In late 2009, I wrote the following article for Huff Post under the title, “One Grizzled Veteran’s Dream.” This Memorial Day Weekend, I’d like to remember the dream a veteran shared with me and lots of other high school juniors back in 1980. Sadly, that dream is even more distant today than it was in 1980.
Thirty years ago, I attended Boys State. Run by the American Legion, Boys State introduces high school students to civics and government in a climate that bears a passing resemblance to military basic training. Arranged in “companies,” we students did our share of hurrying up, lining up, and waiting (sound preparation, in fact, for my career in the military). I recall that one morning a “company” of students got to eat first because they launched into a lusty rendition of the Marine Corps hymn. I wasn’t angry at them: I was angry at myself for not thinking of the ruse first.
Today, most of my Boys State experience is a blur, but one event looms large: the remarks made by a grizzled veteran to us assembled boys. Standing humbly before us, he confessed that he hoped organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars would soon wither away. And he said that he hoped none of us would ever become a member of his post.
At first, we didn’t get it. Didn’t he like us? Weren’t we tough enough? (Indeed, I recall that one of our adolescent complaints was that the name “Boys State” didn’t seem manly enough.)
Then it dawned on us what the withering away of organizations like the American Legion and the VFW would mean. That in our future young Americans would no longer be fighting and dying in foreign wars. That our world would be both saner and safer, and only members of an “old guard” like this unnamed veteran would be able to swap true war stories. Our role would simply be to listen with unmeasured awe and undisguised thanks, grateful that our own sons and daughters no longer had to risk life or limb to enemy bullets and bombs.
It pains me that we as a country have allowed this veteran’s dream to die. We as a country continue to enlarge our military, expand our foreign commitments, and fight seemingly endless wars, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or in other far-off realms of less-than-vital interest to us.
As a result of these wars, we continue to churn out so many new veterans, including so many wounded veterans, not forgetting those who never made it back.
Collectively, we Americans tend to suppress whatever doubts we have about the wisdom of our wars with unequivocal statements of support for our troops. And on days like Veteran’s Day, we honor those who served, and especially those who paid the ultimate price on the battlefield.
Yet, wouldn’t the best support for our troops be the achievement of the dream of that grizzled vet who cut through a young man’s fog thirty years ago?
Shouldn’t we be working to achieve a new age in which the rosters of our local VFWs and Legion posts are no longer renewed with the broken bodies and shattered minds of American combat veterans?
Sadly, as we raise more troops and fight more wars, we seem committed to the opposite. Our military just enjoyed its best recruiting class in years. This “success” is not entirely surprising. It’s no longer that difficult to fill our military’s expanding ranks because many of our young men and women simply have little choice but to enlist, whether for economic opportunity, money for college, or benefits like free health care.
Many of course enlist for patriotic reasons as well. Yet the ease of expanding our military ranks during a shooting war is also a painful reminder of the impoverishment of opportunities for young, able-bodied Americans – the bitter fruit of manufacturing jobs sent overseas, of farming jobs eliminated by our own version of corporate collectivization, of a real national unemployment rate that is approaching twenty percent.
On this Veteran’s Day, what if we began to measure our national success and power, not by our military arsenal or by the number of new recruits in the ranks, but rather by the gradual shrinking of our military ranks, the decline of our spending on defense, perhaps even by the growing quiet of our legion posts and VFW halls?
Wouldn’t that be a truer measure of national success: fewer American combat veterans?
Wouldn’t that give us something to celebrate this Veteran’s Day?
I know one old grizzled veteran who would quietly nod his agreement.
6 thoughts on “Will America’s Wars Ever End?”
I had hoped after Vietnam we would have as a nation learned a lesson about the limitations of military power. There was supposed to be a peace dividend. The Neo-Cons and the Wall Street-Security-Military-Industrial Complex rebooted. The volunteer military would eliminate the draft and those huge anti-draft demonstrations. There would now be an economic draft, which in sense we always had.
Jeremy Corbyn, The Labour leader in Great Britain had this to say: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.”
The CIA had a name for this Blow Back.
Corbyn also said “No rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre,” he said, speaking in Westminster. “But we must be brave enough to admit the war on terror is simply not working. We need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.”
He said seeing the army on “our own streets today is a stark reminder that the current approach has failed”.
The Neo-Cons across the Atlantic were quick to pounce. Sir Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, accusing Corbyn of “very muddled and dangerous thinking.” Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, intensified the attack, saying Corbyn’s comments were “absolutely monstrous”.
A well nuanced and thoughtful observation on the linkage between our War on Terror and what can be expected in return by ISIS or whoever is forbidden.
This old veteran’s take on life as an enlisted man in the U.S. military “in time of war” which, essentially now, means “all the time.” As George Orwell wrote in 1984: “All that matters is that war should exist.” Someone has decreed that it should. So it does. Explanations and analyses unnecessary if attempted and ignored if offered. As the unfortunate private Jessica Lynch — public relations heroine of the 2003 invasion of Iraq — put it: “I joined the Army to get out of Palestine, West Virginia, where I couldn’t even get a job at Wal Mart.” Even worse than life in the U.S. Army in time of perpetual war? Going back to Palestine, West Virginia, after getting discharged with few if any skills applicable to civilian employment. Still no jobs at Wal Mart (the old people part-timers get those). The Sacred Symbol Soldiers and Taboo Troops have become — after the President’s latest photo-op visit in his custom tailored bomber jacket — for all intents and purpposes, little more than …
We serve as a symbol to shield those who screw us
The clueless, crass cretins who crap on our creed
We perform the foul deeds they can only do through us
Then lay ourselves down in the dark while we bleed
Through cheap Sunday slogans they sought to imbue us
With lust for limp legacy laughably lean
Yet the Pyrrhic parade only served to undo us
We die now for duty, not “honor” obscene
We carried out plans that the lunatics drew us
Their oil-spotted, fly paper, domino dream
Then we fought for the leftover bones that they threw us
While carpetbag contractors cleaned up the cream
We stood at attention so they could review us
Like bugs on display in a cage made of glass
We hurried, then waited, so they could subdue us
Yet somewhere inside something said: “kiss my ass.”
We did the George Custer scene Rumsfeld gave to us
We took ourselves targets to arrows and bows
While the brass punched their tickets, the Indians slew us
A “strategy” ranking with History’s lows
When veterans balked they contrived to pooh-pooh us
With sneers at our “syndrome” of Vietnam sick
When that didn’t work they set out to voodoo us
With sewer boat slanderers paid to be slick
The wad-shooting gambler comes once more to woo us
His PR team planning precise photo ops
For to sell his used war he’ll have need to construe us
As witless weak wallpaper campaign-ad props
The nuts and the dolts in their suits really blew us
They made our life’s meaning a dead metaphor
Still, no matter how Furies and Fate may pursue us
The Fig Leaf Contingent has been here before
The years pass in darkness and graveyards accrue us
As early returns on investments gone wrong
So the next time “supporters” of troops ballyhoo us
Remember to vomit in tune to this song.
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005
Is it too late to hope for a celebration of peace?
An accurate description of the economic reasons young men and women enlist. Keep it up and I will count you as having boarded the Trump Train.
It is with some measure of pride that I can say from observation that the Legions in Canada are filled with old servicemen and not young veterans with amputated limbs. In fact you don’t have to be a veteran to join just to keep the membership up. It’s not that we don’t remember our veterans as most have family members who served in war and peace. It’s just that we have avoided in large part, Vietnam and Iraq, though we did serve a long slog in Afghanistan.
Thanks to those politicians we kept us out of those two big wars.
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