Veterans Day with the War STILL On

For most people in the United States, and perhaps the globe, the election of Barack Obama last week provided a time for celebration and a collective sigh of relief.  Among supporters, there is the anticipation of a sweeping change in our relationship to government in an ailing economic time driven by the neglect of our public infrastructure and financially withering social programs that are the bedrock of a successful republic–for me, this means support for quality and equal education and meaningful employment (with a humane healthcare system we’ve never had to allow us the pursuit of happiness…notice we are given the right to pursue, but not necessarily the right to have happiness).

We are at War and today is Veteran’s Day.  For a state holiday I don’t often take much time to revere-having the rigid sense that only hawkish people would value going to war-there is renewed purpose.  A week into the president-elect’s presidency, we ought to consider how infrequent America’s two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were talked about in the campaign, especially in the last few months of the Bailout Era.

This must be remedied.  As Aaron Glantz wrote for The Nation today, if we as a people do not learn from history and, unless we confront the consequences of war with urgency and humanity, we are doomed to repeat it.  In this case, of course, the parable is the last few years in Vietnam:

Both Barack Obama and John McCain barely mentioned the war in Iraq in their final debate. In his historic victory speech, Obama said “Iraq” only once. Some say the election results show Americans demanding a “change,” and in many ways they do. But they also show a collective desire to forget.

Most Americans want to put the war behind them, but this feeling is based not on a coherent critique but on a kind of collective exhaustion. In many ways, we as a country find ourselves in a mood like the one towards the end of the Vietnam War: we are tired and simply want to move on and forget the conflict ever happened.

Yet this feeling can come at a great cost, because it is this same dynamic that led to the betrayal of more than three million Vietnam veterans.

In a stunning statistic reiterated on today’s Democracy Now! interview with Glantz, 18 veterans commit suicide every day according to the Department of Veterans Affairs own data.

We have not come to grips with the cost of war despite the overwhelming evidence: 200,000 veterans are homeless, which is approximately one-third of the homeless population in this country; the incredible physical and mental health needs of veterans; and, perhaps most importantly, the continued myth of the effectiveness of war to solve complex problems.

This myth is possible to continue in the non-militarized section of society through the continued suppression and silencing of military veterans’ dissent and the absence of courageous individuals in power to confront the military-industrial complex (Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Rep. Tom Allen embodying two lonesome examples).   After making speeches in Chicago opposing the Second Iraq War in 2003, Obama continually hedges on the issue and makes great concessions to militarization in general, advocating for increased troop levels in Afghanistan.  Obama’s campaign narrative of “change” toward Bush’s style of militarization seems a half-hearted shadow of his earlier political maneuvering and hypocritical, especially since he is considering leaving Defense Secretary Robert Gates at his post.

Of course, since 1941 America has almost always been at war.  As documented in books such as “Killing Hope” by William Blum and “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” by Gore Vidal, the United States has had overt and clandestine (CIA) misadventures in reaches as far and wide as Guatemala, Iran, Chile, Grenada, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq (the first time), Vietnam, Korea, Panama, East Timor…the list goes on.  This is partly due to the state’s concession to what Eisenhower warned as “the military-industrial complex,” which is explicated in the recent film “Why We Fight.”  Despite the wishes of our most respected founding father, George Washington, to have no standing army, the myth of war’s effectiveness has become ingrained in the American psyche to the point of insanity.

“This war,” expectedly, is said again to be in defense of American citizens’ freedoms and rights.

Yet, when Iraq Veterans Against the War attempted to ask both McCain and Obama questions on the U.S. war in Iraq, to “redress grievances” as they phrased it, at the final debate on Hofstra University’s campus they were met with mounted police.  Under the right to peaceably assemble and freedom of speech, 15 veterans crossed a police line outside of the debate and were attacked without cause by police on horses.  One person was trampled, suffering a broken cheekbone.  Yesterday all fifteen entered not guilty pleas in court.

After witnessing police at the DNC and reading the history of police in Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, these actions are not shocking at all, in fact they are expected behavior for people who are essentially bribed through wages and other benefits to protect the interests of the upper classes in the name of “order.”  Many of the police are no doubt veterans themselves, considering the overlapping skillset in each profession.

In August, Iraq Veterans Against the War marched on the Pepsi Center in Denver to petition the Democratic Party and its nominee Barack Obama to fulfill its anti-war promises and agree to the veterans’ demands: return troops home immediately, healthcare and full benefits to returning veterans and reparations to the Iraqi people for U.S. destruction of their society.  There was a tense extended stand-off between police and the veterans who were in uniform and in formation just outside the gates to the Democratic National Convention.  Everyone readied for pepper spray and arrests.  Veterans made megaphone appeals to the heavily armed police, speaking to them as brothers and sisters who understood the pressures on them and how they are used as tools for the state.  But at the last moment, in a move that Machiavelli would approve of, Obama defused the situation by sending an aide to hear the veterans’ demands and carte blanche to accept whatever they were.  Obama made sure the convention remained without controversy and knew that, absent of pepperspray or mass arrests, the press’ attention would likely focus inside the Pepsi Center.

A friend of mine wrote about his experience as a media marshall, holding back those pushy aggressive photographers.  He was exhausted from four hours of marching, negotiating and fretting with the press and yet he relayed to me afterward that it was one of the most powerful events of his life:

There is a vision in my head now of seeing the once armed call for peace.  It was a dream being resurrected from my parents generation, a faint whisper of a dream sung to me at bedtime when I was a child.  It was a hope more powerful than anything Barak Obama could give us…

…Still, a day later I can find almost no press coverage of the event.  I had never seen so many reporters in my life.  Where did their stories go?  Killed at the editor’s desk no doubt. Those that I found published in national media were done so in obscure online galleries or washed of most of the meaning.  As for Barak Obama, there has been no public acknowledgment of any pledge to help the veterans.

It is in his interest to marginalize Iraq Veterans Against the War by not acknowledging his pledge publicly–it kept him in a centrist role heading into the election and will leave his options open as president.  It is obvious that he is accountable to the elite of Congress and not to those people most affected.  And this structure will remain in place until enough people in our culture and society make it known that war is an unacceptable solution that only breeds greater consequences.  Or until enough G.I.’s revolt.

Even the statements I recently found from a West Point professor–“There is no glory in war, only suffering.  No victors, only the living”–would be sage advice to the president-elect and our society at-large.  From this understanding, hopefully we can learn to divest ourselves from the myth of war as an effective strategy to bring justice, in which there are heroes and victors.

This Veterans’ Day, let us talk candidly and urgently of the consequences of war. Let us support the veterans of wars who are witnesses to its horrors and who act to oppose it.  Let us be creative and dynamic in working out alternatives and solutions to war and violence whether between nations or between friends.

Is it not a violently irresponsible government which permits 18 veterans to kill themselves each day from its own actions?  Is it not a violently irresponsible government which dismisses veterans’ right to petition and assemble by sending the police to attack them?

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Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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