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A Veterans Day Preamble

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Jesus loves me,
this I know,
for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong;
they are weak,
but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me . . .
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,
to shine for Him each day;
in every way to try to please Him
at home, at school, at play.

A sunbeam, a sunbeam, a sunbeam . . .
I was raised in Allen Park, Michigan; a very middle-class community of perhaps 30,000 less than ten miles from the old Tiger Stadium near downtown Detroit. Every Sunday morning our family would attend the 11:00 o'clock services held at the Allen Park Presbyterian Church on Park Street. Through the week, before evening dinner two rituals prevailed: one, my sisters and I would each drop 10-cents into the tiny cardboard church-configured box that sat on the dinner table, for next Sunday's offering; and two, we'd say grace.


I've been retired for going on three years. Right now I'm looking down the barrel of 64; the age I'll turn this coming January. And for the past few years I have been driven equally by three very intense passions.

However I receive wonderful health care, free to me, through the VA, scores of millions of Americans have none, and every year 45,000 die needlessly as a consequence. As I'm unable to fathom the moment that being able to refer to a doctor for needed advice and care became a privilege restricted to those with the financial wherewithal or an employer-sponsored benefit package, I'm going to fight as hard as I can to euthanize this most despicable scheme. In a civil society, fattening a health insurance exec's portfolio while others waste and perish is simply most uncivil.

I'm personally uninterested in what someone's church or faith tells them, or what he or she believes. Extending to every American equal human rights is not a topic open to debate. It's not a case of a difference of opinions. From the first dawn when humans gathered to form societies there have been religions and faiths, and, in one way or another, every single one has been in error somewhere along the line. Furthermore, most have the most obscenely hideous skeletons hiding in closets they just will not dare venture into. The day for recognizing the humanity and the right to full, unfettered participation in it, with full rights accorded thereby to gays, to lesbians, to the transgendered is long overdue.

On Friday, October 30, "California, Maine, Same-Sex Marriage Laws and Getting Stoned Shariah Style" was published. (click here) The article drew on my passion for genuine equality of rights for Americans across the board. No exceptions. Review of the comments demonstrates that one reader took strong exception to my premise. In his "Lack of a direct approach" and "LOL" comments, he went so far as to presume I was gay (". . . people may not object to what you [emphasis mine] do in your [ibid] private lives . . ." and ". . . you are comparing your [ibid] struggle . . .") based on the rights of a segment of our population I was standing so passionately to defend.

In at least the army, back in the day, when a soldier would transfer from one duty post to another he'd carry with him his "orders." They'd be in a large manilla envelope and, in addition to the actual authorizing orders, would include his entire military history, including medical. However he had no right, while home on leave, after spending 13 months in an Asian country I spent the next 40 years trying to forget, my dad surreptitiously invaded my privacy and those records. "Jeez Ed," he began, after I'd returned from running an errand for my mother. "The clap . . . three times." As it was both rhetorical and an inquiry, the immediately preceding ends with a period. And this is as satisfactory a segue I can summon, to go to where I want to spend some serious time: my third passion -- the United States combat veteran; his (now also her) plight in a society that owes them at least the struggle to have a clue, but which generally couldn't care less.

Yeah . . . Gonorrhea; three times! If it was female who appeared to be old enough to give her consent (Appearance was sufficient, no one ever asked for ID.), was breathing, and for an affordable sum was willing . . . I didn't care. A combat soldier's very best friend is the soldier or marine walking alongside on patrol. Once safely aboard the Huey and back in camp his best friend would likely be Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Johnny Walker (Black), or Mary J, or the whole gang. And if you had the strength, in other words, if you hadn't passed out, and some woman in the village happened by with a proposal . . ..
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Oh, what's that? You're playing the judge? Understand, I truly don't care. None of this is about either of us. It's all about the veterans; those we have and those we're creating. That and my anger. I'm really angry. In a seething rage. And have been. Because the prices that were paid by those who went to Vietnam -- those who perished physically, and those who were mutilated physically, emotionally and psychologically -- didn't buy this country one damned thing. Not even the syllabus for a lesson. It was all for nothing. And we're doing it all again; you, me, government leadership . . . everyone gets a share.

November 9, "The Combat Experience: The Child and the Video Tape and the Horror" was published. (click here;show=votes#allcomments) An article in today's New York Times, "At Army Base, Some Violence Is Too Familiar," (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/us/10post.html?th&;emc=th) the conclusion I've formed from "The Combat Experience" is that there's a dire need for greater elucidation.

The Times article honed in on Ft. Hood, in Texas, prompted there by the tragic mass murder that left 13 bodies cold and still. And, given the country's inability to both walk and chew gum, that's what's getting all the attention. (What I am not going to do is to remark on the alleged suspect, and whether his religion did or did not play any part, and if it did, what the strength of the correlation might, or might not have been. To my effort today, it's completely irrelevant.) Base records -- at least those that have been made public -- and those from the surrounding civilian communities reveal extraordinarily toxic increases in violent crime since the commencement of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan: domestic abuse complaints are up 75%; violent crime in Killeen has risen 22% (Similar-sized towns in the US have realized a drop in violent crime averaging 7%.); since 2003 -- That is, from beginning in 2004 -- Ft. Hood alone has experienced 76 suicides, 10 so far in 2009. The article quotes a Catholic chaplain assigned to Hood as saying, "The number of divorces I've had to deal with are huge." The filing of requests for protective orders have become a daily event. As the chaplain noted, "Every night in my apartment complex some soldier and his wife are screaming and shouting at each other."

Nor are things discernibly different at other army and marine posts around the country. Ft. Hood is in the spotlight because of the events of last week. Across the board the correlation -- the violent episodes and when they begin to manifest -- is as exquisitely precise as it is overpowering: within a few days of a unit's return from combat. Correlation does not prove causality. But it damn sure shows a relationship that is beyond dispute.

And relative to veterans, those no longer on active duty, 4-star General Eric Shinseki, now head of Veterans Affairs, recently reported that fully one-third of all homeless men in the U.S. are military veterans. Shinseki also said that, although the vast majority are Vietnam vets, those who served in our more recent combat operations -- First Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan -- are catching up at rates that exceed even those of their earlier comrades.
Perhaps it was you. If not you, maybe it was your brother, or someone you work with. Or maybe you heard it on the radio, or from someone in Congress. "We need to send more troops." "Don't undermine their mission." "They want to come home with honor." Or along those lines.
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How many children have you seen with a missing arm or leg or arms or legs or with a face so badly scarred by some fire that was set ablaze by a mortar round or an incendiary grenade? So badly scarred that it's highly likely they will go their entire lives not knowing one moment of happiness or freedom from pain? How often have you seen them? How many have you seen that were going be that way because of a round you personally fired, or from a mortar that you shot down the tube, or from a grenade that you tossed? You have a baby sister, or a daughter who your mind is screaming "kinda looks like her"? Anyway, you make the connection. Even if you don't want to, you do.

You ever dive into a river or swamp in sheer terror because you heard a noise, a sudden rustling ahead, in impenetrable jungle foliage? A tiger? Charlie? Or was it just a deer, passing by? You lay there as still as you can, cursing your heart for making so much noise. And then, laying there you begin to sense a slow crawling along the nape of your neck. It's black. And shiny. And about two inches long. Leeches. And you know that's what it is because now they're on the exposed skin of your wrists and hands. Don't move. Don't you dare move. Because whether that rustling is from a tiger or Charlie, those leeches will be the least of your problems.

Granted, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan, to the best of my knowledge, have tigers or leeches. But they do have kids with blown off limbs and burned away noses and ears and eyes, and they have doors that have to be busted down. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is Let's Make a Deal, where you can trade the handful of twenties you were given for something either wonderful or humorously benign behind the curtain. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it's what is unknown that is behind that curtain that sets every hair on end. A furtive innocent movement in the dark of the room will secure the same deadly reaction from those whose feet kicked in the door. There just isn't the luxury to politely ask for identification. Yet, regardless whether the movement was an innocent error by someone who was at least as frightened as the soldier or marine, or whether it was the product of mal-intent, the "with extreme prejudice" results are the same. And though the soldier was able to persuade him- or herself at the time that it was a justified shoot, odds are the flash and the sound and the image of splattered human blood and body parts will indelibly etch itself in his or her brain, for consumption later . . . months or years later. And "justification" or "good shoot" will long have faded to lost.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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