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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/15/17

Thank You For Your Service

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Message Gus Bagakis

Thank you for your service
Thank you for your service
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[War] is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

Marine General Smedley Butler (1881-1940)

You Tube contains many touching images of soldiers coming home, surprising their children, wives or pets. The hugs, kisses, surprise, and joy must touch viewers' hearts. There are also many contacts with returning soldiers at airports, train stations or public spaces, where they are thanked and applauded for their service. In other videos, soldiers say they genuinely appreciate those pats on the back. Some say they are a little embarrassed and confused, but most accept the crowd reaction. These videos sometimes use background patriotic or soothing music celebrating their return as heroes who sacrificed for their country. Sports activities, particularly football games , are excellent venues that celebrate the sacrifices and power of our military. Often with flyovers of jets in formation or flag ceremonies on the playing field. The propaganda machine which turns patriotism into a rigid fundamentalist religion is in full force during these times. These passing patriotic celebrations are slight consolations to those veterans who have taken fire or been injured, for the survivors and their families carry the scars of war for a lifetime.

Welcoming back vets during the Viet Nam war was not as celebratory, probably because that war was not popular and the draft took many who were forced to serve, especially the working-class kids who didn't get college deferments. Some of our leaders recognized that social unrest, an outcome of an unpopular war, would decline if we stopped the draft and created an all-volunteer military. The draft ended on July 1, 1973.

The all-volunteer force (AVF) has new problems. It costs too much to maintain because it doesn't get enough recruits, despite adding women, increasing recruitment and reenlistment bonuses, advertising campaigns, recruitment of non-citizens, the use of psychotropic drugs to recycle unfit troops to combat zones, and making the pay for the military equivalent of the civilian pay. Less than 1% of the population is doing the fighting for the rest of us and does not come from the families of the rich, of the ivy league, Wall street, or the corporate leaders or congress. The AVF comes from the poor, from states and industrial cities that suffered most economically in the downturn of capitalism: Detroit, Cleveland, West Virginia, Maine, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, etc. The AVF also contains a high proportion of Klansmen and Neo-Nazis. White supremacist groups encourage followers to join the military and develop skills to overthrow the "Zionist Occupation Government" and prepare for the coming race war. The AVF is turning into a kind of foreign legion.

Since the end of the cold war, the U.S. has inherited a population of millions of veterans. The costs of taking care of these men and women are astronomical. The veterans are inadequately cared for today, for they are not as high a priority as new weapon systems and bases around the world (veterans are "used up and broken down"--useless as a way to create wealth through profits). In today's U.S. national security budget the total expenditure approaches 1.2 trillion dollars annually. Returning vets must compete for money with the costs of nuclear weapons, of homeland security, of intelligence needs, of international relations, and of the military and its operations. The Pentagon budget alone is larger than that of the next fourteen nations in the world combined.

Why do we need such a large military budget? The popular answer is that we must oppose threats to our national security and we use our military power to defend freedom, democracy and protect America, but not to dominate other countries and people. We are a moral force in the world and use our military for moral purposes. But our actions throughout history suggest that our transition from a republic to a global power requires military force. We have intervened, since WW2 into many regimes (Iran 1953, Guatemala, 1954, Dominican Republic, 1965, Chile 1973, Vietnam 1960-75, Angola, 1976-92, Afghanistan, 2011, and others). We are not a moral paragon because we are driven by capitalism, a system where a tiny minority owns and controls the economy. They run it, not to meet the needs of people or to maintain the environment, but to maximize their profits, which means controlling crucial global resources and protecting U.S. global markets as well as stopping competitors. These actions require a global military.

Our military was the most powerful in the world since the end of WW2 and took on the role of maintaining U.S. dominance and global capitalism. U.S. capitalism was more competitive than European "cuddly" capitalism. The capitalism of European countries, which were devastated by the war, accepted the welfare strategy of the new deal and Marshall plan and had a tradition of an organized powerful labor force and labor parties which demanded social programs. The U.S. capitalists, took advantage of a growing military to do their bidding internationally. In addition, there was a weak labor movement with little political clout, which allowed the business class to systematically strip away most social programs that were installed by FDR's new deal. United States citizens now pay 63% of their taxes for the military forces. Citizens in the Nordic countries or Europe, with all their notable infrastructure, schools, national health care systems and as least one month of paid vacation, pay 5-6%.

In the 70s was the beginning of the U.S. economic decline: world competition, a search for cheaper labor, job loss, rust belts, infrastructure decline, income inequality. In addition, the U.S. became a permanent war economy where the military-industrial complex has turned into what some in the Pentagon call a 'self-licking ice cream cone' more concerned with self-preservation than national security. With a large military, continuous war, the incorporation of military Keynesianism, and excessive military costs, we have changed from a republic to and empire. As Chalmers Johnson stated, "We are on the cusp of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation is started down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play -- isolation, overstretch, the uniting of forces opposed to imperialism, and bankruptcy."

Given that our economy has minimized social programs and become a war economy, the only option for many of the poor is unemployment, homelessness, poor paying jobs, or military service if you pass the physical. It is ironic that the system which required soldiers to go to war to grow our economy turns citizens into isolated, alienated consumers at home, making it difficult for our vets to return and fit in. Vets today claim three times the number of disabilities than Vietnam vets did, they have the highest PTSD in history, but only 10% of our military sees combat. The problem is not so much as trauma on the battlefield but on re-entry into a notoriously isolating and alienating society. Many combat vets miss the war because it was an experience of human closeness not often available to them back home.

What is the service that the vets have done that they are being thanked for? It seems that they were pawns of our politicians, generals and the military industrial complex. If war is capitalism with the gloves off, then those who thank our vets for their service should be the corporations, generals, politicians, super-wealthy, the ones who truly gained from the vet's sacrifice. Instead of greeting homecoming soldiers with empty terms, we must create healing ceremonies, not parades, were vets can talk about their experiences. Vets need to learn about the inextricable tie between capitalism and militarism, and be assisted in organizing and fighting against the system that victimized them. The vets that went to protect the indigenous people at Standing Rock are one example of victims turned into warriors for the people and not cannon fodder for American war machine.

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retired philosophy instructor and social activist

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