Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama in Afghanistan

In addition to being a Democrat and a strong supporter of President Obama, I am also a Vietnam veteran and I have been closely following the news reports of his decision about what to do in Afghanistan. He is scheduled to make his announcement next week, but there are many “leaks” coming from the White House about what his decision will be. It appears that he will be sending more troops, a lot more troops.

There are many reasons we should be disturbed about this, assuming the leaks are accurate. One of the most cogent reasons for concern is that President Obama is sounding more like President Bush with every pronouncement he makes about his reasons for putting American troops in harm’s way. He has been quoted as stating that he will “finish the job,” but cannot tell us exactly what that job is or how he will know it is finished. Until he can give clear guidelines of what he means to accomplish and how he will know when it has been accomplished–in other words, give us a credible exit strategy–he will not receive my support or the support of any veterans who value the lives of our sons and daughters in uniform more than vague hopes of some illusive political gain.

Our soldiers, their families, and our country deserve better than to have yet another president think he can overcome the bitter lessons of history and impose Western democratic ideals on an unwilling nation; that he can win the hearts and minds of a populace by supporting a corrupt government and using our patriotic soldiers as enforcers for that government, or that he can subdue his enemy without injuring our nation.

However, he has not announced his intentions, so perhaps the skies will open and a light from above will shine on him as he announces an end to the fighting. Maybe he will announce that the Afghanis must set up their own government without our troops shedding their blood in the process. Maybe, just maybe, this could happen... But I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Reflection on Veterans Day, November 11, 2009

In 1950, when I was five-years-old and living in a small town in Kentucky, my first contact with anything military happened when my next-door neighbor, Mr. Abbot, gave me a disarmed shell he had brought back with him from World War I. Not long after that, my mother took me to a parade where Mr. Abbot and other old men paraded down the main street of town wearing funny-looking uniforms. Mom told me that the men had been soldiers when they were a lot younger. As I looked around, I saw men take off their hats and put their hands over their hearts as the American flag passed, and I noticed that several of them were crying.

All over the country on that particular day, Mom said, there were parades like this one. It was a special day called Armistice Day. Personally, I was disappointed because I had assumed there would be clowns and animals–maybe even elephants–in the parade. Why else would people be excited about a parade, and why would men cry because a flag passed by?

Jump forward to November 11, 1995. I was standing on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City with my grown-up son as we watched veterans from all American wars since World War I parade up Fifth Avenue. It took more than an hour for the parade to pass us. There were lines of cars carrying vets who were no longer able to walk. Some groups of veterans had tried, without much success, to organize themselves into discernible marching units. The desert camouflage of the veterans of the recent Gulf War looked peculiar to me, mixed in, as they were, with the solid colors of the uniforms from the other units.

But the groups that affected me the most were the veterans of the war in Vietnam. That was my war, a war that I had tried, unsuccessfully, to put behind me for so long. Tears blurred my eyes as I peered through the telephoto lens of my camera, hoping to spot a familiar face although I knew there was little hope in finding anyone I served with in 1970. Even if I had recognized them, I doubted they would recognize me. The twenty-five years that had passed had changed me from a cynical, sarcastic draftee into a middle-aged man with a receding hairline and expanding paunch. On this day, I stood on the steps of St. Pat’s silently weeping for the all the soldiers who had died in that unnecessary war.

My son put his arm around me and asked if I was okay. I told him that I was, but I didn’t say that I was immeasurably sad when I thought of what my beloved country had lost in that war: all the young men and women who had died, and the millions of veterans who had survived physically but who had never truly “come home.”

On Veterans Day this year, I will once again feel the sorrow of loss, but also a burning anger. When I consider what the warmongers in Washington have done with the lives our sons and daughters in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what these new veterans face when they return home, I am filled with rage. When I think about the impotence of our elected officials of both parties to end this senseless war, and when I hear the drumbeats for starting yet another war in Iran, despair washes over me. Will we never learn?

For most of my fellow citizens, this Veterans Day will pass unobserved as have so many others. But if there is a parade in my hometown on this Veterans Day, and if a five-year-old boy sees an old man with his hand over his heart and tears running down his face as our flag passes by, he might be looking at me.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Open Letter to Dave Camp About His NO On Health Care

Representative Camp, when you voted NO on the House Health Care bill, you once again sided with the health insurance companies in denying Americans their moral right to basic health care.

You will have another opportunity to vote again in the final House vote. I hope you will, for once, take into account the number of your constituents who are either without, or struggling to keep, a basic level of health care for themselves and their families, while your corporate sponsors are raking in huge profits. I hope you will think about your constituents who are the working poor, who have jobs that pay no benefits because the companies cannot afford to cover their health care needs. I hope you will think about your constituents who are one hospitalization away from losing all they own.

Representative Camp, you will have another opportunity to consider whether your political ideology is more important than your moral obligation to work to benefit all of your constituents. You will have the opportunity to decide what your position of Representative really means: kowtowing to the rich and powerful, or truly representing all of us. The decision is yours, Representative Camp, and we will be watching closely.