Friday, November 11, 2005

Patriotic gore

Veteran's Day, like Memorial Day, seems to be primarily a moment for opportunistic politicians to wrap themselves and their agendas inside the flag and make reality-challenged testosterone-soaked speeches from podiums decked in bunting, and in these speeches claim, as they have always claimed and always will claim, that our cause is pure and our warriors noble, and that anyone who disagrees is in league with our enemies.

Mr Bush's speech today, as is his wont, was delivered to a guaranteed non-heckling audience, inside a military warehouse at Tobyhanna Army Depot in northeast Pennsylvania, to a crowd of of soldiers who are subject to his orders and who are no more going to boo the son of a bitch than I would have jeered the Commanding General of Ft. Polk when I was in basic training there in 1965.

Soldiers, unlike the current president, do have a practical grasp of cause and effect.

Veteran's day started out as Armistice Day. People were happy that the Great War was over. But it has devolved into a glorification of any and all American wars, whatever War we have fought or will fight, America's once and future War, disguised as a tribute to our soldiers.

Why don't we have a few honest words on Veteran's Day, or Memorial Day, or on the Fourth of July? Words that point out truly that war is a terrible and evil business that debases the country that engages in it, and brutalizes its footsoldiers. There is nothing glorious about it.

If some wars can be considered--in the abstract--as "just" and necessary, even those wars, in the actual fighting of them, are cruel and cause enormous harm to--perhaps--do marginally greater good. They should not be undertaken lightly, and should never be entered into on the basis of deceit. Surely the Gulf of Tonkin, and the fictional WMDs of Iraq, would today be the subject of hundreds of cautionary speeches, if we had patriotic holidays where truth was given the time of day.

Bush was a far less honorable and decent young man than most of those who got drafted and shipped to Vietnam, but he did share one very human trait with them: his desire not to get killed. And we don't know what would have happened if he had gone to Vietnam--he might have come back a better man, and America might be a better place as a consequence, or he might have come back, after dropping a few bombs on a few "targets," as a person just as insensate as he was as a boy blowing up frogs in Midland. He might have come back a person as Machiavellian he is today, when he used his bully's pulpit as you would expect: to attack the patriotism of those who caught him in his lies. Or he might have come back in a box, thanks to Lyndon Johnson's and Robert McNamara's delusions and falsehoods. You never know.

What we do know, and should say in our speeches on Veteran's Day, is that soldiers are the victims of wars--the designated victims, in fact. The so-called laws of war, intermittently and poorly observed as they may be, prohibit the deliberate killing of civilians. To deliberately kill soldiers, however, is what war is all about: the central fact of war. And we train soldiers to reverse our normal human instincts. If you see someone drowning, you would throw him a rope, not try to kill him. Military basic training is designed to change that.

I am not patriotic. Not as it is defined by our, um, leaders. We have done great harm to a huge number of people we have outfitted with uniforms and trained to feel OK about killing other people. We harm them when they come back in coffins, or come back maimed. And we harm them when they kill our enemies and they come back feeling OK with that. And we harm them when they kill our enemies and come back and don't feel OK with that.

Veteran's day should be a day of mourning and contrition.

I guess that's my Veteran's Day speech.

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