Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lingering thoughts after Veteran's Day ...

A respected friend posted some comments about the outpouring of support for soldiers that got me to thinking.  Among other things, he said, "I don’t get all gooey over US soldiers. ... Yes, I applaud the admirable courage our soldiers show, and our veterans have shown, as well as their commendable devotion to duty.  But that courage extends only so far: our military men and women can face enemy fire without fear, but they cannot face down our misleaders with the same audacity."

I've told the story of my "service" in Vietnam and the circumstances by which I came to be there on my Website.  As a draftee who was pulled from graduate school, I surely had no wish to go, but was presented with three options:

1.  Allow myself to be drafted 
2.  Go to Canada 
3.  Go to jail

[The only way I could claim to be a "conscientious objector" was to call upon religious beliefs - not an option available to atheists like me.  The apparent assumption is that it's impossible for atheists to be conscientious!]  The latter two options were unacceptable as they would have destroyed my intended career.  I definitely had no wish to be a soldier and certainly was afraid of going to Vietnam.  It's often said that courage is not about being without fear, but rather doing what is needed despite that fear.  For years, I despised myself for not having the courage to take either option 2 or 3 - I saw my actions as cowardly, not courageous.  I opposed the war in which I eventually was to serve and yet couldn't find the courage to oppose those who demanded my service - my "misleaders" as so accurately named by my respected friend.  So his comment is accurate:  it takes a lot of courage to defy military orders on conscientious grounds!  Far more than most warfighters are able to muster.

With time, I've come to see that military experience as valuable to me, regardless of how I felt about it at the time.  I'm no longer ashamed of being a Vietnam veteran, and have forgiven myself for not being courageous enough to avoid military service.  It's not really possible for anyone not a veteran of military service to understand what it's like.  Since I think I have some insight into that experience, I find myself very much "gooey" about today's young people in the military.  It's easy for me to be empathetic, and the ongoing military service of my son is only a small part of the reason for that. 

As a nation, we've evidently learned that we can hate the war without hating the warriors, so I'm happy to see the respect given to those serving today (that we who served in Vietnam did not receive from the general populace).  As pointed out by my respected friend, no war fought since WWII has involved a direct threat to our national freedoms, despite the political posturing that even today asserts that our warfighters are "defending our freedom."  Those freedoms are under more threat from chickenhawk politicians who wrap themselves in the flag and carry a cross to display their "values" than they are from those "enemies" we've fought against in our many wars since 1945, including Vietnam, of course.  Virtually none of these politicians have sons or daughters in the military, and most of them never served themselves.  They can gamble the lives and well-being of others by calling for military interventions, but not their own, in service of their political ends.

It's not the fault of those serving in the military that we have put our young people at risk in stupid, unwinnable wars.  It's the chickenhawk politicians who are responsible for wasting the lives of our young people and those of the foreigners we kill in the process.  The soldiers are simply doing what they're ordered to do.  To refuse to do so on conscientious grounds is to incur massive recriminations. Mutiny or defiance of direct orders are serious offenses in the military.  Young people are preferred as soldiers because they're relatively easy to manipulate.  Making a soldier out of a civilian young person involves rewarding them for doing what they're ordered to do and punishing them severely for any hint of defiance.  Service to one's nation in the military is to do whatever is required of the warfighters by the politicians, who decide the ends and sometimes choose to use military action as the means to those ends.

There are few demonstrations against the wars we currently fight because Vietnam taught the politicians about the danger to their political ends from conscription (i.e., the draft).  No more college students at the barricades if we just avoid drafting them.  College students aren't so likely to be concerned about those who choose the military as a viable career option; they're too busy preparing for their own privileged careers to risk being beaten up in a demonstration against foreign wars.  Our all-"volunteer" military is stretched thin by the wars we're fighting now; there simply aren't enough soldiers, so the ones who are serving are required to bear the risks of multiple overseas deployments and involuntarily extended tours to combat assignments, rather than the one-year tour in Vietnam given to many 2-year draftees back in the 60s and early 70s.

Those young warfighters deserve our respect and support!  They're making huge personal sacrifices every day to carry out the ends decided upon by chickenhawk politicians who don't have to suffer the consequences of those decisions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


My sincere thanks for your experience, wisdom, and insight. And, for your service.

RJ Evans