Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dying for your country?

A friend from army days sent me a link this morning to an article about the way the manager of a Chick-Fil-A franchise in Marietta, Georgia, found to honor America’s veterans this year.  He set up a table last November, just before Veterans Day, with a memorial to soldiers who didn’t make it back.  The sign on the table reads:

This table is reserved to honor our missing comrades in arms. The tablecloth is white — symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call of duty. The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of the missing and their loved ones and friends of these Americans who keep the faith, awaiting answers. The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to account for our missing. A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek answers. The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God. The glass is inverted — to symbolize their inability to share this evening’s toast. The chair is empty — they are missing.

Here’s part of my response to my friend who sent the link:

Regarding that e-mail you just sent about Chick-Fil-A honoring veterans…  You pushed a couple of buttons here.

For starters, let’s acknowledge where there is agreement.  People who put on a military uniform and do what the U.S. government determines is their duty to their country should not be blamed for the country’s mistakes.  On the contrary, their willingness to fight and die should be respected – regardless of their true motives and of the legitimacy of their cause.  I’m all for memorials to veterans and to fallen soldiers.  You and I both wore the uniform at one time and I think those of us who were lucky enough to have avoided combat while in uniform should be particularly grateful for that fact, and acknowledge those who were not so lucky to come home.  No exceptions – those who came home in a box, those with missing limbs, those with shattered psyches, and those who came home with all their limbs and their faculties intact as well.  The risk they took to life and limb should be honored, and if Chick-Fil-A wants to set up a table in their restaurant to do that, I’m all for it.

The problem I have with this e-mail is not with the veterans and not with the impulse to honor them.  My problem is with the story that goes untold, with the message that gets left out.  With the way in which we take young American lives and put them in harm’s way, and then compound the injustice by using them as jingoistic symbols of totally corrupt policies of international war and aggression.  “Support Our Troops,” the slogans say.  If we were honest, we would recognize the underlying message is more accurately stated as “Support Our War Efforts.”  If we were really to support our troops we would be more careful to use them only when our lives and our security were actually being threatened.  Once you send troops off to war, you then get to manipulate their courage and dedication to silence the voices that are crying out to stop the folly. 

While my political views are leftist ones, I see those manipulators as coming from both sides of the political divide.  Ever since we got to feel good about our contribution to defeating Hitler we have let that euphoria carry us away into thinking all our later efforts at war-making were similar contributions to civilization.  That has not been the case.

We ignored President Eisenhower’s warning that the military-industrial complex could get out of hand and a generation later we were killing Vietnamese and napalming their countryside.  For what?  To make sure the misery the Vietnamese suffered under French colonialism continued unabated?  We twisted that fight – it had by now become a civil war – into an overly simple black-and-white struggle between communism and “the free world.”  That enabled us to turn Ho Chi Minh into a monster, when a more cautious analysis might have recognized him as a land reformer, and nationalist founding father of a post-colonial nation.  A quarter of a million South Vietnamese soldiers died in that war, over a million North Vietnamese, because Americans had the greater killing power, and two million civilians [those are Hanoi’s figures and may be exaggerated, but most people, I think, agree it was over half a million].    And yes, 58,200 American soldiers, as well.

We lost that war designed to “contain” communism, and since then the Soviet Union has collapsed and communism, including the Vietnamese version,  has evolved and become compatible with the international community of nations.  Would the world be a better place if we had won that war?  If the Vietnamese had not been allowed to name their capital city after their founding father, as we did? In any case, the world now recognizes that the claim that American soldiers “fight for democracy and freedom” is an empty jingoist slogan.  They fight for corporate interests, for a subset of American politicians with imperial ambitions, and for the illusion that America has a God-given right to dictate how the world should be run.

That’s not the view you get from the plaque on the table at Chick-Fil-A, which declares, among other things, that “the Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.”  The implication is blatant – these soldiers fought for a godly nation.  How could their cause be unjust?  

Millions died in that war and a generation later it is as if it had never taken place.  That bitter fact is nowhere to be found on that memorial plaque.  It speaks of American mothers' tears, but not of the tears of Vietnamese mothers of boys born at the wrong time and forced into a war with that “nation under God.”  Does the American God love those mothers less?  Some facts about the efforts expended in foreign wars have to be left out in order for us to maintain the illusion that we are and always have been the good guys.

And did we learn from Vietnam?  Where is the evidence that Americans died for democracy and freedom in Grenada?  In the Tanker War between Iran and Iraq in the Persian Gulf?  In Panama? Kuwait?  Somalia?  Haiti?

And now, in what may be the biggest American folly of all time, costing over two trillion dollars – with predictions that figure may rise to six trillion dollars in time – we smash a baseball bat against a hornet’s nest in Iraq, turning it into an Iranian satellite and provoking enough hatred, resentment and desperation among the Sunni to justify the establishment of Al Qaeda and ISIS.  

How can any reasonable person argue that America was fighting for freedom and democracy?  It was fighting for incompetent self-serving political leaders with aggressive imperialist goals.  One failed war policy after another sent Americans into harm’s way.  If there were innocent soldiers motivated to fight of freedom, that innocence got them killed.  Ignorance (W started the war with no awareness of the difference between Shia and Sunni) and incompetence (dismantling the Iraqi army and sending the soldiers out into the street, unemployed) on an almost unimaginable scale sent those boys and girls to die. 

How dare we sit and shed a tear over this “nation under God” and not put those warmongers on trial for the killing of our American soldiers?  How dare we continue to manipulate religiously vulnerable people into thinking this was God’s will that we are up to?  The harnassing of sincere piety to American jingoism in that Chick-Fil-A monument should make Americans retch.

And lest you think my partisan voice speaking here is unbalanced, consider the source of this article.  It’s from Top Right News.  If you go to their website you see four tabs: immigration, Islam, Common Core and Guns.  You don’t have to read very far into these links to see that Islam is bad and guns are good.  The ideology is right there on the surface.  I can’t speak to Chick-Fil-A’s motivations, which may be well-intended.  But there is no doubt their boosters are part of what makes America ugly.

And we haven’t even begun to address the Chick-Fil-A controversy over their support of anti-gay causes which brought the likes of Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to their defense.  These and others of their political persuasion are the direct successors to the Bush-Cheney policy makers who unleashed the latest war in which so many Americans died in vain.

One nation under God?

How about a more honest look at what it is Americans in uniform actually die for?

photo of Missing Man Table and content of the sign taken from the original article in Top Right News

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