Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sir! No Sir!

Perhaps CheneyBush’s greatest accomplishment is to create a state of permanent fear in America. He’s hardly the first president to frighten his countrymen with the specter of danger but he is certainly the most successful in establishing a bunker mentality that has pervaded this nation since 9-11. On his watch our nation became a “homeland”, something that sounds more like Germany under the Nazis or Russia under the Communists. Unlike his predecessors who fought a cold war, he has deployed our military on a near permanent hot war behind which he can wrap himself in the flag and tell Americans that legal protections and Constitutional rights are “quaint”.

Most insidious, to my way of thinking, is his claim to be commander-in-chief. I don’t dispute his right to claim that title—the role is established in the Constitution. What I dispute is the idea that he is MY commander-in-chief. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces of which I am no longer a member. What is particularly disturbing about establishing commander-in-chief as the president’s primary role is the idea that we civilians owe him the same deference as the military. That is a formula for dictatorship.

It is also a perversion of the president’s role in American society and politics. Back in undergraduate political science, I learned that the president has several roles, one of which is commander-in-chief. Scanning the internet, I found this list of presidential roles, which also includes chief diplomat, head of state and chief executive. The list is the same one I learned years ago plus the addition of chief guardian of the economy. Most of these roles involve some level of politics and policy which, in turn, involve debate, discussion and dialogue. C-in-C is the least amenable to debate, discussion and dialogue. In that role, the president is a commander who should merit obedience from his subordinates.

Which is why I find CheneyBush’s emphasis on this one aspect of the office to be so disturbing. Americans have become used to the idea of the president of the US as their commander-in-chief even though the vast majority of Americans are not in the military. I do not have a commander-in-chief; I have a president who serves in that role but I no more owe him obedience than I owe obedience to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The commander-in-chief role is important to me in that it establishes the principle of civilian control. More important to me in the current context is the role of chief diplomat—establishing the course of US relations with other nations which determines when and how the military will be used in protecting American national interests. The president, for better or (in CheneyBush’s case) worse, is in fact MY chief diplomat, a role that is or should be clearly open do debate, discussion and dialogue.

Don't expect any change from the 2008 election. Even Barack Obama has fallen into the commander-in-chief mindset. During his visit to Iraq, he said as president he would listen to the military but make decisions based on "a range of factors that I have to take into account as a commander in chief.". I would prefer that he consider factors in a much broader context of chief diplomat. The military is a tool for achieving specific missions and I would certainly expect any president to seek the generals’ advice in planning and executing those missions. I would also expect a president to keep the generals in a subordinate role and seek broader counsel when determining what missions to undertake. Those decisions are a civilian policy matter.

President Kennedy probably summed up the appropriate relationship between the generals and the civilian leadership when he said something like this (*) about Air Force General Curtis LeMay, “If I ever had to order an attack on the Soviet Union, I would want General LeMay flying the lead bomber. I do not want him making the decision to attack.”

America has a civilian commander-in-chief for its armed forces. That’s in the Constitution. We do not need a national commander-in-chief.

(*) I recall reading this but could not find the exact quote. I did come across this piece on General LeMay, which gives a good view of why Kennedy would say something like that.


The title of this post is also the title of an excellent documentary about GI resistance during the Vietnam War. GI resistance is still important but equally important is that all Americans resist militarization of our country by CheneyBush and his war fetishists.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Short Timer

Way back in Vietnam, everyone longed to be “short”, to be getting close to that all important DEROS (date expected return from overseas) Day when each soldier’s war would end. (Unlike the current war, most GI’s only served one tour in Vietnam.) The DEROS count began the first day in country and ended at zero (or maybe even two if you got a quick flight out). At least I thought it ended then. Ever since, the notion of short has been part of my life. All things pass; time and change are inevitable. These passing events individuals and places may not have the certain duration and clear trajectory of military service but they happen nonetheless. Throughout life I have often been a short-timer as I moved from place to place. I knew that for sure when I lived on the Navajo reservation—no matter how long I stayed I would never be truly permanent in that place; that’s one reason why I enjoyed and savored it so much.

More recently I realize that I am becoming a short-timer in this life. The idea is nothing new--I’ve known that life is not permanent pretty much since I learned of death during my childhood. What I didn’t know about the uncertainty of life before I went to Vietnam, I learned there. But these days I can look back at the years and see more behind than in front of me. In Vietnam, that tipping point was cause for celebration (as was every day before and after). I don’t know when that tipping point occurred in my life but as an American male at age 60, I can reasonably assume that I passed my tipping point. I’m a short timer.

At this point in life, even the long term looks like the short term. Maybe longer than shorter but clearly a relatively short time compared to my previous years. So all those things I always wanted to do but haven’t will need to come to pass if I’m going to do them. For practical matters, I give myself another good 15 active years but that may be only a hopeful guess or pessimistic realism. My time could already be up and I just don’t know it as I write this. (Returning to this piece after a few days, I’m still alive, so I haven’t hit the trip wire yet.)

So what does this short-timer plan to do with those precious remaining years? I’m going back to full time employment. A combination of opportunity, challenge, income and benefits makes this a good choice for a few years. It will certainly offer an excellent introduction to my newly adopted state and further my goal of returning to “successful unemployment” in the future. I can also look back to seven years of freedom and interesting travel. I have no regrets about those years or my choices for the next years. I am where I want to be doing what I want.

Mostly. I will no longer co-host About Face on KPHX radio or appear on radio with the Olympia Veterans for Peace. My new employment requires that I be nonpartisan, objective and independent. I don’t think my veteran’s activism affects my ability to meet those requirements but I know well enough that anonymity is to my advantage. Besides, I don’t plan to give up on radio—or television, for that matter. I have some opportunities to develop a show based on my work as a veterans’ advocate and a possible documentary about traumatic brain injury. All I have to do is pass the VA test I took yesterday, master studio equipment and develop a format. I also want to begin photographing again not to mention painting and just experiencing the world around me and enjoying the company of friends and family. I have plenty to keep me interested and occupied.

But my clock is ticking and will stop someday. Fact of life. When I was a Catholic schoolboy, I worried constantly about death and eternal punishment, a feeling that became impossible to avoid when I discovered sex. Since I could not ignore sex, I gave up on Catholic doctrine which freed me from my fear of death as I came to understand my place in the cosmos and other forms of spirituality. Since then, my death has been an event that I know will occur. In the meantime, I can simply do my best to contribute to my community and refrain from harming others. If I do that, whatever comes after death is of no concern. Honesty and respect are important because that is how I define my humanity. It’s just the right thing to do. Period. Not because I fear some eternal punishment or seek some celestial reward. I’m no saint—I don’t always act honestly and respectfully—but I do know right from wrong. Heaven and Hell are irrelevant.

Unlike Vietnam, I am not anxious for my tour in this life to end quickly. Like Vietnam, I can’t do much about it. Well, okay, I can refrain from walking on the edge of sheer canyons since life has taught me that gravity is not always my friend. But even with reasonable prudence and judgment, I will die, probably within the next 30 years or so. Or maybe I will live to be 112. That still puts me past the tipping point.

Call me short. In the meantime, I have a few things to attend to.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Testing, Testing.

Today I took the test to be certified as a Veterans Affairs Claims Agent. As a certified agent I will be able to assist veterans in seeking benefits and upgrading adverse discharges so that veterans can get the medical treatment they deserve. Certification is not required; I could do the same thing as a private individual with specific authorization from a veteran but certification offers provides legal standing that will be helpful.

Studying for the test meant reading a thick manual of laws and regulations. Actually, I skimmed it and tried to get a halfway decent overview of the process. The study definitely helped--it gave me enough familiarity with the process so that I could make reasonable guesses on the questions I did not know right off. That would be about 23 of the 25 questions.

Now I just have to wait for the results. Apparently, the certification process is backlogged since Congress changed the law to allow advocates to charge reasonable fees for their services. Previously, they were limited to nominal amounts. For the record, I will be offering my services on a volunteer basis. I figure that's the one thing I can do most as an individual assist this new generation of veterans.

The test was at the federal building in Seattle. Coming out afterward I ran into the weekly end the war vigil there. Fellow Americans petitioning their government. I guess we still have that right, even if we cannot get the politicians to listen.