Oregon, Stephen ShoreJames Castle, IdahoJosemite, Alvin Langdon CoburnPlato’s Retreat, Annie Sprinkle
US Soldiers in Afghanistan
[look at the eyes of the boys and man -we’re so welcome as Mr Brooks would have it?]
I have traveled rather extensively throughout the US, and as well elsewhere in the world. In America, in almost every small town and city, along with the Elks, the Rotary, Moose Lodge, and others, there are also the VFW and American Legion. Usually these are run-down places, a bar and dance floor, an assembly room, some offering their parking lots as trailer parking spaces for members. They are ubiquitous, and glide by nestled in the landscape almost unremarked, except during elections when they invariably support Republican candidates and on national holidays when they’ll be festooned with flags. You’ll find their members out on July 4th and other patriotic day parades. While it may be that my cultural antennae aren’t good enough to read it, when I have been in other countries I don’t recall ever having seen similar such places announcing themselves.
So embedded into our culture are these that we scarcely notice their meaning, or give them a thought. Veterans of Foreign Wars. American Legion. Though were we to give it a thought we’d have to admit that indeed America is rather often “over there” warring away. The list of American military actions abroad is far too long to list here, but a check at Wikipedia will glaze over your eyes, and prompt an understanding of just why all those VFW and Foreign Legion halls bedeck our landscape. And today’s news announces that as we wind down the “war” in Iraq (never declared by Congress, the Constitutional prerogative and duty of which it is to so declare), Obama is cranking up the other undeclared war in Afghanistan, however much he seems to dress it up with extra rhetorical flourishes. Foreign wars are as American as, well, apple pie. Yesterday, along this line, in response to a column by David Brooks in the New York Times, I wrote this (surely not to be published)
After cautioning about his doubts (The Winnable War), Mr Brooks concludes with bright optimism about American actions in Afghanistan, and comes to this line,
“Foreign policy experts can promote one doctrine or another, but this energetic and ambitious response — amid economic crisis and war weariness — says something profound about America’s DNA.”
I could go Google 100 statements from Mr Brooks about another quite recent war, of which he burbled with similar enthusiasm for American military adventures; however he might succinctly summarize his conclusions about our national DNA by simply saying:
Wars R Us.
“Military men are dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for foreign policy.”
Quoted by Woodward and Bernstein, allegedly said by Henry Kissinger to General Al Haig
I grew up in the military, my father being an officer in the Army. Ft. Benning, occupation troops in Hokaido Japan, Ft Leavenworth, post-war occupation in Trieste Italy and then Augsburg Germany, and then a final family stint in the suburbs of Washington DC while Col. Jost was a desk jockey in the Pentagon, a Chief Personnel Officer for the Army in Vietnam, if what I was told is correct. Like other Army brats I got full exposure to the military mentality – an exposure that seems to produce two quite different reactions. For some the medicine takes, with the sons following in the footprints of the father, taking up the military tradition and its behaviors. But for others – and I have met a fair amount of these in my travels, and found many creative sorts among them – it makes for a forceful foundation against which to rebel, as I did. In my case it was perhaps a bit more extreme as I refused to cooperate with the Selective Service and landed, much to my father’s surprise and consternation, in prison rather than in uniform. While I could hardly say we ever had a meaningful conversation prior to that act, we certainly never had one since. While I differ profoundly with Mr Kissinger on most things, I sadly concur on his judgment on those in the military, though there are of course many who are not, except in that fundamental first point, stupid. It is only their acceptance of the “sign up” gambit which is stupid, though given the social pressures, it is understandable. Like most cultures I am familiar with, America is a place where “boys and their balls” (my phrase for the accumulated matter of guys and gonads) is a celebrated locus for our social constructs. Boys are taught from the beginning that certain masculine things, like guns, and killing, or swinging bats, or tossing footballs, are of paramount value. This is perhaps more exaggerated in rural towns where a certain kind of “patriotism” is a given – even if it contradicts other values in the same people, like “small government,” low taxes, and the rest. And it is clear that those at the top of the power structure, the Kissinger-type people, know only too well how to play those sentiments like a Wurlitzer. And thus our landscape is dotted with the VFW and American Legion halls, and monuments to the fallen. Most come from towns like these:
Beacon NY [This must be from a movie, so fake does it look.]
Cottage Grove, Oregon
And given training and discipline, they become men.
Of course, honoring the dead of war has a long lineage for us.