First of all, as a veteran, I want to thank you wholeheartedly for your service, for putting yourself in harm’s way without questioning your orders; for taking on the responsibility of protecting and helping your own comrades in situations that most citizens never experience. I offer prayers for you and your families – actually sleep in your memory – every night.
This same week in which we celebrate our 2013 Vetarans’ Day, I will turn seventy years old. It’s a long way from Vietnam, where I first learned the intimate and global facts of war. It’s a long way from the time I first heard the constantly-repeated platitude that military sacrifices are what “keep us free,” what “guarantees our freedoms.” Of course, back in the sixties, Nam Vets did not experience the grateful welcomes home that some of you have experienced. I was decorated enough times to have made a difference in an Air Force career should I have stayed active. But unfortunately, my “war” experiences only gave me a hunger for the truths behind the death and destruction we had witnessed.
It was on that “coming home” that I vowed to keep my beloved country from EVER going through the Vietnam experience again. In that I have failed. Almost immediately on return to the States, I realized that the names of Nam Vets chiseled on that wall HAD NOT DIED TO KEEP US FREE, HAD NOT DIED TO PRESERVE OUR FREEDOMS. It was a difficult lesson to study history and find out what the “Domino Theory” was – that even one country in Southeast Asia going Communist would lead to a domino effect wherein ALL those countries would go Communist. It was a long way from battlefield death to read the “Southeast Asia Treaty” that bound us to defend any communist-threatened state in that area. It was a long way from the sounds of mortar thumpings around the base at Danang to study the “Geneva Accord,” that Ho Chi Minh WAS the legally elected president of both Vietnams, that he had spent time in Chinese prison camps; that the French after Dien Bien Phu had been pushed out of the country the same way we were to be; that General Maxwell Taylor’s and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s way of ‘reading the war’ according to “body count,” was not winning the “minds and hearts of the people.” That was before I went back to school, before I even had a notion of what “Communism” meant, what “socialism” meant. I had no idea, for instance, that many of our staunchest allies were “socialist” countries; that public education and the public road system were “socialist” concepts. I had no idea how echoes of that Nam guilt trip would come back during our forays in the Middle East. The term “Shock and Awe” still resonates loudly.
This was also before my wife became pregnant, before I would spend all those sleepless nights worrying about the effect of dioxin-laced Agent Orange on my yet unborn child. I read with horror of the unfortunate families who had to deal with this horrendous defoliation strategy. I read with horror that Admiral Zumwalt’s son was dying of cancer – most probably from his own exposure to his father’s orders; that Zumwalt’s grandson would be born with serious learning disabilities. In my sixty-ninth year, I would listen to all the chemical weapon arguments for our invading Syria. My daughter was born 100% healthy, but I wonder how we could so quickly forget our own use of “chemical weapons.” I had seen orphaned children walking the streets of DaNang, some without limbs and some with horrible phosphorus burns. Would the World Court categorize Napalm as a chemical weapon?
I loved my early naivete: where I could watch the flag fly before a college football game and say– honestly– “My Country right or wrong.” I lived under the cloak of that naivete; watched military aircraft flyovers with tears in my eyes.
No more. I now have a son in the military, and I know, from reading and studying, that the causes of war are much less than “direct threats to our national security.” I now know, that because there is no active draft, there are more military contractors (sometimes known as mercenaries) overseas than active duty military. I have been up to Duncan, Oklahoma; have visited the Halliburton research facility; have read trusted accounts from people such as resigning Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, about the pre-planning and oil strategies for the Middle East invasion. I have researched the lobbying efforts of giant corporations on our “elected” leaders. I have read of non-accounted-for millions of dollars floated among contractors in Iraq and Iran. I also know that the Iran-Iraq conflict would not have been possible without weapons sold both countries by the United States.
I had a friend, a Viet medical corpsman, tell me the story of a middle aged couple he knew. The man, suffering money problems, had taken a job to drive an oil truck overseas “for thousands of dollars a week.” When my friend asked the wife if she was worried for her husband’s safety, she responded, “Not at all, he has two Marines riding with him all the time.” My friend a “Doc” in Vietnam was furious. He asked if I knew the difference in pay between the truck driver and the one- or two-stripe Marines. Such is an example of our present “war on terror.”
My Comrades, I have watched you – unflinchingly, unquestioning – dying for these interests. I have even seen your last Commander in Chief order that a deceased soldier, returning home in a flag draped aluminum casket, COULD NOT RECEIVE TRADITIONAL RUNWAY HONORS. The press was forbidden to record that a family’s loved one had returned to his/her native soil.
I have seen other incidents where your lives were put in danger. We expect you, as military combatants, upon capture to be treated according to the articles under the Geneva Accords. But we risk that treatment by having kept other captured soldiers, with no contact to home or representation, for years in a military prison in Cuba. With no mind to what this does to YOUR status, we expect you to be treated differently from these people if you are captured overseas. Yes, I have read all the arguments against returning “terrorists” to their home countries. But, my security unit worked for the NSA: I had training on how to act upon capture. And, believe me, in a hostile military court, it would be near impossible for you to prove you are a soldier rather than a terrorist.
The above isn’t the only way we draw you into more danger on the battlefield. The Commander-in-Chief’s Black Tuesday decisions on the new drone targets and the resultant hundreds of collateral killings of families and children as a result have also driven away many of our allies and put more of you at risk. Last month a Pakistani family testified before a House Committee about their loss of family members. nly five House members attended. Unfortunately, even with reports by Amnesty International and other world groups of children killed, this lack of compassion hardens allies against us, thus making your job more difficult and dangerous.
Again, I salute you and express my gratitude for putting yourselves in harm’s way; for unquestioningly carrying out orders in conflicts dictated by old men and their sponsors. I know how some of you feel going back for a second, third, and fourth tour. It’s imperative that you keep your friends in uniform safer because of your presence. That loyalty and feeling of battlefield family is much higher than national or global motives for your presence there.
I salute also those National Guard personnel who thought they were enlisting for a month’s summer training in a force to help when hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, even earthquakes and other natural and technological disasters happened NATIONALLY. Some of you were swept away from your children, wives, and husbands to take orders “under fire” in a country where even the Russian Army had to withdraw. Some of you had/have to serve two and even three tours of duty.
I vote; I donate to causes protecting you. But as I approach my seventieth birthday, I feel a failure for not doing more to keep you safe; for not making my government understand and be responsive to the honest truths of threats to our freedoms rather than just concocting one rationale after another to make us see you as the “fear fighters” in a world of wars against terror. Without a draft, most of the young people your age here at home are not even aware of your day-do-day life-and-death struggles; not even aware that daily and weekly there are lives being lost because a nation state had to protect oil interests or foist the appearance that we are bringing “democracy” to a nation several millennia older than ours. I DO NOT believe that our exported concept of “voting” necessarily solves world problems. Those videos of waving blue thumbs that our media circulated so gleefully cost a number of you your lives. The lack of a draft allows us to keep paying “contractors” to do our violent bidding and also keeps the children of our higher economic echelons out of harm’s way.
I know that, upon your return, you will suffer the same feelings of impotency as we did. (My brother, Nam Vet, is close to expiring from PTSD and alcohol abuse.) But maybe, with the proper study – or even entering the world of those high-paid legislators – you will make the same promise to your own spouses, children, and grand children. And maybe you will be more successful than the Vets who threw their medals over the White House fence during Vietnam. Maybe with your effort our growing reputation as “a rogue super power” will become a thing of the past.
No one who hasn’t served shares the hard truth you bring back home. Cultivate it with a sense of history, nurture it, and above all, bring it in understandable form to your fellow citizens. When you hear people indiscriminately repeating that “They died to keep us free. They died to preserve our freedom,” ask them TO BE SPECIFIC. The Vietnam conflict was not World War I or II. Neither was Korea, Iraq, or Afghanistan. That does NOT diminish the sacrifice of those who died and continue to die in these conflicts. Your being honest will diminish the go-for-your-gun type of diplomacy that seems to have become our basic mode of operation. Ironically, I now wear a motorcycle helmet crafted in Vietnam.
I know this is a difficult proposition for you. I would not have tried to state the above to my grandmother in 1975 when the Marine lay the flag in her lap and thanked her for my Grandfather’s service in the 3rdArtillery, 1917-. He served in a different time and place.
Perhaps we ought to think twice about allowing Sacred hymns and the Hallelujah Choir to accompany the slaughter of soldiers in movies and film clips. There is NO footnote to the Fifth Commandment It simply says, “Thou shalt not kill.” It has NO footnotes, no qualifiers such as “except in cases of our ‘war on terror,’ or ‘in case of national security.’” The violence my military compadres and relatives have witnessed overseas was NOT angelic. ONLY – in the sacred sense – was the escape to a better place. When I hear Taps played at funerals, I think mostly of the unnecessary absence of a loved one – not of a soldier’s military or “heroic” exploits carrying out orders originating from old men in a Capitol or Pentagon building. We’re a long way from Normandy and D-Day. We ARE free today possibly because lobbyists and corporations back then did NOT dictate the strategies for entering or ending the war.
God Bless You All
We are all grateful for your many sacrifices.
Lee Schultz, Carlsbad
Angelo State Univ ‘69; Goodfellow Air Base ‘63
Vietnam Through ‘67
American Spirit Honor Medal, Distinguished
Flying Cross, Air Medal, and other worthless
decorations which did not save the life of even
one person whose name is on the Black Wall