Monday, May 26

I'm not entirely sure what I want to say today.

This, as anyone who knows me will attest, is an unusual state. But I feel I should say something, because today is Memorial Day.

It's common, on Memorial Day, to honor Our Brave Soldiers' Sacrifice for Liberty--usually in the Big One, known in classrooms as Word War II. I'm all into that; my father and mother both served in the Army in the Big One, though neither saw combat (my mother served in the WAC, and my father was invalided out with the initial attack of the rheumatoid arthritis that plagued him for the rest of his life.) Oh, y'know, a couple of my uncles flew bombers, and one even trained guerrillas behind Japanese lines in the Philippines, so the family story goes--these uncles having passed on some years ago, I can neither confirm nor deny these tales, but that's not the issue.

A few weeks ago, the Fabulous Robyn and I passed through San Diego on our way to my sister's wedding on Mount Palomar. Since TFR and I never get a chance for actual vacations, we took a day in SD to do some vacation-y things, including visiting Sea World. So we went to the Shamu Show (the orca performance, which is pretty damned cool, but not germane to the story I'm telling). San Diego, for those of you who don't know, is also home to one of the largest US Navy bases in the world. So as one might suspect, Sea World gets a lot of business from sailors on liberty, and they try very hard to cultivate that business, in a very respectful way. One actually gets the impression that the Sea World management means it--that it's not a cheap-ass marketing ploy. At the Shamu Show, the presenter (who is also the head trainer) came out before the show and asked that all the current soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in the crowd stand up to take a round of applause.

They looked a little embarrassed, but they did it.

Then he asked the families of these service members--and the families of all current servicemen and women overseas--to stand up and take their own round of applause. Some of them were crying. I was close to it myself.

Then they asked for all the veterans, and families of veterans, to stand. And damn near everybody was on their feet.

And I still don't know what I want to say about this.

I guess I just think that the best way to honor the sacrifices of our veterans, and the service of our soldiers, and sailors, and marines and airmen, is to not ask them to be killed or maimed in a war we should never have started in the first place. To end the Russian Roulette of tour after tour after tour in a combat zone we should never have created. To outlaw the stop-loss process, so that our All-Volunteer Military can actually be all volunteer. To give these valiant men and women the chance to defend us from the real enemies of America, in Afghanistan and on the Pakistan border and beyond. To give them a real G.I Bill, because a college-educated veteran is the best investment we can make in the future strength and prosperity of our nation. To fully fund and staff the Veteran's Administration, so that our returning veterans can get the medical care so many of them sadly need.

To never, ever, ever again allow a rogue administration to use them to invade a nation who never attacked us. To hold accountable the criminals who wrap themselves in the flag while wiping their asses with the Constitution.

That's all. I guess.


paul said...

But how do we stop them, good sir? Our country has been hijacked by (and I'm not kidding) the forces of evil, but they were aided and abetted by the very sort of indifference/willful ignorance that always make it easy for fascists and totalitarian assholes to have their way. I vote, I speak out daily (to my social and professional detriment), I educate my daughter as best I can and I'm not the type for a "dead zone" solution, so... what then must we do?
It seems to me that the bad guys have used the media and the various other tools of heinous consumer capitalism to fully realize the right wing's most cherished goal: a weak, stupid, isolated, immobile, small-minded, cruel and utterly de-sensitized populace largely incapable of understanding or caring about what is happening in the world around them, much less putting a stop to it.
So, what then must we do?
I find myself able only to implement Candide's solution, while I wait and pray for the pendulum to swing back towards the light.


Modi said...

I'm not entirely sure I want to post this, since I don't intend to insult anyone...
But seriously, from this part of the world (Eastern Europe) you look only like a country that is way too militarist. The leaders you choose are megalomaniacs, the outside world for you is just a playground to wage wars. If they asked the soldiers/veterans and their families to stand up in an audience somewhere in my country, then very few people would be standing. And this is a post-communist country with a very troubled history. Today my country has practically no real military left, and those few who become soldiers are real volunteers. Shouldn't a healthy society look like that?
I would be ashamed to see that so many people around me are closely connected to the military... And you are proud of it. It was shocking for me to see when I was in the US how many kids join the army there, and how popular it is. That kind of attitude was completely alien to me.
Oh, so you Defend yourself? Against whom, sincerely? The hijackers of 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, the Bin Laden family is a close relative of the Sauidi royal family, Saudi Arabia has the worst and most human right abuses in the Middle East. About every citizen of Saudi Arabia abhors the USA. And you... give them 13 billion dollars in military aid. oops But when will you defend yourself then?
Honestly, again looking from this part of the world the US is nothing more than a hypocratic empire that maintains its power by its oversized military, which is a tool to rule, not to make peace or defend the citizens. (and you shed tears for this military). The USA doesn't look any better, or more rightful than the previous empires.
If you hadn't provoked and mocked the Arabs then they wouldn't have sent planes into your towers. Hiroshima, Vietnam, Iraq... the world is thankful for you. "When you make a desert you call it peace."

I wrote this because I'm really fond of your books, but reading this blog made me wonder whether you can see the world only from an American's POV, and that's so disappointing. Tell me exactly what makes the US so much better than for example a European state? My visit to your country was frightening to say the least. Is it the constitution? What makes it better than mine? Your freedom of expression?:
This is unbelievable. It could NEVER happen here.
You seem to think that the USA is somehow special and a better place to live than any other. I'm asking why? What countries have you visited lately?

Robert said...

Modi, as an American, I find your comments interesting, saddening, and a little misguided.

Interesting; because I often try to consider what other countries think of the Unites States and her people. I think of how my fellow citizens act both at home and how I know they act abroad. It concerns me. I know that foreign policy is one of my biggest concerns in the upcoming election.

Saddening; because it makes me sorrowful to think that we've squandered so much of our good will that we're though of, by many people, exactly how you depicted all of us. God knows there's a lot of things wrong with this country and the way things can get done. As Paul put it, it's difficult to figure out what exactly we CAN do nowadays.

Now as for the misguided...

I honestly think you may have missed the point of Matt's post. From what you said of how things are in your country I can see why; and you're right, we're looking at two entirely different cultures here.

What Matt was talking about was not militarism, it was about honoring the men and women who volunteer to put their lives on the line to serve and protect their families and loved ones. They join to serve their country with the hope that their government will misuse them and toss them like fodder onto the flames of wars and battles that have no real reason to be fought.

These men and women have suffered a disservice in the last 5 years as they have been asked to fight a war utterly without meaning. Matt's post and the pride of Americans in their fellow citizens that serve is not in regards to the actions of the government, but in spite of it. We honor the sacrifice and bravery and we trust those men and women will replay that trust with honorable actions.

There's more to be said here, but I'm having a hard time finding words that can truly do the subject the justice it deserves in the face of both the triumphs and travesties of the United States' proud and yet shameful military history, as well as the failings of our current elected leadership.

I just hope you understand my statements are merely meant to attempt and offer a window into a different point of view.

I wouldn't think of disputing a lot of the points you've made as they infuriate me as much as anyone else, but it was our pride in and support of our servicemen & women that I felt needed a word.

the wolfjack said...

Modi, my friend, where to begin...
Firstly, please don't assume that all Americans agree with the current administration's policies. I sure as hell didn't vote for Bush in the last two elections. Many of us are sickened and disgusted by what our country has done wrong, in the middle east and other places. Vietnam, Hiroshima, Iraq, American Idol, all horrendously bad fuck-ups for which I would have voted "No thank you" if any of the nutjobs in charge of these fiascos had asked my opinion. Coming from a "Former communist nation with a troubled past" surely you can see that a government (even a "freely elected" one) often does not represent the will of all or even most of it's people.
That being said, it's pretty easy to crap on the notion of a powerful and effective military... until the next Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot rolls the tanks across your borders. At that point, as the French and Polish and many other nations found about seventy-some-odd years ago, having an ally with a stong military peopled by men and women willing to die for the sake of a population of strangers in a far-off land suddenly becomes very attractive.
The people of western europe didn't shower our troops with love and affection as we liberated their cities and towns after D-day just because we are all as cool as black-and-white Brando and good lookin' as the young Paul Newman (well, not JUST beacause of that...)
When 22'nd century China decides your lovely and smugly superior ass would look better as a jack-boot-polishing servant to their conquering hordes as they crash your borders like Charmin tissue on their way to London, the sight of American (or British or Italian or French) troops rolling in from the west might not seem so distasteful.
As Robert indicated, there is a difference between agreeing with the half-assed policy that our soldiers our sent to fight for and honoring their courage, idealism and sacrifice. In other words, you don't have to hate the playa just because you hate the game.
Lastly, the primary reason so many of our young people are joining the military is not beacause we are a violent and militaristic people (well, not JUST because), but because it is one of the few viable employment opportunities available to many of them. As our educational system continues to rapidly spiral down the toilet bowl and all of the semi-skilled manufacturing jobs that once allowed marginally educated Americans to make decent money are outsourced overseas (maybe to your country even) by unscrupulous executives without a civic-minded bone in their bodies, many American kids may have begun to feel (especially before A war that most of them, especially the poor damn reservists, never signed on for)that the armed forces offers them a better shot in life than Wal-Mart ot Taco Bell.
We can't all be best-selling novelists ya' know.


Robert said...

Wolfjack, I appreciate your passion on the subject, but please do not attempt to discredit Modi for his point of view or opinion.

He's generally right about one thing, we do tend to sometimes not see the world outside of our boarders. Don't take offense to his remarks, contemplate if there's truth to them. Attempt to see things from his point of view. It is his right to do so, and it is something that will come just from living in another country with another culture.

To berate him for this, despite any tone he may have had to his wordings, is unbecoming and disrespectful.

Also remember this: We were not the only nation to land on Omaha beach on D-day. We played a *part* in World War II; to ignore the countless others from other nations that fought and died in that war protecting their friends and family is also disrespectful.

Lets not take offense to the opinions of others, as they are their own to have. Attempting to understand the source of these opinions and willingness to talk about them (goth good and bad) is the only way we will ever learn to live with each other in an international setting. :)

Robert said...

I just noticed in my initial comment I had written:

"They join to serve their country with the hope that their government will misuse them and toss them like fodder onto the flames of wars and battles that have no real reason to be fought."

That should read:

"...with the hope that their government will NOT misuse them..."

My apologies for the typo. I suppose that's why we have editors in the world, eh?

wolfypaul said...

wow, how funny.
Please don't take this as "berating" but as respectful disagreement in the spirit of healthy deabate:
Albeit in a less smart-assy tone, almost every line in your last post falls under the heading of everything you kindly advised me not to do concerning Modi's post.
To wit; berating wolfy for his expressed opinion, objecting to said opinion w-out contemplating it's (possible)truth and a lack of attempt to understand the opinion expressed and an unwillingness to talk about it.
Also, what of the pre-amble in which I basically agreed with many of Modi's points, while attempting to put forward the notion that "Americans" are not some undifferentited amoebic mass who all think/feel/say the same things?
Please don't get me wrong, none of this is any skin off of my nose, and I'm not some jingoistic Murrica-firster trying to take a poor foreign lad (?) to task, but just a dude with an opinion.
Also, a closer read of my post might reveal I took care to acknowledge a few other "powers" in the world that both participated in the WWII counter-offensive (Italy non-withstanding) and would likely play a similar role in any such future conflicts.
Hell, next time around, even Germany might be on the side of the angels.
And while I'm NO fan of the M.I. complex, I do find it funny/ironic that residents of nations who are able to exist with tiny, ineffective militaries feel so free to hurl invective at the very nation(s) whose giant military expenditures (in $ and humans)largely make their pacifistic stance possible. Regrettable as the cold war was in many ways, Communist Soviet ambition was not halted by a harmonic convergence of hippies standing in a drumming circle with linked hands singing Khum-ba-Yah...
I'll be the first to admit that I'm new enuff to this blogging stuff that I might well be the etiquette equal of Ferdinand in the Wedgewood shop, but them's the breaks, I guess. I'll certainly take your gentle advice under advisement. Seeing as "becoming" is the only job we all have in common, I'd hate to be un-becoming.
I guess my tone was sparked by being included as some sort of cheerleader for such little gems as Hiroshima, VietNam and Iraq, simply because in live in the USA.
Shouldn't we all, Modi included, be held to the same standards of discourse you advise the wolf to adopt?
Lastly, if you think edgy and (possibly)humorously intended sarcasm has no place in passionate debate, better not read "Star Wars on Trial"...

Tim said...

Up here in Canada, we don't have as big a military, but I too come from a military family. I bear the name of a line of soldiers who fought to protect this land since before there was a Canada, and I'm proud of that. My father was a logistics driver, his father was a SARtech, his father was an artillery Captain, and so on and so forth. I think it's a point of honor to come from a patriotic line such as that.

A few years back, I was working a morning shift on Rememberance Day. The clock hit 11, and we all stood to contemplate. I never thought about it much until then, really, but I overheard some old lady complaining about how she shouldn't have to stand, because her husband died in Korea. I didn't understand it then, and I still don't now. I can't help but think she was giving immense disrespect to her late husband. She has a closer relationship to the military than many other people in this country, and she doesn't think it's worth remembering the struggles and sacrifices our soldiers have endured over the decades? I just don't get it.

And also, as a matter of national pride in our military, I can safely say that whenever there's a Red Friday campaign, you can't go anywhere in Ottawa on Fridays without seeing people clad in bright red to support the Forces, and poppy pins adorn every lapel in October/November. I used to wear mine year-round.

KP said...

These posts bring to mind that old Rush lyric..."far better the pride that resides in a citizen of the world than the pride that resides when a colorful rag is unfurled". This applies not only the the US but every country. It will be a long, long time before we can approach one world one nation so in the mean time we must figure out a way to rest back control of the country. The government has become ruled by special interests, big business, and a massive buddy system. We are in need of sweeping change yet I am not sure the American public is up for the fight. There is too much division in the rank and file with media sources happily swaying us to and fro. We are also painting ourselves into a catch 22. We need to simplify government, cutting out bureaucracy and streamlining processes but this could lead to massive unemployment, negating the positives. Bush should have been removed long ago but was/is too connected politically and with big business. We all need to take a strong look at our lives and country and urge congress to make some meaningful changes like banning campaign contributions, banning lobbyists and truly move forward with the issues that would make our nation and the world a saner place to live.

sasha said...

Just an FYI--I don't want to interrupt an interesting political discussion, but I think these are relevant facts. Forgive me if they have already come up and I've missed them.

The US military has about 3 million people in it (see Wikipedia for this and all other statistics quoted). The US population is over 300 million, so about 1% of the population is in the military, reserve or otherwise. That's the same proportion as you find in Poland, to pick a random eastern European nation. In Macedonia, 3% of the population is in the military, though most of the military is reserve rather than active. Greece still has mandatory conscription, so almost a quarter of the population could, in theory, be considered military--though of course, unlike in the US, Poland, and Macedonia those are not volunteers. In the Ukraine, 2.5% of the population is military, but again, most are reserves.

I bring up these numbers not to discredit anyone's feelings regarding the military or regarding American militarism, but only because I think the facts are interesting and noteworthy, too. Is it accurate to say that the United States has an unusually large military, particularly in comparison with eastern Europe? From at least one point of view, yes, it is; there are more men and women in the US military than in most other militaries in the world (only China has more armed forces). But the US also has a pretty large population (the third largest in the world, after China and India). What matters more, the total number of people in the military or the percentage of the population in the military? If one in one hundred Americans signs up for military service, does that make Americans on the whole more militaristic than eastern Europeans? If you visit a major military outpost in eastern Europe, would there be fewer people with military ties than there are in San Diego? Is the degree to which a nation is "militaristic" determined by the size of its military? By the amount of pride felt by those associated with the military? By the decisions the nation's government makes regarding the military? By the amount of sympathy or empathy that people in that nation feel for those who are directly affected by the government's decisions about the military? If something like 65% of Americans disapprove of the Iraq War today (see; sorry if this is not the best poll or if it's a bit out of date) and something like 73% (Wikipedia) of the world population disapproves of the Iraq War, does that mean that the United States is significantly more militant than the rest of the world? I think these are questions that are worth considering.

Based on the numbers I've found regarding military service in the US and eastern Europe, I have some trouble believing that "If they asked the soldiers/veterans and their families to stand up in an audience somewhere in my [eastern European] country, then very few people would be standing." I don't know what country that is, but a lot of eastern Europe has higher rates of military participation--sometimes compulsory, sometimes not--than the US, and the rates look like they were even higher in the past (before the dissolution of the Soviet block), meaning there would probably be a lot of families of veterans. My idea here is not to say that eastern Europe is *more* militaristic than the US because of the higher rates of military service; rather, it is my intention to question the idea that one can come to conclusions about just how "militaristic" America is based on the high proportion of people connected with the US military at a Shamu show in one of the country's most heavily military cities (there are at least 9 military installations in San Diego).

paul said...

Whew, thanx for a breath of reality and some illuminating stats, Tim, kp and Sasha.
While I can't disagree with kp's notions of some long overdue political reforms being crucial to bringing some health and sanity back to our hijacked political system, I respectfully disagree that anything meaningful will result from urging congress to do anything.
These are the same bums that have risen to power from deep-throating the same special interests that have f-ed up our nation so badly in the last forty or fifty years. The chance of them finding the backbone and moral fiber to turn and bite the hand that is lodged firmly up their puppet heinies is all but nil.
The foxes have had charge of the hen house for decades and will continue to munch on us until they are replaced by the easgles and the doves.
I believe the only answer begins at home, in every individual family taking the time and energy to raise up of a generation who can reason and care and love in ways that the current generation X and Y is largely incapable of. Only then might we as a nation stand any chance of voting the Republican AND Democrat bums out and installing some independent candidates who might actually effect some positive change, instead of netting one or two percent of the vote (often, ironically, just enough to give the victory to the greater of two evils).
It also doesn't hurt to have the cuorage to speak out against the New Right in our personal lives when we can, regardless of the cost (and there are some, to be sure). Who knows, you might just change a mind or two, though the odds are long against it.
Or, as Candide concludes at the end of his story, the only sane response to an insane world is to simply tend to one's own garden to the best of our ability, and continue to hope for the best of all possible worlds...