Thirty-seven years ago a group of veterans met in Detroit, Michigan to discuss and expose the abuses, immorality and misconduct of the Vietnam War. They called themselves the “Winter Soldiers” and though their actions were widely criticized by many Conservative pundits and politicians, it is clear their courage in speaking out against the war contributed greatly to its eventual end. During the three day symposium such atrocities as the My Lai massacre were exposed and shown to be not isolated incidents, but a direct result of misguided foreign policy and incompetent military management.
Some of the testimony offered may well have been, shall we say, not grounded in truth. Certainly there were people at the conference who had an axe to grind, and who were willing to say anything to end the war. However, the fact remains that the Vietnam war and our prosecution of it was nothing short of a disaster. The end of that bloody and atrocious conflict was an undeniably good end.
Last week a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans met, this time in Washington, DC, to discuss and expose abuses and atrocities committed in the name of freedom in the so-called Global War on Terror.
What they hope to gain from this is not entirely clear. After all, the worst atrocities of the war – Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the use of secret prisons in, shall we say, less democratic countries for detention of “suspects”, and the use of mercenaries – have already been reported. America yawned. We’re not very good at outrage any more, unless it involves us personally.
The difference, of course, is that in 1971 we still had a draft. Because of this, young men everywhere had good reason to take a very close and personal interest in the war. Some went and served, most honorably. Many came back scarred and bitter. Many didn’t come back at all. Some dodged the draft, others got deferments, a privileged few used their family’s wealth and power to avoid actual combat. The point is, everyone had a dog in that fight.
Today it’s different. We have an all-volunteer force, and for many that means easily-avoided service. Sacrifice is something other people do. Less than 1% of the American public actually is serving on either active duty or in the Guard or Reserves, and if you total up the number of people directly related to a serviceman (or -woman) you barely get to 4%. Military service is an honor reserved for the less privileged. Sacrifice is something other people do. Too many Americans are willing to sacrifice other people’s children for abstract ideals like “freedom” or “democracy” without understanding what that sacrifice entails. Worse, many don’t even really understand the ideals they claim they support. As long as
And when someone stands up to criticize the prosecution and conduct of a war that never should have been started in the first place, they’re shouted down by a chorus of lunacy from the right. Actual Conservatism has been replaced by a psychotic brand of “ends-justify-the-means” amorality. So what if we tortured terror suspects? Who cares if we bomb a few mosques? So what if prison guards desecrated the Koran? If it gets us what we wanted, then it’s all good! After all, we’re the U.S. of A! We can do what we want! Hoo-Rah!
Sorry folks. Got off the rails a bit there. My point is this, though. If the “Winter Soldiers” truly want to effect change in this country, and bring about the end of this latest quagmire, they’ve got to make it personal for the voting public. The war has to be made real for everyone, not just the self-selected few.
Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be an impossible task. Unless we as a society finally pluck up the courage to re-institute the draft and really fight this thing for all we’ve been told it’s worth, the war will remain, for the majority of Americans, no more real than the latest version of “Unreal”, “Gears of War” or “Halo”.
It’s an honor to serve your country. Everyone deserves that honor, and the sooner the better. Starting with these ladies right here (the two on the outsides):
Jenna and Barbara Bush (left and right above)
But, the war was started based on “information” that later turned out to be nothing but smoke and hot air. That’s ultimately why the wealthy and privileged don’t want their spawn serving in this debacle. They know they’d be propping up a colossal falsehood.
Lies got us into this mess, lies have kept us there. Only the truth will get us out.