One More Time
I’m writing this as I return from New York City, amid beautiful autumn weather that lends even more splendor to one of the world’s grand venues. The New York Yankees and the New York Giants have both won their home games, so in a sports’ sense the City has been abuzz with that energy. And at the same time the City hosted large peace and environmental demonstrations so the tens of thousands who attended the gatherings are adding another, albeit different ingredient to the “buzz.” But probably the most noteworthy piece of the buzz is being fueled by the fact that we have just this evening begun the bombings in the Middle East as a response to the current ISIS threat. Although this is not directly within the City limits, it’s not difficult to imagine that (especially happening only several weeks post the 9/11 remembrance), the events are having a particular effect on the City’s spirit.
Being a native “New Yorker” I’m finding myself in the swirl of these emotions. This is especially so, as much of my work centers on issues tied to our on-going social, political and economic concerns, concerns that oftentimes seem too much to internalize. And amidst all this, I can’t help but recall the sentiments I relayed in a piece that was written over a decade ago. It was done with an eye towards our Middle East conflicts as they began back then, and I think its essence remains as it was. So please take a read. And importantly, while doing so, I hope you have a moment to consider how we might better hold those who are in positions of influence more accountable for that influence – not for the “left” or “right” of the policies they may endorse, but for what they are doing for US.
Go Get’em Boys**
You know, I grew up in an era that fostered suspicion about the military. I mean a day couldn’t go by in the 1960s without some journalist or TV news-reader raising a question as to what the Pentagon planners were plotting next. If it wasn’t Vietnam, then it was our military being used to quell riots in our own city streets, or being used to promote another coup in another Third World country. Then there was our untrustworthy and suspect political process for which the military was the might. And there were questions about the legal and educational systems and overall inequality, and these, too, tilted what the military seemed to be defending. On top of all this, very few individuals that I knew perceived military duty as something of substance. Rather, it was seen as something to be avoided if at all possible. (I myself was lucky in that my draft lottery number never got reached.)
Yet young men and women, most from poorer, less educated environments, found themselves fitting into uniforms that spoke to things like pride, honor and tradition. Hell, many of them died with that as part of their eulogy-despite the distrust and dislike that surrounded their efforts. As has been well documented it was a difficult time for both them and us.
It wasn’t until some twenty years later that I began to visit these sentiments again. It happened that I was offered a faculty position with a major university’s European, Middle East and Asian divisions, all of which were tied to a program that offered post-secondary opportunities to those who were in the military or who contracted with the U.S. in support of our overseas interests. With this position came the opportunity to get a very close look at the military, from its day-to-day routines, to its war objectives, to what its presence meant in the world. And this added a new dimension to what I had years before concluded.
In traveling amid the power that they (and simultaneously our citizenship) represent, I’ve come to see our military in a more complex way. Over the past years I’ve watched them at their work, with their families and among themselves. I’ve talked with them, from privates to generals, about their society, about war and about peace. Suffice it to say they are an interesting group, far from being dull, ignorant or blind to what they do. Most of them recognize their efforts in terms of our country’s economic interests – that is, that “making the world safe for democracy” is more of a political euphemism than anything else. And in this sense they are at the tip of our American dilemma: who are we and what are we doing in the world? Surely, like most of the American public, they can’t completely grasp the depth of the dilemma. Nonetheless they have a mission tied to it and they must stay focused accordingly, which means staying disciplined and ready in times of peace, and brave and strong in times of war. Obviously none of this is easy.
No doubt, war is stupid. And I am not a fan of it in any way. But it seems to be an outgrowth of the stupid part of human nature − nothing less than history has shown us that. In the name of God and man alike peace has not prevailed. Consequently the complexities of establishing and defending a system, any system for that matter, seem always at hand. And the need for the military goes on, “the stronger the better” remaining the call. It’s a paradox that is part of us – it shouldn’t be, but it is. So it goes for our military.
Thus, especially in these times, as I see the flag wave, or hear the songs sung, or as the jets fly over our pastimes, I feel it for “our boys.” Yet I’m scared for them as well. This is as much for the danger they face and the mandate they’ve been given, as it is for the nagging feeling that we lack an understanding about our issues at home, issues so closely tied to those dangers and their mandate. And I’m scared because the flag waving and song singing and jet flying should symbolize what was missing in our Vietnam effort, but I fear they don’t. In other words, the country may finally be in support of its military but, for the most part, it really doesn’t have a solid sense of itself or the problems it is facing. And unlike the 1960s no movement is addressing the related concerns of things linked to the ideals of democracy and the practicalities of capitalism. It seems it’s a twist on the situation from years ago, yet ironically the outcome could well be the same. Just as it was back then our troops’ thoughts and actions as they return may be sadly misunderstood.
Again, it’s a difficult time, for them and for us. I wish we knew more about our policies and practices, but we don’t. I hope the circumstances change, but I worry that they won’t. Nevertheless, in the midst of our serious struggles, I’ll say “God bless, good luck, and go get’em boys.”
**This piece was included in a chapter of my previous book, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. I would like to also reference another piece from that chapter, one written by a talented and weary teenager I met while in the Middle East. It certainly speaks for itself.
by Laila Yafi
In the starlight, a tear drop shines
Revealing love’s true divine
A lone child, sitting in the dark
All is gone, no more spark.
A ray of moonlight falls upon him
He clings to her empty dress
Wishing it could be full again
Filled with her warmth and life.
His mother’s spirit remains so strong
Yet their eyes shall never meet again
The haunt of loss has already set
A memory permanently etched.
Caught in silence, cemented in grief
The boy searches to find relief
But in life’s war she is gone forever
The cord of love so quickly severed.
Be brave young soldier.
About the author:
Jim Palombo is the politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.