Thursday, June 19, 2008

Military Experience

Veterans are much like the general population, their views cover a broad range.

During a dialogue session, after the movie "The Ground Truth", it was mentioned that some Gulf II (Iraq/Afghanistan) vets said their experience wasn't too bad. I've heard that before, from vets of this and previous wars. I've also heard "the military was the best experience of my life", "I'm proud that I served my country", and regarding Viet Nam "we should go back and finish the job", and "if it wasn't for those protesters, we would have won".

My thoughts:

1. A military experience is what the individual experienced. It is composed of what the individual saw, felt, remembered. It is composed of their preconditioning (life experiences), post information, and the general environment that surrounds the veteran.

2. Most veterans have not experienced combat. This includes veterans who were in a "war zone" during their time in the military. In Viet Nam, for example, about 15% of the military were in combat. Of those, the combat ranged from very light to daily. Of the veterans who were in combat, the trend is - more combat equals less visibility. That is, vets who saw/did more violence tend to disappear from public view. Alaska has the heaviest concentration of VN vet than any state. Many live outside of public view. More combat tends to generate more self-destruction (suicide, alcohol, drugs, domestic violence, homelessness, poor/no employment, no/poor self-esteem).

3. The military experience (combat or not) changes everyone. Some vets cope by burying it, some by glorifying it, and most are in between.

4. Our society is built on the premise that the military is "good". Veteran memorials, veteran highways, the military carries in the flag at sporting events, veterans lead parades, POW-MIA flags, cannons in parks, civil war reenactments, we buy military clothes and weapon "toys" for our children, and the list goes on. To raise the issue that the military is "bad", is "un-American".

For me, the bottom line is violence. I met a VN vet who is now a Buddhist Monk. He was in heavy combat. He wrote a book about his experiences. One thing that he said really struck me - "Peace is not the absence of conflict, it's the absence of violence within conflict". Several years ago I wrote "There is always a way to resolve a conflict peacefully. It may take time. It may take negotiations. It will take skill. It will take intelligence. But there is ALWAYS a way.

"When I discovered that weapons are the USA's #1 export product, I was reminded of Marine Major General Smedley Butler's booklet - "War is a Racket". There is much more I could say . . . . .

Friday, June 13, 2008

War is Slavery - An Awakening

It was January of 2003, late at night, and I was home alone. I turned on the TV. The movie Platoon was on. I had never watched any violent shows nor read anything about war or Viet Nam since I left there in March of 1971. Now, all these years later, I figured it was time and I could handle it. The scene was a US patrol entering a village. I saw the kids with their big dark eyes, skinny bodies and ragged clothes - and it all came back. The sights, the sounds, the smells. I turned off the TV and sat in a darkened room. It was like a lightning bolt followed by thunder. It hit me . . . and then proceeded to roll through my mind. Now what?, I asked myself.

The next day was a frenzy of activity. Answers. Answers. I needed answers. The internet (thank goodness for this powerful tool) became my life. Unstructured for the first few months, I consumed a new world of information. At 57 years of age with an MBA, it seemed like I should have known these things. But I was almost totally ignorant. Information on war, peace, politics, world affairs, religion, organizations, books, magazines, videos, DVDs, in depth radio and TV shows - and the list grew with each passing day. I needed structure. After several months I formulated two questions: Why war? and Why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children?

These two questions burned my brain. Howard Zinn helped with his book on US history. Marine Major General Smedley Butler helped with his booklet "War is a Racket". Many other authors and people and programs moved me along the path.

My research revealed that the main causes of war are money and markets. There is always plenty of flag waving and bluster about the "evil ones", but every war I've studied, once you begin peeling back the layers, has money and markets as a common core.

Why do we send our kids to kill? Because that's how we raise them. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but there is an ever present message that violence is the solution to conflict. Go into any park in any town and you'll probably see a military statue, or a cannon. Veterans' memorials are everywhere. Veterans and the military lead parades. The military carries the flag into sporting events. POW-MIA flags fly from Post Offices and other buildings. Highways are named after wars, war veterans, and generals. Battleships are named after Presidents. We have civil war reenactments. We call the military "service". We let violence into our language - "I could just kill my kids", "bullet points", and sports announcers inject "kill", "beat", "destroyed" into their descriptions. The more overt influences are easy - video games, TV shows, weapon toys, paint ball parks. It’s there. Everyday. All of these lower the barriers to hurting others.

I've tried to summarize my findings into short, snappy slogans, to get people to think. I use to say that "war is failure". This worked for me for a while. But war is only failure for one side. For the other side, war is magnificent. It is the best business in the world. High profits, little competition, products rapidly used. Weapons are the number one export product of the USA. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the death and destruction industry. Thousands also spend their lives teaching at war colleges and military schools. Other thousands plan wars and "covert actions". Mercenary companies are on the rise. I’m told that there are over 120,000 mercenary troops in Iraq. Contractors are used for everything from "security" to spies.

Thus I needed a new slogan, a new summary of my research. I found it in an unusual location. As I walked through the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati I began to feel what slavery was/is. It felt vaguely familiar. The oppression, the hatred, the total dominance, the violence, the tearing apart of families are part of slavery, but there is also “the other side”. On the other side is the money and the righteous - the people who were not only comfortable with slavery, but promoted it. The preachers, the politicians, the teachers, the business people, the pillars of society said slavery was not only necessary, it was the only way the country could survive. The slaves weren't people. They weren't human. It was OK to torture them and shoot them and hang them. It was OK to use dogs on them and beat them. They didn't have a brain. The Golden Rule - the summary statement of all religions - didn't apply to them.

Slavery will never be forgotten - on the one side. The scars are deep, bone deep, generations deep. Like war. On the other side the masters and the foreman and the slave traders and the bankers and the pillars of society and all those who supported and profited from slavery didn't have bad memories. They didn't have loses. They knew that what they did was "right for the country'". There was nothing to forget.

As I thought about slavery over the next months I began to realize that slavery and war are very similar. The one side (the slaves, or in war - the civilians and the lower ranks of the military) suffers. The other side says war is a great and noble thing and the only way the country can survive. War is slavery.