Saturday, June 04, 2011

Maybe the Times They Are A-Changing

Senior Democratic Representative Norm Dicks of Washington has warned President Obama that he cannot ignore the growing “war fatigue” in Congress and must consider steps to accelerate a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Dicks is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Obama's "surge" in Afghanistan. He now has serious reservations and last week quietly sided with anti-war forces in backing an amendment demanding that Obama come up with plans this summer to accelerate the withdrawal and pursue a negotiated settlement with “all interested parties” in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

Combined with growing cost of the endless wars, maybe something is a-changing. I won't count on it, though. Dick's predecessor, the late John Murtha, made a similar about fact on the Iraq war in 2005. Nothing happened then. I'm not sure that the US has made the fundamental changes in mindset that will allow Obama to follow Dicks' advice.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

How to Truly Honor the Troops

Don't send them off to war over and over again while the rest of us go on with normal life, paying scant attention to the war that is all to very real for them, making no sacrifice while they and their families sacrifice everything.

That's it pure and simple.

And don't be surprised when some go over the edge.
[The veterans'] campaign was called Operation Recovery and its message was simple: stop deploying military personnel who have been identified as suffering some form of trauma...they have a right to heal. The young vets were protesting this policy in response to recently leaked stories of US soldiers killing innocent Afghans for sport. Ethan McCord, one of about fifteen veterans gathered, said:

"This is what happens to traumatized soldiers that have gone on multiple deployments and we send them to Afghanistan into the same environment that traumatized them to begin with and you place them on psychotropic drugs and then you hand them a weapon and turn them loose on the streets. What do you expect will happen?"

The quote is from The Veteran, the quarterly newspaper of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The Spring 2011 edition which is not online has an article quoting Douglas MacArthur that I thought worth sharing,
In the evolution of civilization , if it is to survive,, all men cannot fail eventually to adopt Gandhi's belief that the process of mass application of force to resolve contentious issues is fundamentally not only wrong but contains within itself the germs of self-destruction

The United States would do well to follow this advice. It would stop the bleeding in so many ways.

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Fighting for Freedom

A previous post questioned whether the many dead of our recent wars actually died defending our freedoms. That question does not gainsay their sacrifice or the fact that they died serving their country. What it does question, however, is the wisdom of leaders who put those service members' lives on the line.

That said, I agree that "freedom isn't free" as the all-too-glib saying goes. Without provision for the common defense those freedoms may be at risk from foreign aggressors. But that kind of threat is remote at best in the 21st century and is in no way diminished by foreign interventions and military occupations.

Still we need to fight for our freedoms which often means fighting here at home. A recent newsletter from Chris Chandler made the point that there are many ways to fight for freedom:
There are many ways to die in the service of your country.

Many people in the United States have taken on many battles that are just, proper and good.

The fight for the 8 hours day.
The fight for child labor laws.
The fight for women's suffrage.
The fight of civil rights.
The anti war movement.
The Fight for Gay Rights.
The Fight for Immigrants' Rights.
(to name a few.)

And like our soldiers, many of those people died in service to their country's highest ideals.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's About Time

This may be the first time in my life that a mainstream medium has even acknowledged that there may be a limit to war spending.
“Money is the new 800-pound gorilla,” said another senior administration official involved in Afghanistan policy, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It shifts the debate from ‘Is the strategy working?’ to ‘Can we afford this?’ And when you view it that way, the scope of the mission that we have now is far, far less defensible.”
Concern about war costs is putting new political pressure on Obama, much of it from fellow Democrats. On Thursday, the House narrowly defeated an amendment calling for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan and a fixed timetable for turning over military operations to the Kabul government. The vote, 204 to 215, was far thinner than last year’s 162-to-260 tally on the same issue.

It's sure as hell worth a try.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Freedom Lie

On this Memorial Day we remember American war dead. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. The willingness of citizens to defend the nation is the ultimate gift of an individual to the larger society.

In honoring these war dead, we also hear that they died for our freedom. History tells us stories of sacrifice and hardship in wars that created the American polity that protects our civil liberties. During my lifetime, however, few American soldiers died fighting for freedom. I came to that understanding when I fought in Vietnam. I did not defend America’s freedom then. I defended a corrupt government that served small elite waxing fat at the expense of workers and peasants while playing the anti-Communist card in Cold War sideshow. The ultimate victory of America’s opponents in that war did nothing to diminish our freedoms.

Nor have I seen in the years since that American service men and women have died protecting America’s freedoms. Grenada? Panama? The Gulf War? Iraq? Afghanistan? None of these wars have anything to do with our freedoms beyond the fact that our leaders claim that mantle as justification for putting our forces in harm’s way. More often, in the words of General Smedley Butler, “war is a racket” that protects wealth and capital. Our military protects profits, not citizen freedoms.

Our nation tells us that these honored dead fought to protect America’s freedom. Yet what good has their sacrifice done for America? We are no safer than we were on September 10, 2001 and the freedoms that these men and women supposedly died to protect have been systematically eroded by two successive administrations. What is true: these honored dead served their nation. What is also true is that their nation dishonored their sacrifice in service of dubious policies. (see racket, above.)

I acknowledge and honor their heroism and sacrifice. But I cannot ignore the reality that such heroism and sacrifice means nothing to the long-term security, prosperity or liberty of the United States and its citizens. The foe that we fought in Vietnam did not threaten our freedom. The foe we now fight now in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan does not threaten our freedom. International terrorists do not threaten our freedom. What threat terrorists do pose is far more effectively countered through effective intelligence and international cooperation than by military occupation and intervention.

National holidays for remembering war dead are always difficult for me. Along with honor and sacrifice I see the lies that have accompanied that sacrifice. As honored as I am that these men and women died on my behalf, I am also shamed that my country squandered their patriotism and sacrifice.

I wish it were not so.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial For An Endless War

Pretty good essay on war memorials and our current endless war in today's Washington Post. Not only does the essay recall the 5,000 American dead in the Philippine insurgency that followed the Spanish-American War, it makes a statement that is unusual in such a mainstream publication.
It is also possible that enough time may pass for us to begin to recognize the injury and trauma that have been unleashed on other people in the wars we have fought across the globe. If we are ever authorized to build a monument to the war in Afghanistan or Iraq, I hope we will have the wherewithal and heart to honor their losses — the countless Afghani and Iraqi civilians dead, wounded and orphaned, caught in the crossfire of our global war on terror. For all our differences in culture, history and allegiance, we share with them the fundamental human cost of war.