Friday, February 22, 2008

Maybe We'll Learn This Time

Anyone who’s been reading my posts here for the last few years–a number I would estimate in the high single digits–will know that Vietnam was, and remains a defining event in my life. I wish it were not but it’s history and there’s nothing I can do about it except learn for the future. My Vietnam experience has many facets, ranging from a far away event that could affect me personally, to a series of actual events that took place in that country and my reactions to all this, then and now. I’ve been living with this motherfucker for at least 40 years in one form or another. The past few years, beginning with my 2002 Appalachian Trail hike and the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq, have been particularly significant for me. The AT hike brought some closure to long ago events just as the current wars brought all those events back to the present.

Within this galaxy of events and experiences, one in particular stands out these days: the Vietnam Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Investigation in early 1971. Ironically, I heard nothing about this at the time. I was “humping the boonies” (combat patrol) as a cherry grunt with the First Cavalry. If Stars and Stripes carried the story, I missed it and it never turned up on the Armed Forces Vietnam Network radio news that I remember. Not long after, VVAW staged Dewey Canyon III in Washington. I saw that story in Stars and Stripes. Later I learned about Winter Soldier.

These events electrified me. Seeing brother veterans--guys who knew what war truly was--speaking out against their, and now my own, war gave me a sense of pride and hope. Pride to be associated with these heroes (if only in my mind) and hope that Americans would recognize the war for the disaster it was. Being able to join VVAW as veteran who served in combat is one of my prouder moments. It offers some validity to my service.

That’s why I am urging everyone to follow Winter Soldier II, an investigation into the brutality and dehumanization of war, sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War. Unlike the original, I think WS II will get lots more attention as an event, especially since the wingnuts are out to discredit the whole affair ahead of time rather than waiting until after the fact and the damage is done as was the case in 1971. Winter Soldier II will take place in Washington, DC March 13-16 and may actually bring the war home to the rest of America that's still out shopping or numbing their minds with the slime oozing from their television screens. I hope.

Check out the video on the IVAW home page. That says everything you need to know about war.

[crossposted at Mockingbird's Medley.]

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Some Thoughts

The morning's news is replete with stories that beg for comment about the state of our nation and here I am too lazy to want to get into it all. But still...

The brouhaha about John McCain's "inappropriate relationship" with a young female lobbyist misses the mark entirely. The NYT article that broke the story suggests some sort of intimate relationship. Good for them, if that makes them happy. What John McCain does in private with his own or other's body parts is his own affair. I'd rather not think about it at all, if you don't mind. What John McCain does in his role as public official behind closed doors is every bit my business and here is where I find an inappropriate relationship. McCain is a "special interest whore" and has been since he came to Arizona and linked up with Charles Keating. Any questions about that are clearly answered in today's Washington Post. McCain is surrounded by special interests even as he claims he does them no favors. Right. I've got a hardly used bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you.

Pivoting from my friend John to one of his favorite causes--military strength--the United States stepped up the arms race in space by several notches with its satellite kill this week. The race has been on for some time but it's been more or less restrained since no nation wants be too far ahead of introducing man's violence into a whole new realm. Now that the US has demonstrated what it can do, other nations will be quickly looking for the same capability or effective countermeasures. Once again, as so often in the past 60 years, the United States--my fucking country using my fucking tax dollars--is the main promoter of arms escalation.

Although Germany started the nuclear arms race, America actually used nuclear weapons after Germany's defeat. American developed and deployed the first hydrogen bomb, long range bomber, intercontinental ballistic missile, multiply independent re-entry vehicle (multiple warheads on a single missile). Each action was intended to provide a qualitative advantage over the Soviet Union but the advantage lasted only until our adversary came up with an effective strategy. Same with the anti-satellite warfare. No other nation, especially emerging nations with wealth and resources, such as Russia and China will accept a US strategic advantage any longer than they have to. Hell, the arms race has been going on ever since the first hominid learned to sharpen a stick and make a spear. You'd think by now we'd learn that no advantage ever lasts.

Oh, wait. We're America. We always win. Right?

[editor's note: As I said at the beginning, I'm too damn lazy to post links to all my assertions. This is a rant. If you have any questions about my statements, leave a comment and I'll consider it.]

Update later that very same day: Since the hawks are claiming the satellite kill as validation for the Missile Defense System, Needlenose carefully denotes the full extent of that success.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Holiday From History

"Straight Talk" John McCain has begun to target Barak Obama as and inexperienced lightweight who would offer a "holiday from history". As an experienced heavyweight McCain claims to offer the nation the realistic security it requires.

Apparently, McCain's history is on permanent vacation and has been since, say 1984, as painfully detailed by Juan Cole.

Tell everyone you know.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Coal Mine Canary for Endless War

The Galloping Beaver has a revealing item about the overextension of the British Army, which will deploy its last reserve unit to Kosovo, leaving Britain with no forces available to handle contingencies. British forces are considerably smaller than the American military but it's not hard to see what's happening to our allies as an all-too-possible future for the United States. The stresses on the British military are the same as American forces are now experiencing.

I think I can do the math here. Open-ended war plus borrowed funds plus extended deployments equals an unsustainable effort.

Don't think it's not already happening.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Homeless Veteran Stand Down

This weekend I volunteered at the Homeless Veterans Stand Down sponsored by US Vets in Phoenix. US Vets is a non-profit that provides transitional assistance and housing for homeless veterans to help them get off the street and back into what the rest of us consider a normal life. A "stand down" is a military term for pulling the troops out of combat for some R&R.

In this case the stand down was the opportunity for homeless vets in Phoenix to access a variety of support services, from VA to Social Security, to medical screening, showers, haircuts, clothing and meals. The sponsors estimated that about 400 veterans (out of an estimated 3,000 homeless veterans in the area) took advantage of the services available. We even did a live remote broadcast of About Face from the site, interviewing the various providers and participants. For someone like me, who's pretty jaded about most everything, it was a good opportunity to do something direct and positive.


Why in the hell do private citizens and non-profits have to do this? I don't mind helping out but it boggles the mind (and mine doesn't boggle easily) that this nation treats veterans who have served their country this way. Yeah, I know some of these guys (and women) are fucked up for reasons not related to military service, but the fact is that many are. Even more so, the nation has promised to take care of these veterans after their service. The homeless veterans are a difficult group to address since many just don't want or trust any outside help. It seems that the nation is more than willing to just let it end there.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was a major contributor to the weekend events. Their medical and social service staff were out in force, screening vets and signing them up for services. Their kitchen staff provided all the meals. The VA Homeless Outreach Coordinator was on site for much of the stand down. So it's not like the nation is ignoring the problem entirely. It just seems a shame that so many veterans end up on the streets in the first place.

I spent my time there serving food and distributing clothing. It was my first encounter with homeless in some time. In the early 90's I had a studio in a building adjacent to two single room occupancy hotels (aka, flop houses) and the residents would wander in during shows and eat our munchies. Sometimes we'd drink with them at the bar next door so I know most are pretty harmless and some are quite interesting. This weekend encounters were no different except that these are guys I served with in Vietnam (figuratively speaking) and we had some direct experiences in common. Most seemed pretty normal and happy for the opportunity afforded by the stand down. Still I couldn't avoid he reality that I would sleep in a bed when I went home at night. Many of them would not.

America has always been a land of community initiative and outreach, although for much of our history those efforts have excluded all sorts of people like African Americans, Native Americans and, all too often, the homeless. In my lifetime many of those exclusions have been eliminated so I guess that volunteer efforts are in keeping with our more altruistic side.

Still, only about one in seven area homeless vets participated. Lord knows were all the others are. What about them?

Oh yeah, Bill O'Reilly did not attend.