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This Thing We've Become

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During World War II my father served as a flight engineer on a Navy blimp. It was called a "K" ship, about one and a half times the size of the Goodyear Blimp. They were stationed near Cocoa Beach, Florida, and their job was to fly out over the Atlantic Ocean for twenty-four hours at a time searching for German U-boats.

You see, radar was still new then and the sets were in short supply and cumbersome, so by putting men on blimps they could be in the air for twenty-four hours at a time. But there was a dirty little secret known only to the officers on board. They weren't hunting for U-boats, they were just watching them. The Navy had cracked the German's naval code so my dad's job was to make sure that the U-boats were where they were supposed to be.

He never considered himself a hero, just a guy doing a job that needed to be done. On days when their flight was over and they were headed back to the base they would park the blimp and tie it off to a palm tree in Key West and stop for a beer. He was twenty-one and the second oldest in the crew, and they weren't the only crew stopping by for a brew.

My dad's brother Pete wasn't as lucky; he got the bright idea to join the Army National Guard in 1941. They told him, "If you sign up now you'll be home from basic training by Christmas." But it didn't work out that way. After December 7th Pete didn't see the United States again for almost five years. He served as a dogface infantryman all across the Pacific. He had malaria, beriberi, trench foot, and saw and did things that no twenty three-year-old should ever have to see or do. He once dove into an open pit latrine to avoid a strafing Japanese Zero, but he never considered himself a hero, just a guy doing a job. He used to say, "The highest award I ever received in the Army was the rank of civilian."

My buddy Kenny served in Vietnam up near the DMZ. He earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. I asked, "How did you earn your Bronze Star?"

"The lieutenant got pinned down in a field and he was screaming and crying like a baby so the sergeant slaps me in the shoulder and says, 'Parker, go get him!' So I run out there with them shooting at us and I grabbed him and told him to come on! But he wouldn't move so I punched him in the head and grabbed him by the collar and kept kicking him until he got up." Kenny never considered himself a hero. "It was bullshit, man, just bullshit," he would say.

They all had in common that they did not consider themselves heroes, just men doing the job they were assigned to do. But now, ever since 2001, all of our service people are heroes. We hold ceremonies before football games to honor them and we invite them to the State of the Union message. I don't want anyone to think for a moment that I am deprecating their service, I am talking about the people who are exploiting their service and their sacrifice. They call them heroes for a cynical reason, because if they are always to be remembered as heroes then who can presume to question their mission?

The German navy in WWII lost 750 U-boats. Were those men heroes? The Third Reich thought so and today we can admire their courage and their devotion to duty, but we cannot call the men fighting for Nazism heroes. So the distinction is not in their individual courage but in their national goal.

Have we forgotten that the war in Iraq is a fraud? That it's the largest national lie ever foisted on the American populace, plus its stepsister Afghanistan. The last administration would generate a new lie as each of the old ones were exposed, all playing on the patriotism of those who had to pay the price in blood and loss for their serendipity.

These are wars for the control of natural resources and for their distribution. A few thousand will profit from it and millions will suffer from it. But we take this big lie and wrap it up tightly in the flag and call it patriotism when it is nothing more than gangsterism. This is misuse of our youth and our military to confiscate things which don't, by rights, belong to us.

The My Lai Massacre evoked worldwide outrage during the Vietnam War, but today they can drop white phosphorus on Palestinians or drop bombs on suspected safe houses in Pakistan, and if the bad guys aren't there, well that's just tough t*tties for the innocents. Charges were dropped against Blackwater employees who opened fire on a crowd of Iraqis. "Sucks to be them! Doesn't it?"

"At around 1 a.m., three nights ago, some American troops with helicopters left Kabul and landed around 2km away from the village. The troops walked from the helicopters to the houses and, according to my investigation, they gathered all the students from two rooms, into one room, and opened fire." (Jerome Starkey, 'Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children,' The Times, December 31, 2009)

The allegations of civilian casualties led to protests in Kabul and Jalalabad, with children as young as 10 chanting "Death to America" and demanding that foreign forces should leave Afghanistan at once. President Karzai sent a team of investigators to Narang district, in eastern Kunar province, after reports of a massacre first surfaced.

"The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village in Narang district of the eastern province of Kunar and took ten people from three homes, eight of them school students in grades six, nine and ten, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead," a statement on President Karzai's website said.

Assadullah Wafa, who led the investigation, said that US soldiers flew to Kunar from Kabul, suggesting that they were part of a Special Forces unit.

"The investigation found that eight of the victims were aged from 11 to 17. The guest was a shepherd boy, 12, called Samar Gul, the headmaster said. He said that six of the students were at high school and two were at primary school. He said that all the students were his nephews. In Jalalabad, protesters set alight a US flag and an effigy of President Obama after chanting 'Death to Obama' and 'Death to foreign forces.'"

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I who am I? Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obscures who it is that (more...)

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