Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Trick for an Old Dog

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before. I went to my Congressman’s office to meet with his staff and present my concerns to him. Letters, phone calls, emails and petitions have been my primary means of communicating with my representatives but yesterday’s meeting was a step up–an escalation, so to speak.

I was not alone. I was part of a delegation of constituents organized by Liz, a local Code Pink member. All of us are active in the Coalition to End the War here in Phoenix and individual groups such as Military Families Speak Out, Women in Black, Code Pink and Veterans for Peace. Although our Congressman, John Shadegg, is pretty much a rubber stamp Republican, he is the only one we have. In Arizona’s Third District, you go with the Congressman you have, not the one you wish you had.

That the meeting occurred at all was testament to Liz’s perseverance. She has pursued Arizona’s Congressional delegation doggedly in support of her anti-war and anti-torture efforts. As a result, we had a 30 minute opportunity to present our views to a staff member. In the event, ten of us spent almost an hour talking to Shadegg’s staff member who handles military and veterans issues.

Liz asked me to open the discussion. I led off with my basic points that the war in Iraq is a catastrophic mistake and that the US needs to pursue regional diplomacy and cooperation with our allies to bring it to an end so that this nation is not bled to death as intended by Al-Qaeda’s strategy. Other members of the group re-iterated my comments. All of us submitted letters to the Congressman. Mine focused on the shortcomings at Walter Reed Hospital and several veterans bills now pending in Congress.

The staffer reminded us that Representative Shadegg does not support our position, that he believes in the president’s strategy for additional troops. She was being honest with us and certainly none of us expected him to change. We did, however, point out that we want to open a dialogue with him. We believe that as our representative he has the obligation to meet, listen to and explain his policies to all of his constituents, not just his political base. We noted that he participated in only one debate with his Democratic opponent in 2006 and does little to publicize his schedule so that constituents can meet with him.

One of the more interesting exchanges came when I and our Military Families representative pointed out how little Americans other than service members and their families sacrifice in the war. The staffer asked what kind of sacrifice we are talking about and we quickly offered examples: higher taxes to purchase the equipment needed and medical care for veterans, the Bush twins enlisting in the military, corporations sacrificing huge profits for the good of the country. Our criticisms must have hit home because she responded that military service is voluntary so Representative Shadegg’s children are not required to serve. We asked why, if this war is “the calling of a generation” (as our senior Senator and George Bush insist), aren’t they volunteering? One of us recommended a military draft if the danger is so dire.

In all, I would describe the meeting was an ideological standoff because I don’t think any minds were changed. On the other hand, the meeting was a success in that we established contact with our Congressman, clearly stated that we represent a majority of opinion in the Third District and expected to meet with Representative Shadegg down the road.

Score a point for representative democracy. We’ll see what it’s worth.

Note: I'll update this post if meeting paticipants note any errors or omissions.

Here's my letter to Representative Shadegg:

Representative Shadegg:

Recent Washington Post articles on the deplorable conditions for outpatient service members at Walter Reed Medical Center illustrate a serious national failure to support men and women injured in service to the country. As a veteran, I find this failure to be a breach of trust, an appalling reminder that in spite of all the words of support for service members, this nation remains unable to care for them when they are injured. I am pleased to see that the articles have spurred a frenzy of corrective action at Walter Reed, but I ask you as a member of Congress to follow up with the Defense Department to determine how conditions could have been allowed to deteriorate to the abysmal levels described by the Washington Post. If the Army’s premier medical facility has failed injured service men and women so badly, what conditions are likely at other, less visible facilities? I urge you and your colleagues to aggressively pursue this matter to ensure that all wounded service members are provided the care they have so rightly earned.

Several bills now pending before Congress will improve services for our veterans. I ask that you support HR 327, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act introduced by Representative Leonard Boswell and 126 other Representatives. HR 327 directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop and carry out a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. Named for Joshua Omvig, one of many Iraq war veterans who have committed suicide as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder developed as a result of their combat experience, this bill would prevent Iraq war veterans and their families from suffering the high rate of suicide that occurred among Vietnam veterans.

I also request that you sponsor a House companion bill for S117, the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act of 2007. This bill would fulfill the promise this nation has made to the men and women who serve by requiring post-deployment medical and mental health screenings within 30 days after deployment, providing each member an electronic copy of all military records and ensuring appropriate outreach to members of the National Guard and reserves concerning benefits and services available upon discharge or deactivation.

This legislation will go a long way toward providing real support for our troops that is more than just words. Another bill will correct an oversight from a previous war. HR 23, the Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2007 will provide benefits to qualified members of the Merchant Marine who served over 60 years ago. Although the Merchant Marine was an integral part of America’s war effort, without which victory would have been impossible, they received no benefits after the war. Members of the Armed Forces, in contrast, received generous educational and housing benefits. It is time to recognize the important service rendered by the Merchant Mariners.

Thank you for supporting America’s veterans.


Mark Fleming
Veterans for Peace Chapter 75

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Forget 2008

Sick and tired of never-ending presidential campaigns and big money candidates? Don't think you can handle another Hilary-Obama-Edwards dust-up? You're in luck, my friend. Courtesty of Evil Spock, you can fast forward to the 2012 presidential election and skip the next couple years' of political foolishness. Evil Spock has announced his candidacy for president of the United States in 2012! Barred by the Constitution from serving as president until then because of his young age, Evil Spock will fast forward American politics four years ahead, giving all voters the comfort that whatever foolishness emerges in 2008 will end in a merciful four years.

It's the best news this tired voter has heard since Pogo was drafted as a presidential candidate.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Salivating About the Past, Ignoring the Present

William Faulkner noted that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That statement rings true for so much in America these days. Most recently, the image of anti-war protesters spitting on soldiers during the Vietnam war was resuscitated in a Newsweek article about Senators John McCain and Chuck Hagel, two Vietnam veterans now on opposite sides of the debate about the American occupation in Iraq. Jack Shafer is skeptical about this claim in several columns posted at Slate about anti-war protesters spitting on soldiers. His skepticism is based on Jerry Lembecke’s book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam to challenge the assertion that spitting on soldiers was a common practice among opponents of the Vietnam war.

Shafer and Lembecke question the assertions based on the lack of documentation for any of the claimed incidents. Shafer writes,
… if vets were being spat upon with such abandon as my e-mail correspondents claim, at least one documented case should exist in which a cop or a reporter was called after a fistfight broke out after one of the many alleged spit assaults on a vet by protesters at San Francisco International Airport.

The timing of veterans reporting incidents also seems questionable. Shafer quotes Lembecke that the reports of spitting on soldiers did not begin to appear until the 1980's. Shafer’s initial column produced a strong reaction from veterans who claimed that they were spat upon. Shafer concedes that isolated incidents may have occurred but he cites the lack of documentation to question the idea of widespread hostility to Americans who served in Vietnam.

Like the Vietnam war itself, Shafer is engaged in a no-win contest. So is Jerry Lembecke. The spitting stories are part of the “stabbed in the back” story that Americans betrayed their soldiers by turning against them. The American traitors in this case are the anti-war protesters, media elites and intellectuals who opposed the war. The image of protesters assaulting returning GI’s with saliva is used to discredit all who opposed the war. Even opponents who didn’t actually spit on soldiers were in league with those who did. Three decades after America was driven out of Vietnam, the debate about who lost Vietnam has not ended, nor has the attempt to blame the war’s opponents for the loss.

The whole issue of spitting is akin to a theological debate. Nothing will convince the wronged warriors that they weren’t betrayed by anti-war protesters. As one who was both an anti-war protester and soldier (in that order), I am unaware of any hostile actions toward soldiers. I don’t doubt that some occurred. Passions were high in those days and I’m sure that some of my fellow protesters were assholes and could have done something stupid like spitting on a fellow American. My own attitude toward soldiers was that, with the exception of senior officers, they were simply caught in a difficult situation and got by as best they could. That is certainly how I dealt with the issue when my time came. I wasn’t willing to say no to my country, even when America asked me to kill. Hell, I had a college degree and was pretty knowledgeable about the war and the policies surrounding it and I couldn’t say no so it’s easy to see how men with fewer advantages acquiesced to the war.

As a soldier I was rarely in public in uniform. I only got one pass during basic training and during infantry school I wore civilian clothes on pass. Even then I felt uneasy , my military haircut marked me in those days of long hair. I mainly wore my uniform to qualify for military fares while traveling. My unease had nothing to do with the way anyone behaved toward me, it was more my uncertainty about knowing that I would kill and maybe die in a war I did not believe in. My return from Vietnam was uneventful. Unlike most returning soldiers, my flight from Vietnam landed at the San Francisco airport because of bad weather at Travis Air Force Base but no protesters were around to harass us. Nor were there any when I showed up back at the airport with other newly discharged veterans to fly home. We spent a good ten hours at a bar celebrating and sending each other off to our flights. No one bothered any of us.

Rather than hostility, what I experienced was indifference. Nobody bought me a drink. Or welcomed me home. I was just a faceless GI with a few medals and a ticket home sitting with other GI’s waiting for our flights. That was pretty much the pattern. When I got home few people wanted to hear me talk about Vietnam, which I needed to do. The friends who did listen must have gotten pretty tired of it after a while but at least they listened. That helped me decompress somewhat.

So this whole argument about who treated Vietnam veterans how is pretty pointless to me. I know anti-war protesters didn’t stab me in the back. They didn’t reach out to me but neither did the war supporters. Everyone just seemed to want to forget. I can’t blame anyone in particular for the lack of support; Vietnam was a major clusterfuck that did nobody any good. I think spitting and other examples about mistreatment of GIs were isolated incidents and don’t support the idea that those who opposed the war were hostile to returning soldiers. I think the nation as a whole pretty much swept us under the rug.

Fast forward four decades and nobody is spitting on the troops. Everyone LOVES the troops. The troops are our heroes, our pride, our cause. We plaster our cars with yellow ribbon magnets and cheer our the soldiers as they return. And then, just as we did 40 years ago, we forget about them. Not everyone, though. Family members worry as the men and women who went to war come back different, uneasy and on guard. Sometimes the rest of us hear news of a veteran causing some sort of “disturbance”. But mostly, we hide behind our expressions of support and continue on with our lives. The war, the troops and their families are an abstraction that is not particularly relevant for most of us.

Meanwhile, the troops that we profess to support and their families are left to deal with war’s ugly aftermath, with the nightmares and paranoia, with an overwhelmed and often indifferent bureaucracy that seeks to limit the long term cost of the war by leaving veterans and their families with few or no resources. Yeah, we support our troops with words but when it comes to turning those words into action, we may as well be spitting on them for all the good it does.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Now That It's All Over the Papers

The Army and Walter Reed Hospital administrators are all about correcting the deplorable conditions identified by the Washington Post in a series of articles this weekend. That can't be bad. But why did it take a flood of embarassing publicity to spur action? More important, how many other facilities and veterans in those facilities are suffering from the same bureaucratic neglect and indifference?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogroll Update

Please welcome to our blogroll, Any Which Way written by Scroff. I've recently come to this blog via Alternate Brain and found not only the kind of thinking I care to be associated with but also a link to this obscure site. I am proudly returning the favor.