by Pa Rock
Son of the Sixties
I will begin with this disclaimer: Although I was the right age to have served in Vietnam, I did not. As stated so aptly by Dick Cheney, I had "other priorities."
Lots of people in my generation found ways to avoid going to Nam - my route was to stay in college until the last possible moment, and then go in the army as things were winding down in the "conflict." College enrollment, as a matter of fact, literally skyrocketed during the Vietnam era.
Bill Clinton avoided military service by staying in college during the conflict years. Republicans tried to hang the label "draft dodger" on him during his early years in the White House, but that effort was hampered because many Republican notables had also failed to answer their country's call during LBJ's Asian fiasco.
Surprisingly, many of those who were of the right age but didn't serve went on to be big time drum-bangers for the current Middle Eastern debacle: Of course there was the de facto President "The Dick" Cheney, and the list also included the likes of Donald Rumsfield, Phil Gramm, Clarence Thomas, George Will, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, George Tenet, John Ashcroft, Roy Blunt, Tom Delay, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Richard Perle - to name but a few. Political satirist and former Texas politician, Jim Hightower, refers to these individuals and others who were too good (or too cowardly) to fight then but now are steeled with patriotic fervor as "chicken hawks."
My favorite chicken hawk, however, actually did serve - sort of. George W. Bush rushed into the Texas Air National Guard in a transparent effort to avoid the draft. He let the government train him to become a fighter pilot, but avoided going to Vietnam and using that much-in-demand skill. What was Bush doing during 1972 when he should have been flying bombing missions in Vietnam? Don't bother asking him - he doesn't remember! But fast forward thirty-one years and there he was - prancing around the deck of that aircraft carrier in his flight jacket proudly declaring victory in Iraq! Mission accomplished, eh George?
Historically speaking, the United States has not been on the winning side of a war or "conflict" since World War II ended in 1945. America and her allies clearly had the moral high ground during that war. Our objective was to defeat the Nazis and the fascists, and to rescue the overrun peoples in Europe and the Pacific. World War II was a necessary war with a noble purpose.
Moral superiority is an important component of warfare. It is much easier to support the nation that occupies the moral high ground. We didn't have that high ground in Vietnam, where we were clearly viewed as the invading force - by the Vietnamese as well as by many sitting safely at home in front of their television sets. Our young people fought courageously in jungle conditions against enemies who were nearly impossible to differentiate from our allies, and those fortunate enough to return to the United States often found themselves to be the objects of scorn and ridicule. Even the august Veteran's of Foreign Wars (VFW) opposed legislation designed to assist the young people who were returning from Vietnam.
Jumping to the present, we still do not have the moral high ground in the Bush Oil Wars. Oh, there is a sense of moral superiority, but it is a dangerous fallacy foisted on our nation and our military leaders by the religious right. Many of those holier-than-thou flag-wavers believe that we are in the Middle East to bring down Islam, that we are mopping up the non-Christians in preparation for Christ's return - which many of those Blble-thumpers believe is imminent. (That is also their argument against environmentalism - Jesus is on his way back, so why conserve or clean up anything?) What a mockery of the ideals of Christ!
Which finally brings me to my point!
Several weeks ago I received a chain-email from a friend - a Vietnam veteran. (I have since received the same email from three other sources, so it is busy making the rounds.) One component of that email was a list, supposedly put out by a U.S. Naval Command in the Middle East, that was trying to eliminate some of our pseudo moral superiority. It was a list of tee shirt slogans that were no longer permitted to be worn by military people or government civilians. And while the list was being forwarded to amuse and could have possibly been made up, I saw several similar tees while at Ft. Campbell and suspect that this memo was all too real.
That memo follows:
All commanders promulgate upon receipt.
The following T-shirts are no longer to be worn on or off-base by any military or civilian personnel serving in the Middle East:
1. 'Eat Pork or Die' [both English and Arabic versions]
2. 'Shrine Busters' [Various. Show burning minarets or bomb/artillery shells impacting Islamic shrines. Some with unit logos.]
3. 'Napalm, Sticks Like Crazy' [Both English and Arabic versions]
4. 'Goat - it isn't just for breakfast any more.' [Both English and Arabic versions]
5. 'The road to Paradise begins with me.' [Mostly Arabic versions, but some in English. Some show sniper scope cross-hairs.]
6. 'Guns don't kill people. I kill people.' [Both Arabic and English versions]
7. 'Pork. The other white meat.' [Arabic version]
8. 'Infidel' [English, Arabic and other coalition force languages.]
The above T-shirts are to be removed from Post Exchanges upon receipt of this directive. In addition, the following signs are to be removed upon receipt of this message:
1. 'Islamic Religious Services Will Be Held at the Firing Range at 0800 Daily.'
2. 'Do we really need 'smart bombs' to drop on these dumb bastards?'
All commands are instructed to implement sensitivity training upon receipt.
Slogans like those listed above fan the fires of hatred and intolerance. We will never win the hearts and minds of the local populace through demonizing and ridicule. Yes, their religious fundamentalists are dangerous, but so are ours. Yes, they have crazy politicians, and we definitely do also. Yes, they are whipped into a frenzy by Al-Jazeera, and we have Fox News relentlessly beating the drums of war.
They are different from us, and we are different from them, but neither is morally superior to the other.
And therein lies the rub.