Honor the Soldier, Not the War
Today is veteran’s day. Through the war on drugs, war on terror, culture wars, oil wars, and more, we are all veterans. We all want peace. We want to recover, rehabilitate, and redeploy to civilian life.
When we honor the veterans, we forgive and make amends. We honor the killers and orphans, the frontline first responders, the homeless combat vets living in the city streets with post-traumatic stress disorder. The refugees.
Where can we build a world to heal?
The Christmas Armistice
Maybe we can start with the Christmas armistice. It was in the blood and carnage of World War I. Tens of thousands were shot down by machine gun fire as they raced to overwhelm the enemy’s trench line. Mustard gas sent thousands choking to death and disability. Artillery fire kept men pinned down dying one on top of each other, and a wave of influenza that killed millions some believe ended this first war to end all wars.
On Christmas eve one year, the sons of factory workers on either side lay down their weapons and fraternized in no man’s land, singing Christmas carols and shaking hands. Only their bosses shooting artillery into the crowds of revelers stopped these young men from realizing they had more in common with each other than with those who commanded them to fight and die.
It’s not 1914. It’s 2023. So much has changed and so much remains the same.
The War on Drugs
We’ve survived the war on drugs; from the poppy fields of southeast Asia popularized by Denzel Washington in American Gangster to the CIA’s cocaine pusher Rick Ross addicting millions to crack cocaine to fund the contra war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Mass incarceration, mass addiction, the cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine wars have ruthlessly destroyed men and women, ripping apart families. Unaccompanied minors and foster youth struggle to survive in the wake of an epidemic and a lost generation. Social workers, addicts, correctional officers, police, bailiffs, Black Lives Matter protestors. We are all veterans.
The War on Terror
And who could forget the war on terror. The endless oil wars. The terror attacks on 9/11. Thousands dead. Firefighter first responders inhaling toxins in lower Manhattan rushing upstairs to save the lives of innocent New York office workers as the second Saudi citizen hijacked airplane hit the World Trade Center towers. Veterans.
America set off to fight Osama Bin Laden. But there were tanks already in Saudi Arabia from the first Gulf War. The military bombed Tora Bora with heat seeking missiles, looking for Bin Laden, the CIA trained mastermind of the Mujahadeen, Regan’s freedom fighters in a guerilla war against the Soviet occupation dramatized in Rambo III, now turned on the west in an alliance with the Taliban. Veterans.
And so, our college friends in the Army reserve were called up to active duty, and many never graduated. Many never came home the same. As the rag-tag northern alliance warlords flipped to ally with America to overrun the Taliban, they were given cart blanche to grow poppies just like in Vietnam; drug money to finance arms purchases and loyalty. I remember in 2004, smoking pot with a combat vet. There was a methadone clinic on the plane back from Kabul to Hamburg, he recalled. So many soldiers got hooked on opium peddled right outside their base. Veterans.
It was the summer of 2002, I think. WorldCom and Enron collapsed; the Arthur Anderson accounting firm had cooked their books. Through privatization and mega mergers, big companies bought up smaller firms. The cell phone networks grew, and utilities were privatized in a giant corporate Ponzi scheme. Dedicated, long time employees lost their jobs and their retirement pensions, while the C-suite executives cashed out on their stock options and stashed money in the Cayman Islands. In California there were rolling blackouts due to electricity shortages manufactured by Enron’s speculative energy trading. We are veterans.
Then we got distracted with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Soldiers redeployed from Afghanistan, and nuclear weapons were never found. But at least now a third of a south Los Angeles County refinery’s oil comes from Iraq, a third come from northern Alaska, and the rest from domestic fracking, poisoning ground water as smog covers the city. Asthma chokes, coughs, gasps, and wheezes children’s dreams to play outside as rushing swoosh of the freeways whizz by, glaciers melt, and the world warms. Veterans.
The War on Women
To keep distracting and dividing us, we have culture wars; there is women’s right to choose in family planning vs. the right to life. But the war on women’s psychic scars penetrate far deeper than abortion debates. The sado-masochistic culture of the U.S. Army drives the war; from MPs torturing Iraqi civilians, forcing them to perform sex acts on each other in Iraq’s Abu Gharib military prison, to the disappearance of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army recruit raped and murdered at Fort Hood. Meanwhile the machismo, violence, domination, and sexual aggression of battlefield combat has bled into popular culture at home. From porn hub gang rape tapes to frat party initiations, rape culture is engrained in young men from an early age along with call of duty’s latest battlefield simulation. Meanwhile the culture industry manufactures and reinforces sexual violence; from Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” to Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein picking actresses through sexual quid pro quo. We are all veterans.
This is America. We have race wars. The registration, incarceration, and deportation of Muslim immigrants, post-9/11. The tanks and snipers sent to Ferguson Missouri when community members chanted hands up don’t shoot. The minutemen militia patrolling the Arizona border. The millions in the streets as Congressman James Sensenbrenner proposed a draconian anti-immigrant law to expel the ‘illegals.’ Undocumented youth kept in detention facilities until they emancipated to deportation. There were Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virigina, chanting “Jews will not Replace Us,” youth tearing down confederate statues like swinging hammers to the Berlin wall, and antifascists and Black Lives Matter protestors demanding Justice for George Floyd. We are veterans.
The War in Palestine
Now our eyes are fixated on another war. Hamas hang-gliders massacred rave goers and kibbutz- or collective farm- members, passing over barbed wire topped walls from the Gaza strip months after Jewish settlers and zealots inflamed the Arab world by rioting against Muslims praying at al-Aqsa on the Temple Mount. It was the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, and in Israel a divided country for months had been protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for abolishing an independent judiciary to stay in power as a corruption scandal threatened him with jail time. The nation united to send tanks into Gaza City and bomb civilian city blocks as rockets rained down on Tel-Aviv intercepted by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon’s supported iron dome. Civilians fled to bomb shelters in Israel, to besieged hospitals in Gaza. Crowds around the world marched in support of Israel, Hamas, and the use of state power.
Honor the Veterans
The wars march on. Another generation becomes veterans. Do we honor our vets on veterans’ day? Or do we only honor war? What are we fighting and dying for? And who keeps score?
So, give a homeless veteran a dollar. Hug your family. Eat a good meal. We’re gonna make it; through one more war. Let’s keep it real.