Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to honor Vietnam veterans

I certainly cannot and do not speak for all Vietnam veterans.  But I know how some of us feel about that experience.  Today, the flags flew at half mast on the University of Oklahoma campus and I received a copy, via the OU Police department, of the following executive order from the governor of Oklahoma:

I, Mary Fallin, Governor of the State of Oklahoma, in recognition of Vietnam Veterans Day, direct that appropriate steps be taken to fly all American flags and Oklahoma flags on State property at half-staff from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 15, 2012, to honor the many sacrifices made by the men and women of Oklahoma and the United States during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Veterans Day is a day to honor all the veterans who served in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos during the Vietnam War for their service to their country.  The flying of these flags at half-staff is a symbol from Oklahomans that we remember all those who fought in the Vietnam War, especially those who were killed, and demonstrates our sympathy for their families.

Well, madame governor, while I suppose I appreciate this token of respect, as late as it is in coming (42 years after I left Vietnam), but ... I have a very different suggestion about how to honor the sacrifices made by American men and women in that awful, unjust, and pointless warBring home our warfighters!!  Get them out of Afghanistan and Iraq and all of the many countries where they now do their duty in foreign lands, at risk and causing hardship to them and their families and costing the nation a vast fortune in sorely-needed resources.

There are several important lessons from the Vietnam war but evidently, the current crop of chicken hawk politicians have not learned any of them.  We should not ever be involved in any conflict where our direct national interests are not threatened.  That means that proxy wars on foreign soil for ideological reasons are unacceptable!  We should never engage in a war where there is no clearly defined goal, and no obvious outcome to define the accomplishment of that goal.  The first Gulf War was ended by Bush Sr. when the objective of freeing Kuwait was convincingly achieved.  I had hoped that American politicians had finally understood the Vietnam experience and we would no longer engage in these pointless, endless struggles against "insurgents".  The second Gulf War initiated by Bush Jr. is a classic example of the kind of morass that Vietnam became.  If one Gulf War worked, why not another?  Because unilateral actions to remove regimes we don't like are not consistent with a sane foreign policy.

In its long and bloody history, Afghanistan has fought foreign invaders with bloody ferocity because - they don't want invaders!!  Imagine that!  We smirked when the Soviets got mired in a Vietnam war of their own in Afghanistan, ultimately running away in a fashion quite similar to the American "escape" from Vietnam, with their asses smarting from the ass-kicking they absorbed.  And then we go and do the very same thing by invading Afghanistan!?!?!?  Say what!?!?!?  What are we doing in Afghanistan?  What are these politicians thinking?  American men and women are dying there on a daily basis, to say nothing of the Afghans themselves (including truly innocent civilians).   Our Oklahoma flags fly at half-staff several days per year to "honor" the warfighters from Oklahoma dying in Afghanistan.  To say nothing of the terrible injuries they suffer and the awful impact on their friends and families.  The psychological trauma of multiple combat deployments in these asymmetric wars is also causing a huge toll.  When you put young soldiers in harm's way, you can't expect them to escape without at least some psychological impact, even if they manage to avoid personal injury!  I certainly learned that in Vietnam!

If you want to honor the Vietnam veterans that I represent, you would do well to forgo the token exercise of lowering the flag to half-staff on Vietnam Veterans Day, madame governoer.  Instead, I beseech you use your political influence to keep American men and women out of foreign wars that clearly are not in our direct national interest.  We've invested vast and yet precious resources to be the world's policeman, but no one is so suicidal they would take us on in a "set piece" conflict.  No, we will be bled of our valiant warfighters in wars where we are the invaders - our troops die because they're not wanted in those nations, and there's no real compelling reason to sacrifice their lives and their bodies for mere ideology.  We aren't winning the war on terror by sacrificing our troops in Afghanistan.  The terrorists are succeeding because we seem to have only one strategy to oppose them:  to bomb and shoot people.  This does me no honor at all as a Vietnam veteran.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Vulgarity vs. Insulting

Apparently, Faux News is comparing Bill Maher's calling Sarah Palin a "cunt", a "twat", and a "MILF" with Rush Limbaugh's labeling of Sandra Fluke a "slut".  This is apparently part of a campaign my friend David Matthews 2 calls a "false equivalency".  If it's OK for Bill Maher to use vulgar language in referring to a woman, this is no better than Rush Limbaugh.  If you accept Bill Maher's vulgarity, you must accept Rush's.

Let me see if I can shed some light on why this is a false equivalency.  Bill Maher's stock in trade, like many other comedians, is to use vulgar language routinely.  Many people are offended by vulgar language - as luck would have it, I'm not one of them - but enough people dislike vulgar language (to the point of being offended by it) that it's generally forbidden in most public media.  Cable comedy programs have been featuring vulgar language for years, as have comedians in nightclubs.  This has a loooong tradition, of course, going back many decades.  Vulgar language, like it or not, is a part of the vocabularies of many people in real life.  To use vulgar references to people is not necessarily an insult - it's simply a vulgar way to refer to someone.  Such language has shock value and, therefore, is a part of many comedians' acts, simply for its shock value.  I admit freely to using vulgar language frequently, precisely for its shock value.  Many people find it astonishing to hear me use it.  It has no mandatory interpretation as an insult, in and of itself.  For example, if I were to use the word "nigger" in reference to a black person - which is not formally an obscenity but certain has a lot of negative associations - I don't necessarily mean an insult.  Any more than when African Americans use the word "nigger' among themselves.  Of course, "nigger" can be used as an insult, to refer to someone who fits a certain stereotype.  As can "cunt" or "twat" or "MILF".  But its use is only vulgarity, and not necessarily insulting.

For Rush Limbaugh to use the word "slut" to refer to any woman who wishes to engage in sex for any reason other than marital procreation is, on the other hand, clearly an insult.  Rush is condemning her for her sex life - manifestly her business, not Rush's.  His radio program isn't routinely peppered with vulgar expressions.  He isn't about using terms for their shock value as part of his programmatic message - in  fact, he represents himself as a moral authority, as well as many other mantles of right-wing ideological purity.  It's out of character for him to use vulgarity.  Therefore, his use of the word "slut" can only be interpreted as an insult directed at this woman.  He's on his moral high horse and making it very clear that any woman who might wish to engage in sexual activity for any reason other than becoming pregnant within a marriage (between a man and a woman) is, in his view, a moral trangression - a sin.  He's casting Sandra Fluke into the outer darkness reserved for evil sinners.

I don't endorse Bill Maher's use of vulgarity in reference to Sarah Palin.  It's not necessary to draw attention to her failings.  The use of demeaning terms for women is problematic at a time when women are under attack from many quarters, even such a woman as Sarah Palin.  I certainly have little or no respect for Sarah Palin, but I don't think she should be described in such ways by public figures.  This essay isn't intended to justify the language Bill Maher has used.  Rather, it's to deny the equivalency between that and Rush Limbaugh's statement about Sandra Fluke.

I'd like to close this by saying that the withdrawal of Rush's advertisers is an example of an indirect way to limit free speech.  As much as I detest Rush's comments about Sandra Fluke, he has the right in the USA to express his opinions in any way he wishes, including being insulting.  If someone has a problem with what Rush is saying, they should simply stop listening to his show.  A declining listenership would be a very effective way to voice your opinion about Rush.  Calling for the cancellation of his show, or the withdrawal of his advertising, are forms of censorship to which I'm philosophically opposed.  Ignoring him is a much more satisfactory way to let him know how you feel than to demand that he be subjected to censorship.  Freedom and liberty are for everyone, including people with whom you disagree.  Especially for those with whom you disagree!