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Monday, November 4, 2019

Veterans Day: The dilemma for veterans

As Veterans Day approaches on November 11, it raises an awarenesss that being a veteran is not always easy.  Some veterans who served during times of questionable causes do not take pride in what the military did.  The Viet Nam War was opposed and regarded as a atrocity by many in the United States, and veterans returning from it were despised.  That episode was ended with the construction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which listed the dead soldiers and acknowledged the fact that they gave their lives honorably in service by order of their country.  Many veterans had joined the opposition to the war, but their service and sacrifice were acknowledged as honorable and patriotic.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists 58,307 names of the soldiers killed
As a Cold War veteran, my service was not done in circumstances that called into question the moral propriety of the nature of our service.  I was a guided missile crew member in Germany with troops poised to discourage any aggressive designs that the Soviet Union had regarding our allies in Europe.  The American troops were fully indoctrinated about the rationale for our presence in Germany and were kept abreast of developments affecting it.  We were also coached about how to behave with our allies and how to set a democratic example for our adversaries.  We were there not only to provide resistance to any overt attacks, but also to earn respect for our democratic ways and try to win adversaries over to those ways.  We were constantly reminded that our role was to protect and transmit the values of liberty, equality, and justice for all. Over a long period of time, this strategy was effective with the tearing-down of the Berln Wall in1989 and the Soviet collapse in 1991.  Conventionally, it is analyzed that disaffection among those living under Soviet influence in the 1980s resulted in the collapse.  But the factors which produced the collapse are noted by scholars to have their origins in strategies that were initiated early in the history of the Cold War.  The scholars point to cultural factors that are complex and subtle.

Every night as I went to sleep in Germany, I wore headphones from my portable radio which was tuned to the Armed Forces Network.  The network played mostly music programs and was not blocked and jammed by the Soviets, as was Radio Free Europe.  As a devoted jazz fan, my bedtime show was jazz, of course.  

Years later, I met the host of the show and told him how I enjoyed and appreciated his show while in Germany. (A favorite song he played for men who were to return to their civilian lives in the U.S. was "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York"  from Porgy and Bess.)  He said he appreciated his G.I. audience, but it was far outnumbered by his audience in Europe and behind the Iron Curtain.   Transmitters in West Berlin carried the signal into Soviet territory.  He said that while all forms of American music were popular to the non-American audience, jazz had a particular fascination to those living under totalitarian circumstances.  A music which originated from a people held in bondage had an underground significance to those living under repression.  It became an identifying interest for those craving a greater freedom.  It was an element that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  As many scholars have pointed out, the struggle of souls for freedom occurs on many fronts other than the political.  That's why jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and many who followed him, are recognized as some of the most effective ambassadors for America.

Veterans are facing a new dilemma with the advent of Donald Trump.  They are deeply divided on Trump.  He has some support but also a very significant opposition among veterans.  To veterans like me, Trump represents the very threat that we soldiers were defending our country against. It is not a matter of partisan politics.  It is a matter of the basic intellectual and moral premise on which America was founded and which we took an oath to preserve as soldiers.  Trump rejects that premise with a vicious malice.  He pisses on the flag.  And he is joined by supporters  whose American dream is to exercise the benefits of democracy for themselves but deny them to people they choose to hate.

It enrages me and other veterans when we are thanked for our service by someone wearing a MAGA hat. I did not serve my country to make the world safe for a bunch of neo-nazi sociopaths to rage away and destroy the progress we have made toward realizing true liberty, equality, and justice.  Trump and his dementia brigade deny those qualities as having value for the general population.  Their threat to America has forced people who understand and value the principles of our nation to see the need for an effective resistance.  That resistance may be exercised in the voting booth, but that is not enough. The Trump subversion is being spread through the media, from pulpits, and even sports arenas.  A baseball umpire announced that if Trump was removed from office, he would buy an AR-15 and start a civil war.  There are veterans out there who are willing and capable to take up the umpire's challenge.  But they also understand that the nation might not survive a major civil conflict.  Trump is forcing the nation into a division that will end in violence.  The endemic stupidity of Trump and his followers is beyond the reach of intelligence.

The country that Trump represents is not the country the armed forces have defended.  It is not the country that rid itself of slavery and pushed an agenda of civil rights.  Trump's America is what we defeated on two fronts in World War II.  It is a country in which a president can openly demean military heroes such as John McCain, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and a bunch of his mindless, malevolent followers will cheer him for it.  Many people take comfort in the notion that Trump and his followers are just a faction whose politics differ a bit from the democratic orthodoxy.  They are wrong.  Trump and his sycophants openly disparage and desecrate the American premises of freedom, equality, opportunity, and justice.  They blatantly defame and lie about people who do not condone their Nazi-like tactics.  They've reduced politics to the level of a juvenile playground spat replete with name-calling and malicious lies.

It is difficult to consider that I served my country so these people can spread a malignancy that threatens the nation's very existence.  But that's the irony of America.  We find what some people say to be despicable, but defend their right to say it.  And we fought wars to protect the country against the very things they practice and promote.

We live in the circumstance portrayed in  John Le Carre's Agent Running in the Field  (p. 155) just published:
"Trump might be the worst President America has ever had, I said, but he was no Hitler, much as he might wish to be, and there were plenty of good Americans who weren't going to take this lying down. 
"At first he didn't seem to hear me. 
"'Yeah, well,' he agreed in the faraway voice of a man coming round from an anaesthetic.  'There were plenty of good Germans too.  And a fat lot of bloody good they did.'"
As a veteran, I may have defended the right of Trump and his ilk to speak out.  But as a student of the resistance, I must consider the fact that if we are to keep the promise of America, taking up arms against them is not out of the question.  Veterans Day might mean turmoil in our streets.



larry kurtz said...

Little wonder Stace Nelson fears his creator. Republican District 19 State Senator Nelson is a conservative christian (go figure), albeit a decorated Marine, who spent a career brutalizing the people within his charge as a monolithic executor of forced compliance through intimidation.

Which part of race-driven hate speech escapes you, people? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like duck it's most likely a duck. Trump is a racist who paddles in the swamp of racism! Just say it: Republicanism is Nazism.

Porter Lansing said...

Excellent post, Dr. Newquist. And, as to violence inevitably coming from our swelling resistance, "The times, they are a changin'."

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