went to war, fought courageously, suffered injuries and died because they were drafted and they did their duty.

But many others didn’t, and we got a taste of how difficult it is to wage an unpopular war.

I am now beginning to wonder whether Universal Military Service might not be a wise course for our nation. To maintain a large volunteer standing army is to risk reliance upon mercenaries. Professional soldiers are needed to train and command draftees, but professional boots on foreign soil are not, or should not be the goal or the norm of American foreign policy.

George Washington warned against foreign entanglements. It was wise counsel. Most of human history is a chronicle of wars. Famous battles. Famous victories. Famous defeats. Heroes and villains. And great empires gained and lost.

There was a lot of talk in the early part of the last century about America’s manifest destiny. Now historians chortle about the Pax Americana.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think there has been a lot of Pax in the Pax Americana.
We have been at war pretty much since my puberty, and that was a long, long time ago.

I think it’s time to bring our soldiers and sailors home from all over the world, teach our young people how to soldier if they are called up, and see if we can’t find some kind of peace time normalcy in our homeland.

There are enough bad guys in the back alleys and boardrooms of our nation to keep us in battle mode.

And if that doesn’t satisfy he blood lust, there’s always Monday Night football.  

6 comments:

  1. Excellent article. It is past time for us to come home and sharpen our tools.

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  2. Excellent article. How is it that we are not home already when the overwhelming majority of Americans want peace. We don't seem to understand that peace eludes us when we are constantly at war.

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  3. Once again, you are both perspicacious and provocative.

    I, like you, slipped between the cracks of the military, although my time had a lottery, it was Vietnam, and I drew a high number -- 252 -- so I never served. I've always felt a gap and maybe some guilt for not having done so, since so many of my peers served and died in a war in which Robert McNamara in his book "In Retrospect" said, "We were wrong, terribly wrong."

    I'm always taken by the contrast with which we treat our veterans today, say, those returning from the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. compared to how the Vietnam veterans were treated back in the 60's and 70's. How quickly the ethos of war changed for us regarding fighting in areas where we really should not be. Not all wars are just wars as the Great Wars were so construed.

    As an example of our national naivete about wars, for example, few Americans today understand the depth and length of our involvement in the Middle East via the CIA and State Department and how we have been less than successful there on many fronts. Our involvement since the late 1970's in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in supporting the fundamentalist radical Muslim mujahideen groups to thwart the Russians clearly helped create, or at least fuel, the difficult radical element that exists today in the world, although the Muslim Brotherhood got started as early as the 1920's. And yet, when our boys return from war zones in this region, many of whom return with less limbs than when they departed, we offer high-fives and respect. I absolutely agree with this level of respect for our soldiers, especially since it is not their fault that they are involved in conflict not of their doing. We need to go beyond the high-fives, however, and see to it that they transition back into society, have access to jobs and are provided mental health support.

    Your point about U.S. involvement, boots on foreign soil, is well taken. I'm not for it either, especially when our national leaders appear inept in understanding the implications of our actions or the terrible ripple effects on those whom we are supposedly trying to help. It even seems to me that our actions driven by oil interests are misguided. If we did not have such a military presence in the oil regions of the world, would we not still have the power as the major purchaser to have significant influence? If supplies got cut off, it wouldn't be long before the pressure of lost revenue would turn them back on.

    Finally, how can we have the confidence in our national leaders on matters of foreign involvement, when, like for so many issues today, this has become politicized. We have not heeded the wisdom of Thucydides who warned us and as George Washington apparently realized:

    When our policy-making bodies go awry -- each member of which "presses it's own ends . . . which generally results in no action at all . . . they devote more time to the prosecution of their own purposes than to the consideration of the general welfare -- each supposes that no harm will come of his own neglect, that it Is the business of another to do this or that -- and so, as each separately entertains the same allusion, the common cause imperceptibly decays."

    I'm reminded here of intergovernmental agency bickering and conflict which some say left our flank open for 9-11-01.

    Finally, not to be too naive; as the world's leading superpower, we do have a duty beyond our own shores these days. After all, the world has become a global village like never before and this will only escalate going forward. As you say, we need be circumspect in our involvements, especially when we send our army to impose our will, and we certainly need to collaborate with other nations before unilaterally taking on the problems of the world . . . and have them bear some of the cost as well.

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  4. Joe: I really appreciate your thoughtful comment. Unhappily, comments don't include a signature or email address. I would very much enjoy corresponding with you.

    TEB

    ReplyDelete
  5. (taken from Professor Michael Parenti's lecture on Empire)

    Since 1945 -

    The US has been a key force in overthrowing reformist democratic governments in

    Guatemala
    Guinea
    Dominican Republic
    Brazil
    Chile
    Uruguay
    Syria
    Indonesia
    Greece (twice)
    Argentina (twice)
    Haiti (three times)
    Bolivia

    - replaced with military regimes.

    The US has actively pursued covert actions and proxy military wars
    against popular revolutionary governments in:

    Cuba
    Angola
    Mozambique
    Ethiopia
    Portugal
    South Yemen
    Nicaragua
    Cambodia
    East Timor
    Western Sahara (territory)
    Iraq (CIA overthrow of democratically elected government in late
    1960's, installing Saddam Hussein who brutally murdered his
    opposition)


    The US has actively destabilized and moved against reformist governments in:

    Egypt
    Lebanon
    Peru
    Jamaica (Michael Manley)
    Venezuela (Hugo Chavez)
    Iran (CIA overthrow of Mossadegh 1954)
    Syria
    Zaire
    Fiji Islands
    Afghanistan (before the Russian invasion of 1980's)


    US direct military invasion or aerial bombings (or both) in:

    Vietnam
    Cuba
    Dominican Republic
    North Korea
    Laos
    Cambodia
    Yugoslavia
    Lebanon
    Grenada
    Panama
    Libya
    Iraq (twice)
    Afghanistan
    Somalia


    "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our
    inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the
    state of facts and evidence."

    John Adams, 'Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston
    Massacre Trials,' December 1770.

    US diplomat, politician and the Second President of the United States
    of America (1735 - 1826)

    ReplyDelete
  6. (taken from Professor Michael Parenti's lecture on Empire)

    Since 1945 -

    The US has been a key force in overthrowing reformist democratic governments in:

    Guatemala
    Guinea
    Dominican Republic
    Brazil
    Chile
    Uruguay
    Syria
    Indonesia
    Greece (twice)
    Argentina (twice)
    Haiti (three times)
    Bolivia

    - replaced with military regimes.


    The US has actively pursued covert actions and proxy military wars
    against popular revolutionary governments in:

    Cuba
    Angola
    Mozambique
    Ethiopia
    Portugal
    South Yemen
    Nicaragua
    Cambodia
    East Timor
    Western Sahara (territory)
    Iraq (CIA overthrow of democratically elected government in late
    1960's, installing Saddam Hussein who brutally murdered his
    opposition)


    The US has actively destabilized and moved against reformist governments in:

    Egypt
    Lebanon
    Peru
    Jamaica (Michael Manley)
    Venezuela (Hugo Chavez)
    Iran (CIA overthrow of Mossadegh 1954)
    Syria
    Zaire
    Fiji Islands
    Afghanistan (before the Russian invasion of 1980's)


    US direct military invasion or aerial bombings (or both) in:

    Vietnam
    Cuba
    Dominican Republic
    North Korea
    Laos
    Cambodia
    Yugoslavia
    Lebanon
    Grenada
    Panama
    Libya
    Iraq (twice)
    Afghanistan
    Somalia


    "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our
    inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the
    state of facts and evidence."

    John Adams, 'Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston
    Massacre Trials,' December 1770.

    US diplomat, politician and the Second President of the United States
    of America (1735 - 1826)

    ReplyDelete