Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day Thoughts, 2007

“Throughout America's adventure in free government, such basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people.
Any failure traceable to arrogance or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us a grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.” farewell address of Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jan. 17, 1961

“Because America can and America can’t say no.
And America does if Americas says it’s so.” — 16 Military Wives, the Decemberists

A hearty thank you to all veterans on this, Veterans Day. Today it’s a bit more poignant for me as my nephew shipped out to Iraq a week ago. Another foot soldier for the Army’s front lines, another inconspicuous soul from a small town in South Carolina, heading with pride, honor, certainly some private trepidation and the hopes and prayers of the family and girlfriend he leaves behind.

Trey (or fatboy as I used to call him in his infancy when I used to babysit him and his sister when they lived here in his birthplace, Houston) is like many in today’s young America: independent, respectful, considerate and not without his rebellious troubled spots. He’s proud of his tats. And he’s clearly in love with his fiancée. That much we got from the photos he sent along when he made a rare contact to his mom, my younger sister, informing her of his leaving.

You see, his mom lost custody many years back when he was barely approaching school age. My sister, as with many in my family tree, had – has – chronic problems with alcohol. My siblings and I lived through this with my parents; my mom and dad lived with it with one or both of their parents, and so it went probably going back as far as Manifest Destiny or before. My mom used to toss out the hackneyed “injuns and fire water are a bad mix” line. It served as warning to us, yet also demonstrated before our eyes the powerful pull the “fire water” had for us as even my mom succumbed to its draw in time.

Trey grew up with that in his early childhood years before being detached from his mother completely and immersed into his dad and step-mom’s nuclear family. It wasn’t without kinks in the road (thus the troubled teen years).

The photos we have of him show a wiry sandy-haired young man – a hopeful, outwardly brave young man with only the slightest hint of pain and fear if you look into the eyes deep enough. Others have him showing his body artwork, including a series of Chinese letters spanning the length of one forearm. Another is a more disturbing display, possibly showing some insight into his internal pain. It displays a bottle of wine or liquor (?), and from the bottle pours and splashes out a red liquid – possibly blood? I can only speculate at the symbolism of this one. The others show him and his now fiancée in what may be their final shots in their apartment before he ships out, both with the smiles and appearances of happiness – and only the slightest detectable traces of fear of the unknown ….

Yet through it all, with all the private pain and frustration life tossed him, he still managed to make it out the other end without ending up in prison, on the run or dead. He’s pulled it together to make something of his life, joined the Army, met a girl he wishes to settle down with and is entering what he hopes will be an avenue to pull out of the morass that ensnares most of the very country for whose honor and protection he fights. That morass is hopelessness and vanishing opportunity.

We live in a society where aggressive self-interest and a hoarding of wealth, resources and access to them are the only measures of success. We’ve even exported this elitist attitude to other similar elites in countries spanning the globe – even China imitates our examples. In this scenario the power-players call the shots, massage the media, influence the markets for profit-taking, and hegemonically decide who the leaders of the various nations are – and who gets taken out.

In a clever fashion, they structure it in reports to be seen as protecting their nations’ citizens. But ultimately, we’re seeing less concern for citizens than we do for the business interests actively serving in this game as well as the ulterior motives of clearing the way for the ultimate business interests to move in and set up shop, laying claim to the resources.

Sadly, it means all working under this sway become mere pawns in a larger game of real-world Stratego. The worker-level folks, the soldiers in the wargame, all the hopeful watching from the sidelines – regardless of which side – all are part of the overall game to “capture your battle flag!” as the 60’s and early 70’s era TV commercials used to blare during Saturday morning cartoon time.

Perhaps this is where most of the folks now running this real-world Stratego got their inspiration – the innocuous little board game. In my youth, I remember a couple friends on the block who frequently played Stratego and another similar war-fantasy game, Luftwaffe. Both were mostly indoor kids, odd birds and relatively frail – not like the rest of us rough-and-tumble types out playing football.

Their fixation on these games seemed vaguely ominous: the cold calculation of killing in the Cold War era or glorifying the gruesome pursuit of victory of the WWII Nazis. Sometimes I wonder if the two of them ended up with jobs in the Bush Administration or the New American Century Project … perhaps a senior-managerial level position at Halliburton or Blackwater.

To be certain, the power-connected families appreciate the service these military men and women do for them. Yet these power-connected families will never know what it’s like for the families at ground level as they rarely ever worry about their own children being part of the sacrifices made. As super-hawk Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) blithely replied when asked if his children are in the military: "my sons are showing support for our nation … helping to get me elected, because they think I'd be a great president."

That’s the difference between “sacrifice” and sacrifice.

While the power-players play their Stratego with global geopolitics, we in all countries around the world now have concerns for safety and sanctity within our own borders. The byproduct of such displacement and upheaval is the ripples that emanate out from it afterward. Violence and terrorism are real, and unfortunately not abating but spreading.

As a result of geopolitical uncertainty, we have more need than ever for the very military that many of us wish we didn’t have to resort to.

The folks back home at the ground level know the difference between “sacrifice” and sacrifice, and hopefully will see the safe return of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents or grandparents or siblings. And certainly the soldiers themselves wish for the same, and then some! Perhaps they hope for some humanity from the leaders who send them forth to the jobs they’re tasked with; some sincere recognition of what they’re doing for the good of the country and for those real windfall winners in the game of geopolitics and self-opportunism.

Let’s give a sincere “thank you” to those who’ve fought before in all wars, as well as those who fight today. They really deserve a lot more than we give them for the harrowing jobs they do and the sacrifices they make for us. They have someone here back home who care and worry for their safety as they undertake this most mortal job of all. They’re real people. People like “fatboy” Trey.

Hopefully, they can come home to a world where a dream for a better tomorrow for themselves is real, and not just back home to the usual dead ends and absence of opportunity.

“Seventeen company men,
Out of which only twelve will make it back again.
Sergeant sends a letter to five
Milit’ry wives as tears drip down from ten little eyes.” 16 Military Wives, the Decemberists

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” farewell address of Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

No comments: