War and profit: Deciphering what it means to be in the U.S. military

March Forward! Against War and Racism

© copyright 2009 Michael Prysner.  Party for Socialism and Liberation

From the newsletter of March Forward!

We join the military for many different reasons. Some of us want to have access to a college education. Some of us want job training and a steady paycheck. Some of us join to get U.S. citizenship. Some of us need to get out of debt or need to get off a destructive path. Some of us join out of pride, patriotism and a genuine desire to be a part of some greater, collective good. Many of us made the decision early-while still in high school, enticed by recruiters’ promises of cash bonuses, adventure and opportunity-while some of us joined after years as a worker, drawn by the military’s full health care and housing benefits.

Whatever the reason, we all found ourselves wearing the uniform of the U.S. military. What did we actually join? What is the role of the U.S. military in the world? What does it mean to be a soldier following the dictates of U.S. foreign policy? When we sign ourselves away to the military, what are we being used to do?

In recent years, many of us ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan. We are told that as a soldier in the U.S. military we are defending the interests of the United States. This does have an ounce of truth-but only an ounce. We are defending the interests of a particular class in the United States. It is only a wealthy minority whose interests are being defended in Iraq, Afghanistan and the more than 130 countries where U.S. troops are stationed.

In whose interests do we serve?

I was sent to Iraq believing we would be helping the Iraqi people. Once the illusions of pride and patriotism crumbled, I realized I was never sent to help anyone. I kicked down their doors and dragged them from their homes. I robbed them of their humanity in interrogation cells. I watched the life ripped out of them. I saw children torn to shreds. I witnessed my friends disabled by physical and/or psychological trauma. All this suffering and destruction for “Iraqi Freedom,” which really means the freedom of a new U.S.-installed government to hand over control of its natural resources to U.S. corporations.

It wasn’t much different for those soldiers sent to Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Panama or other countries that have been targets of U.S. intervention over the past half-century and more.

We are taught the United States stands for freedom and democracy, and that military force is used to defend or further those ideals. This is echoed constantly throughout our lives, in school and in the media. It is woven into the fabric of our national identity, making it possible for people to accept the deaths of U.S. soldiers in foreign lands, as long as they are assured they died in the interests of democracy.

History of U.S. conflicts

However, reviewing the history of conflicts in which the U.S. military has been involved tells a completely different story. The U.S. government does not have a history of supporting democratic movements, but rather a history of overthrowing them. Among those countries whose popularly elected governments have been crushed by the U.S. military and replaced by authoritarian and non-elected dictators are the Congo, Grenada, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, Iran, Haiti-and the list goes on. Quite simply, this government – whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House-has no problem installing and backing oppressive dictatorships.

Understanding U.S. foreign policy becomes much easier if we stop looking at it in terms of “defending democracy,” and start looking at it in terms of economic interests. It is not the form of a foreign government that determines whether it ends up in the crosshairs of the U.S. government, but whether or not that government will give U.S. businesses access to its markets, labor force and natural resources. This explains why the United States supports governments with some of the worst human rights records, like Colombia, or Saudi Arabia, which has never had an election in its history! U.S. corporations reap billions of dollars in profits from these countries.

U.S. foreign policy really boils down to ensuring the extraction of wealth from the developing world by U.S. corporations. In the words of two-time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler: “I spent 33 years in the Marines. Most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”

Claims that the Pentagon only works to defend the United States and spread democracy fall apart when you look at the current use of the military. It is now obvious that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States, nor did the U.S. government care about the well-being of the Iraqi people. A quarter of Iraq’s population of 26 million people has been killed, wounded or displaced since the illegal U.S. invasion on March 19, 2003. Iraq sits atop a massive supply of petroleum, all of which was nationalized and closed to U.S. corporations’ control under Saddam Hussein.

The role of banks and big business

The banks and Wall Street exert dominating influence over U.S. foreign policy. Our “democracy” is reserved for those who have millions of dollars to run for office, and who are funded by (and ultimately beholden to) corporate interests. Our “free press” is owned by only five mega-corporations who directly profit from the military-industrial complex and distort reality to shape public opinion accordingly.

The ruling class of Wall Street CEOs, bankers and their loyal politicians has the power to annihilate an entire country for profit-but they never fight in these wars themselves. So they have to find a way to convince the average worker that these wars are worth fighting. They must find a way to convince working-class people that we should kill and die to make the rich ruling class even richer.

Our enemy is not on the other side of the world; that enemy is in the corporate boardrooms and the Pentagon Brass. Defeating that enemy means refusing to take part in their imperialist plans and organizing together to demand real justice.

The Black Soldier

The Black Soldier (clip)

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

Three score ago, after a long history of service, superior, and yet segregated, Black soldiers were recognized as equal, or at least consideration for the possibility was put forth.  In truth, then and perhaps now, manpower needs took precedence over racial prejudice in name only.  The story begins on July 26, 1948, or perchance, years earlier.  Historians speak of President Harry S. Truman’s doctrine, Executive Order 9981.  The directive states, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”  While the words are wondrous, the tale of what was and is, does not begin or end with this decree.

Segregation in the Armed Forces was perhaps a source of embarrassment to many Americans and the President of the “United” States.  Before 1940, and America’s entrance into World War II, African American soldiers served with honor and little acknowledgement.  Troops whose complexion was dark were forbidden from flying for the U.S. military forces.  Frustrated with the reality that, years after being freed from slavery, African-Americans, had little opportunity to “soar,”  “Civil Rights organizations and the Black press exerted pressure.” The strength of community outreach and a media delivered message helped to bring about long overdue change.  Ultimately, in 1941, an all African-American squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, was formed.  They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.  After the Second World War, the honorable actions of the Tuskegee Airmen were recognized more than once amongst average Americans.  Indeed, these prized professionals were revered.

Perchance, Harry Truman heard the words of praise for the Black military pilots and realized he could no longer ignore the issue of segregation amongst servicemen; nor would he wish to.  For, possibly, to this President, it had become obvious; when a man is allowed to be truly powerful, as the Airmen were, they serve in more than name only.  The President proposed as he placed his signature on the proclamation,

“Whereas it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy, with equality of treatment and opportunity for all those who serve in our country’s defense.. . .

It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

Had Harry Truman not been aware of the esteemed Airmen, he may have known of the presence of dark skinned soldiers in American history, Buffalo Soldiers. These troops may have influenced his thoughts.  The all-Black brigades became better known after the second war meant to end all wars.  From 1941 through 1945, in World War II, Black military men served proudly and prominently, under the direction of Commander-In-Chief Truman.

Some 500,000 Blacks were stationed overseas, amounting to 4% of the 11 million Americans who served on foreign shores. About 10% of blacks were in combat units. The all-black 92nd Infantry was in Italy, and had 616 killed in action and 2,187 wounded. The 93rd Division was stationed in the South Pacific, losing 17 KIA and 121 WIA. There was also the black 366th Infantry (Separates).?

During the Battle of the Bulge, 2,500 blacks were formed into all black Infantry platoons and attached to larger units. The famed 761st Tank Battalion spent 183 continuous days in combat in the European Theater, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. The 333rd Field Artillery bravely supported ground operations in France.?

Three all-black air units flew overseas: 332nd Fighter Group, 477th Bombardment Group and the 99th Fighter Squadron. Sixty-six Black pilots were killed in action. A total of 140,000 blacks served in the Army Air Forces. Nearly 150,000 Blacks served in the Navy. Of the 12,000 Black Marines, 9 were killed in action.

President Truman may have understood all that African-American soldiers had done to help achieve an American victory.  Yet, he also understood, that no matter what the Black troops did in the service to their country, they would always be seen as unequal, that is unless action was taken to correct the fate of soldiers whose skin was a purplish-brown hue.

This was made more apparent when, on February 13, 1946, two years before President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 into law.  On Valentine’s Day eve, love was lost for an African-American World War II veteran, Isaac Woodard.  The honorably discharged Sergeant, a decorated soldier, was attacked and blinded by policemen in Aiken, South Carolina.  President Truman took notice.  Actually, he had too.  Although, initially the periodicals did not cover the story, word did spread.  Soon the major news outlets printed reports and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) publicized the occurrence.  Manpower, precedence, and prejudice again are considerations in the life of a Black soldier.

(N)ews soon also emerged in popular culture. Via his radio show, broadcaster and movie celebrity Orson Welles soon began to crusade for the punishment of Shull (the officer who intentionally blinded Mister Woodard) and his accomplices.  Welles, a follower of the civil rights movement, found the reaction of the South Carolina government to be intolerable and shameful.

The news would also have an impact on music as well. A month after the beating, calypso artist Lord Invader recorded an anti-racism song for his album Calypso at Midnight entitled “God Made Us All,” with the last line in the song directly referencing the incident.

Perhaps, President Harry Truman was not moved by music or media personalities.  Possibly, more prominent in his mind were the internal communications that circulated through the White House.  Two years to the day, before Executive Order 9981 was signed a memorandum “Re:  Stoppage of Negro Enlistments” marched through the halls at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The document, from the desk of  Philleo Nash, Special Assistant to the President, was addressed to David K. Niles, Administrative Assistant to Harry Truman. The communication referenced “undesirable and uneconomical” Black soldiers.

As the discussion of what to do with Black troops raged on within the walls of the White House, a Caucasian crowd pulled two African-American veterans and their wives from their automobile near Monroe, Georgia.  The Black citizens were shot to death; their bodies riddled with bullets.  Upon investigation, it was discovered sixty (sixty) rounds were fired into the purplish brown flesh of these four innocent persons.  Their only crime was the color of their skin.  Whites in the community found the darker hue objectionable.  Again, it mattered not that the men were soldiers, honorably discharged after years of service to the country that denied them equal rights, the “United” States of America.  On this occasion, the need or want of a few white men took precedence over racial justice.  This may have disturbed the man in the Oval Office, Harry Truman.  The Commander took action.

Within days of the horrific occurrence, on July 30, 1946, Attorney General Tom Clark announced that the President had instructed the Justice Department to “proceed with all its resources to investigate [the Monroe, Georgia atrocity] and other crimes of oppression so as to ascertain if any Federal statute can be applied.”

Months later, in a letter to the National Urban League, President Truman resolved; the government has “an obligation to see that the civil rights of every citizen are fully and equally protected.”  Yet, it became increasingly apparent the Administration had done nothing to ensure the rights of African-Americans, in, or out of the Armed Forces.

As months turn into years, and racism remained rampant on the streets and in the barracks, Presidential Advisor Clark Clifford urged President Truman to consider the importance of the African-American vote and Civil Rights issues in the 1948 Presidential campaign.  Perhaps, that was the catalyst.  Expedience advanced equality.  Thus, Executive Order 9981 was signed into law.  End of story, all is well, and sixty years later Americans celebrate the anniversary of equal Rights for Black soldiers, or so it would seem.

Yet, on the same day the order was executed, Army staff officers spoke anonymously to the press.  Each official explained the Executive Order 9981 did not specifically forbid segregation in the Army.  Then Army Chief of Staff General Omar N. Bradley stated desegregation would come to the Army “only when it becomes a fact in the rest of American society.”  

While Americans may wish to believe that the ugly face of bigotry is gone for good, indeed, even in the twenty-first century, intolerance surfaces in subtle ways.  Once again, manpower needs took precedence over racial prejudice in name only.  Filmmaker Clint Eastwood had a need for a cast of characters.  He hoped to document the mêlée at Iwo Jima, 1945.  Yet, he did not tell the story a Black soldier who served in the battle might have.

On February 19 1945, Thomas McPhatter found himself on a landing craft heading toward the beach on Iwo Jima.

“There were bodies bobbing up all around, all these dead men,” said the former US marine, now 83 and living in San Diego. “Then we were crawling on our bellies and moving up the beach. I jumped in a foxhole and there was a young white marine holding his family pictures. He had been hit by shrapnel, he was bleeding from the ears, nose and mouth. It frightened me. The only thing I could do was lie there and repeat the Lord’s prayer, over and over and over.”

Sadly, Sgt McPhatter’s experience is not mirrored in Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s big-budget, Oscar-tipped film of the battle for the Japanese island that opened on Friday in the US. While the film’s battle, scenes show scores of young soldiers in combat, none of them are African-American. Yet almost 900 African-American troops took part in the battle of Iwo Jima, including Sgt McPhatter.

Apologies are offered.  Yet, not to Sergeant Thomas McPhatter, or by the director, Clint Eastwood.   The filmmaker said he did not include Blacks in the script “because there were no Afro-American soldiers involved.”  Notwithstanding, the facts, many servicemen of color fought for this country long before they were acknowledged or recognized by the State, society, or a screenwriter such as Clint Eastwood.  Mostly, the military men of color fought on two fronts.  First, Black servicemen battled with foreign foes.  Then they clashed with those at home who only saw their skin color.  Neighbors acted as local combatants, not allied forces.  Civilians, protected by active duty Black soldiers, accused those whose complexions were charcoal of crimes they had not committed.  The evidence offered was but a reflection of reality;  racial prejudice is preeminent.   Please consider a tale too true.

Army apologizes to soldiers convicted after 1944 Fort Lawton riot

By Keith Ervin

Seattle Times

For decades, Willie Prevost kept his secret.

Like most of his World War II Army buddies, he never told his family about his conviction for rioting during a night of violence that left a number of men injured and one dead at Seattle’s Fort Lawton in 1944.

But on Saturday, his family was there as the U.S. Army apologized in a ceremony to clear the names of Prevost and 27 other African-American soldiers who were convicted in a now-discredited court-martial.

Sixty-three years after they were sentenced to hard labor, and nearly all dishonorably discharged, “The Fort Lawton 28” were given military honors, with an Army band and color guard, gospel choir and speeches by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, Mayor Greg Nickels, King County Executive Ron Sims and Assistant Secretary of the Army Ronald James.

Only two of the veterans lived to see the day. . .

In total, the families of five veterans were present.

Saturday’s ceremony took place on a Fort Lawton parade ground – now part of Seattle’s Discovery Park – 60 years to the day after President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces.

Again, actions taken six decades earlier prove profound.  The past permeates the present.  As Americans celebrate six decades, since the end of segregation in the Armed Forces, we must accept that in actuality, prejudice still permeates and is prominent.  While it might be argued; there has been some progress. Decades later, apologies are offered to a few, or two.  There is still much to be done to right persistent wrongs.  Perhaps we may wish to ponder the present,

Blacks still rare in top U.S. military ranks

While blacks make up about 17% of the total force, they are just 9% of all officers, according to data obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press.

The rarity of blacks in the top ranks is apparent in one startling statistic: Only one of the 38 four-star generals or admirals serving as of May was black. And just 10 black men have ever gained four-star rank – five in the Army, four in the Air Force and one in the Navy, according to the Pentagon.

All is not well on the Western front.  America and Americans do not honor the contributions of all hues.  Accolades of “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” aside, pinkish persons have yet to embrace the notion; we are one, the human race.

References Racial Discrimination and Executive Order 9981 . . .

Vice President Dick Cheney Defines Fallen Soldiers; Volunteers For Death

Cheney the man who cares

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

In a “glowing” statement, perhaps meant to glorify the horrific deaths of the soldiers slain in Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney offered, “I think it’s a reminder of the extent to which we are blessed with families who’ve sacrificed as they have.”  The man who, in his youth sought five deferments in order to avoid service during the Vietnam War, went on to state, “A lot of men and women sign up because sometimes they will see developments.” Richard B. Cheney helps us to recall the terror Americans felt as they witnessed the Twin Towers fall on September 11, 2001.  He explains, this event and the thought of a terrorist threat “stimulated a lot of folks to volunteer for the military because they wanted to be involved in defending the country.”  “The thing that comes through loud and clear is how much they are committed to the cause, to doing what needs to be done to defend the nation,” Cheney proclaimed.  Yet, citizens cognizant of the reasons for a possible rise in recruitment remember more than a moment that changed the course of life for many young men and women.

Promises made by this Administration were ample.  The pledge to protect and defend was the battle cry in the States.  Those whose parents sacrificed to secure a life in America believed, to serve in the Armed Forces would be an honor.  Jesus Suarez was one of many immigrants who felt a need to fulfill a commitment to his homeland, past and present.

Yo Soy el Army

If you’re an immigrant, at least Uncle Sam wants you

By Deborah Davis

Metro Active

September 19, 2007

JESUS was an easy mark for the recruiter.  He was a boy who fantasized that by joining the powerful, heroic U.S. Marines, he could help his own country fight drug lords.  He gave the recruiter his address and phone number in Mexico, and the recruiter called him twice a week for the next two years until he had talked Jesus into convincing his parents to move to California.

Fernando and Rose Suarez sold their home and their laundry business and immigrated with their children.  Jesus enrolled at a high school known for academic achievement.  But the recruiter wanted him to transfer to a school for problem teenagers, since its requirements for graduation were lower, and Jesus would be able to finish sooner.  He was 17 1/2 when he graduated from that school, still too young to enlist on his own, so his father co-signed the enlistment form, as the military requires for underage recruits.

Three years later, at the age of 20, his body was torn apart in Iraq by an American-made fragmentation grenade during the first week of the invasion.  In the Pentagon’s official Iraq casualty database, his death is number 74.  Now Jesus is in a cemetery, and his parents, who blame each other for his death, are painfully and bitterly divorced.

We might inquire, was Jesus a volunteer or a victim of rabid recruiters?  Are émigrés dedicated to a cause, devoted to a country, or obligated to enlist.  Perhaps, fantasy fashioned Jesus’ faith in a military system gone awry.

In the Iraq war, citizenship is being used as a recruiting tool aimed specifically at young immigrants, who are told that by enlisting they will be able to quickly get citizenship for themselves (sometimes true: it depends on what the Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security finds) and their entire families (not true: each family member has to go through a separate application process).  Nevertheless, with the political pressures on Latino families growing daily under this administration, many young Latinos are unable to resist the offer, which immigrants’ rights activists see as blatant exploitation of a vulnerable population.

The number of immigrants who fight or fought for personal freedom is high.  The statistics suggests those who were not born in this country do battle for the United States.  Some are invited to come to the States, as Jesus Suarez was.  Others, with Green Card in hand, realize the rights of citizenship are easily acquired if or when an individual joins the Armed Forces.

About 70,000 foreign-born men and women serve in the U.S. armed forces, or about 5 percent of the total active-duty force, according to the Pentagon.  Of those, nearly 30,000 — or about 43 percent — are not U.S. citizens.

Aware of the toll the war takes on recruitment, many Americans ponder the possibilities.  Might the United States government allow persons in America without papers to join?  If people will not volunteer, bribe them.  Millions in this country and across the borders are victims of need.  

The Bush Administration thought an Army of recruited refugees a fine idea.  Thus, they encouraged Congress to pass an immigration Bill that would provide citizenship for those in need.  The contingency, people without official papers must serve this country in order to receive vital documents.

Immigration bill offers a military path to US dream

By Bryan Bender

Boston Globe Staff

June 16, 2007

Washington — A little-noticed provision in the proposed immigration bill would grant instant legal status and ultimately full citizenship to illegal immigrants if they enlist in the US military, an idea the Pentagon and military analysts say would boost the Pentagon’s flagging efforts to find and recruit qualified soldiers.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, is part of the stalled package of proposals that many in Congress are seeking to resurrect.  The proposal, applicable to an estimated 750,000 undocumented residents of military age, stipulates that those who arrived in the United States before age 16, graduated from high school, and meet other qualifications could immediately enter the path to citizenship in exchange for at least two years’ service in the armed forces.

Though the overall immigration bill was sidetracked earlier this month amid bitter infighting, the prospect of using military service as one pathway to citizenship appeals both to lawmakers who side with immigration rights advocates and those who want tougher immigration laws and tighter borders.

Military service for undocumented did not disturb those in the House or the Senate.  Other issues were of great concern.  There seems to be agreement; those from abroad could serve this country well.  Immigrants want to come to our shores; so let them travel to America, conditionally.  If a non-native is killed in battle, so be it.  The Administration will say, the fallen foreign-born volunteered.  The rationale is all the Armed Forces are free to join, liberated to die.  The question is, “Are those who sign up volunteers or people paid to perform at the pleasure of the President and Vice President Cheney?”  Immigrants who fight for America may be fatalities of faith.

Children, born and raised in this country, also trust.  They are understandably convinced the cost of living in America is great.  Education is expensive.  Many young lads and lasses are lured by promises of “money for college.”  In an era when the cost of education accounts for countless debts, any assurance can calm the nerves of those anxious to create a better life for themselves.  Consider the plight of the young and poor who know, only a college degree can take them away from a world filled with woe.  This was true during the first Persian Gulf War and remains valid today.  Many military “sign ups” are casualties of the sum charged to attend college.

GI Blues

Military recruiters promise ‘money for college,’ but recent veterans find that tuition benefits fall short

By Elizabeth F. Farell

The Chronicle of Higher Education

May 13, 2005

Cheyne Worley graduated from high school at age 16 in 1985 and spent about a year and a half pumping gas and bagging groceries before deciding it was time to get on with his life.  Signing up for the Army seemed like the best option — not only would he keep his family’s tradition of military service alive (his grandfather, father, and uncle had all served), but a recruiter’s promise of money for college made enlistment a no-brainer. . . .

The promise of easing the financial burden of higher education is a recruiter’s most effective selling point.  According to a 2004 survey conducted by GfK Custom Research, an independent research firm, “money for college” is the leading reason civilians enlist, even as the war in Iraq makes more young people skittish about committing to military service.

The tuition perk offered as part of the Montgomery GI Bill, passed in 1984, has become even more important during the past year, as the military has attempted to reverse declining enlistment numbers by increasing its recruiting staff and its efforts to sign up high-school students.  The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has also given recruiters more opportunities to reach young people, allowing them access to home phone numbers and addresses of high-school students and the same visiting privileges at secondary schools as college or job recruiters.

And the pitch military representatives make on those campuses sounds good.  In exchange for having $1,200 withheld from their first-year military salaries, active-duty soldiers become eligible after completing their enlistment term (three years, on average) for up to $36,144 toward their education expenses.  (Those who pay in an additional $600 receive $5,400 more toward their education.)

But the benefit covers only about 60 percent of the average cost of college, according to the College Board’s estimates.

If a potential enlistee learns of the promises not kept, there is another appeal to be made.  For those adventurous at heart, the military may seem a free ride to travel.  The opportunity to flee from a life filled with trouble.  For a few, those who volunteer for tour after tour, the trauma evident on the field was not part of their truth initially.  When it is, they conclude it is time to return home.  Yet, when faced with a reality that is far from the fantasy of wedded bliss, or a better job, they retreat to what is familiar.  Please ruminate over the role the military plays in the life of Jake Holland.

Iraq Diary: Why Jake Volunteered for a Third Tour

Signing back up for Iraq was a way to deal with the boredom, and the pain.  Yeah, he had met a woman on Yahoo personals.  And things were starting to look serious.  But Holland needed to go.  “It allowed me to get away from home for a while, kinda wrap my head around sh*t.  I know it sounds funny, but that’s the way it was,” he says.  “I needed to do this.”

The money was nice, too.  “Another factor – I’ m not going to lie to you – as was $50,000 tax-free dollars.  Lump sum.  Here you go.  Have it,” Holland says.  For a former Indiana farm boy, whose favorite meal growing up was “fried squirrel and milk gravy,” that was a serious haul.  “It took care of all my bills inherited from the divorce.  An F-250 pickup, paid for.  And quite a bit of savings.”

Plus, a good chunk of Holland’s first tour had been spent behind a desk, playing dispatcher to bomb disposal teams.  “I’d take a nine-line [form for describing a bomb site], hand it to the guys, who would go get shot at.  That wore on me worse than anything.  Worse than going out the gate,” he says, using military slang for the base’s walls.

But there was action waiting for him, back in Baghdad, with the 754th EOD company.  Snipers took shots at his head.  Bombs went off around his armored vehicle, crushing the windows.  One day, he got rid of eight improvised bombs and three unused explosives.  On another, a soldier’s head pretty much crumbled in front of him.  “They’re blowing stuff up like it’s cool,” he IM’ed me.  The worst was the bomb that went off at a West Baghdad power station: a rigged-up dump truck that disintegrated four Humvees, charred the earth, and threw up a blast that could be seen for ten miles around.

It was “overwhelming” enough to make Holland think about giving Iraq a rest.

However, while not committed to the cause Vice President Cheney cited, Jake Holland seems devoted to finding a deliverance from the “evil” that he experiences is his life back home.  Holland volunteered to fight for freedom; his own.  Jake suffered.  Unlike many of the troops who feel the Administration let them down or deceived them, for Jake, a potential peace in his personal life can be more attractive that the supposed tranquility of the streets of America.  Jake Holland did not feel a sense of harmony when at home.  For him the fight in Iraq was a flight to freedom.  In the Armed Forces, he had friends he felt more loyal to than those in the States.  Another serviceman may speak for more than the few.  

One soldier, speaking under condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said, “I don’t think that the American public realizes just how many soldiers and service members in general really do have reservations about what is going on over there … “

Tis true.  Those who serve this country have much to say of the realities that threaten their lives.  The truth is, in the minds of many a soldier, the Bush Administration may be considered a greater menace than the combatants in the Middle East.  Poor plans and promises not kept aside, a total disregard for necessary training endangers the troops more so than an improvised explosive device might.  A bomb can only do you in once; the  lack of instruction can destroy a military man or woman daily.

Schreck, a soldier from CT, January 23, 2005: “If there is one thing that has always stood out in my head during my deployment it was when we were told ‘The Army will never put you in a losing situation.’  At this point of my deployment, that statement could not be further from the truth.  Not only were our vehicles in an unserviceable condition, we were also putting the unit whom we were escorting at risk.”

Awbalth, a soldier from CA, October 20, 2004: “The thing we needed most in Iraq wasn’t bullets, body armor, cash, air conditioning, hot chow, or armored vehicles, although we were short on all of these things; the thing we really needed the most was training and preparation.

We had no or very little training on urban combat tactics, raids to detain or kill targeted individuals, collecting, reporting, analyzing, and using human intelligence, developing sources of information, using interpreters, bomb/unexploded ordinance detection and disposal, handling of detainees, questioning detainees, use of non-lethal force, cordon and search operations, and riot control.  This lack of training has caused the deaths of untold numbers of soldiers and Iraqis.”

While some servicemen and women may speak of what they needed publicly, most will not voice their deepest concerns.  Soldiers share stresses with each other, and on occasion with family.  At times, Mom’s and Dad’s are the voice of volunteers who are no longer in awe of the Armed Forces they willingly joined.  Nancy Lessin addresses concerns common among the troops.  She mourns for what her stepson Joe, a Marine, did not realize.  Joe was deployed in 2002.

“Our loved ones took an oath to defend this country and our Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  But there is a commitment our government makes to our troops in return: that it will not send our young men and women in uniform into reckless misadventures that put them at risk needlessly.

This is the part of the bargain that has been broken.

Yes, war is hell; but this is something else, and our loved ones and all our troops have been betrayed. We were all betrayed by this administration when it cited a litany of reasons for invading Iraq that shifted like desert sands and seemed to be based upon quicksand . . .

We were betrayed by a lack of planning-active military and their families are now dealing with back-to-back two-year deployments, announced a few weeks ago. And today National Guard and reservists and their families are reeling from the news about their tours of duty being extended. And yes, there is a problem with troops being short on water, short on food, short on supplies and short on equipment. This morning we received an email from a mother whose son is in Iraq. The email read:

“Our soldiers have been killed because there were not enough Kevlar vests to go around. One of my son’s friends was shot in the back in Fallujah and two of his platoon members were killed in an ambush in May because they only had 30 vests for 120 men. No one at his checkpoint had a vest, thus nine people were injured.”

Sad as all this seems, apparently, what the soldiers and their families experience is nothing in comparison to the weight the President of the United States carries, according to Vice President, Dick Cheney.  In the now illustrious interview with Martha Raddatz, Dick Cheney reminded Americans, the truest victim of this fateful war is George W. Bush.  The Commander-In-Chief did not volunteer for the onerous path he has been forced to travel.

“The president carries the biggest burden, obviously,” Cheney said. “He’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. . . .”

One can only wonder, did George W. Bush act voluntarily or was he too, in truth, a victim of circumstances.  Did George W. Bush expect to fulfill a fantasy, as Jesus Suarez did.  Might the President have presumed war would be the answer to what ailed him? Could the Chief Officer have been bored as Jake Holland was.  What drove the man in the Oval Office to make such a seriously flawed determination.  Was a need satisfied when the President sent troops to their death, or was fate the cause for his charitable engagement?  Pray tell Dick Cheney.  Certainly, your worldview is most definitive.

“Soldiers Speak Out” Trailer

Volunteer Forces and Resources . . .

Clinton Speaks of Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Not of War

© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Dearest Hillary . . .

Your speech at the First Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama  moved me.  The words, as written are glorious.  I cried as I listened to the sentiments; “It matters.”  Yet, I am conflicted.  The issues you mentioned are important.  I trust you care for your countrymen and women.  Those of color are no less significant to you than their white counterparts are.  I believe you too work to defend the rights of the impoverished.  Still, I struggle.  I have done so for days.  I meant to share my thoughts with you alone, for Hillary, you were the object of my renewed realization.  However, finally, I recognized that I am not equating your contrary views to a personal biased bigotry.  I am speaking to all Americans that think combat cures all or any ills.  Thus, I publish this treatise, a letter to you, or perchance to all of us.  I offer possibilities, probabilities that we all might wish to contemplate.

If we are to improve conditions for every American, then we must acknowledge the war that you, and others endorse, an escalation of troops in Afghanistan, will likely not be possible.  Perchance we might ponder the purpose of war and the results reaped from all this fighting.  That discussion will wait for another writing.

We cannot claim to believe in equality when we understand the means for manning the military.  When war is thought to be an option, even our mission, we must consider whom we send into combat and why they are willing to go.  Admittedly, I believe war is never an alternative.  However, I accept that as long as others think combat is necessary, we must assess what we have created in order to fight our battles.  Who are the persons we send to war and why they are willing to go into combat.

I surmise, as long as we, as a society, maintain the structure we have, sending more soldiers into hostile campaigns promotes the discrimination we claim to disdain.  Please breathe deeply; I am not meaning to give rise to a defensive stance.  I only wish to express what seems contradictory to me.  Our beliefs are often altruistic; our actions are far less so.

Since early childhood I have wondered, why do we not send Heads-of-State to fight their own battles.  Possibly, these men [and women] are thought too frail.  Thus, I ask; why not send the offspring of government officials into combat, assuming the brood of such strident leaders boast as their parents do, “We must win in order to stay safe.”  I await that answer.

Until then, I inquire.  Hillary please help me understand.  Knowing that you [many] wish to increase the troop force in Afghanistan, please tell me, where might these soldiers come from?  Why would these strong souls be willing to go into battle recognizing that they are placing their lives and limbs in jeopardy?  Do these soldiers not understand that they matter? 

Perhaps, for them, patriotism is the guiding principle.  Might their nationalism be more central than their personal sacrifice?  I think at times such a construct may be valid; however, from my observations and discussions, particularly with Veterans, authentic altruism rarely involves putting ones life in danger.  Internal conflicts are characteristically more crucial.  Thus, I query.  What motivates the young to place themselves in precarious situations?

As I assess recruitment practices and why the youth enlist, I realize the reason your sermon spoke to me.  If we apply the principles that you and other warmongers state they devoutly believe, then we will have no working Army, Navy, or Marines.  Ignoring the problems of the poor, the Black, and the Hispanic populations allows us to grow an infantry.  Denying people their Civil Rights and Voting Rights supplies us with a an Armed Force. 

Our service men and women are typically underprivileged, impoverished, and disenfranchised.  Some are isolated, or in horrible life situations.  They are white and persons of color.  Skin color alone, can afford whites more rights.  However, money maximizes all possibilities.

Many of today’s recruits are financially strapped, with nearly half coming from lower-middle-class to poor households, according to new Pentagon data based on Zip codes and census estimates of mean household income.  Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits in 2004 came from counties in which median household income is below the U.S. median.

Such patterns are pronounced in such counties as Martinsville, Va., that supply the greatest number of enlistees in proportion to their youth populations.  All of the Army’s top 20 counties for recruiting had lower-than-national median incomes, 12 had higher poverty rates, and 16 were non-metropolitan, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group that analyzed 2004 recruiting data by Zip code.

“A lot of the high recruitment rates are in areas where there is not as much economic opportunity for young people,” said Anita Dancs, research director for the NPP, based in Northampton, Mass.

As you noted Hillary, those typically denied their rights are “the poor and people of color.”  Yet, you and I believe to our core, these people matter.  Still, current practices negate their significance.

Granted, during peacetime the military makeup more closely mirrors the population.  After an attack on our nation, when patriotic gestures are popular, the elite think to serve with the fighting troops.  However, these times are few and fleeting.

Hillary, as you so powerfully proclaimed, there is reason to question what is true for the Blacks, poor, and persons of color.  ‘It does matter’ or perchance not, depending on our priorities. 

I think we, as a nation, must consider as long as Heads-of-State send the young and poor to fight their battles, they will continue to preserve a population that is both physically burly and profoundly in need of financial assistance.  If the youth are academically deprived, all the better.  With little education, and hardly any funds, adolescents have fewer options.  The underprivileged are ripe for military careers.  In the Armed Forces, a teenager or college age adult can secure a reasonably prosperous professional position.

Senator Clinton, as you stated, we, as a country must address the reasons Afro-Americans are deprived of their rights.  We all know that people of color, are purposely prohibited from participating in elections.  Discrimination today differs; nevertheless, it still exists. 

Accurate and complete information is not shared with those that need it most.  What is given is often sent belatedly.  When pamphlets are delivered in a timely manner the facts are frequently and intentionally in error. 

Hillary, I concur.  Individuals are still turned away from the polls in America.  That is not “right.”  Afro-Americans and persons of color are more often the victims of what might be classified as a crime.  Disinformation also effects poor whites.  Although, disproportionately, Afro-Americans are affected.

The US civil rights commission was yesterday investigating allegations by the BBC’s Newsnight that thousands of mainly black voters in Florida were disenfranchised in the November election because of wholesale errors by a private data services company.

Information supplied by the company, Database Technologies (DBT), led to tens of thousands of Floridians being removed from the electoral roll on the grounds that they had felonies on their records.

However, a Guardian investigation in December confirmed by Newsnight found that the list was riddled with mistakes that led to thousands of voters – a disproportionate number of them black – being wrongly disenfranchised.

The scale of the errors, and their skewed effect on black, overwhelmingly Democratic voters, cost Al Gore thousands of votes in Florida in an election that George Bush won by just 537 votes.  Moreover the Florida state government, where Mr Bush’s brother Jeb is governor, did nothing to correct the errors, and may have encouraged them.

This causes me to ask what I believe remains a burning question; why must we repeatedly reinstate the Voter’s Rights Act?  Is there a reason that this law is periodically scheduled to sunset?  I query.  Why is this Bill so easily threatened?  Might voters be guaranteed their rights, always? 

Please tell me Hillary, or anyone; what ever happened to the idea that “all men are created equal?”  As a nation, we seem to be impressed with the words, and distressed with the possibility.  Senator Clinton, your own sermon calls this to mind again.  I appreciate your awareness and beg for your assistance.

Senator Clinton, please realize and tell others to place this in the forefronts of their minds, people of color are not only misinformed and under-represented during election season.  Daily they feel stuck.  Perchance, they are. 

Many live in the inner city, ghettos, and slums.  Schools in these neighborhoods are lacking.  Housing is poor.  Transportation is terrible.  Jobs close to home are nonexistent.  The availability and quality of careers in these locales is depressing.  Homicide is prevalent.  These communities are in chaos.  Too often, the streets are killing fields.  Reaching out and telling them you [we] understand is not enough.  They matter! 

The Blacks, Hispanics, people of various colors, and the poor are significant not because they fight our battles or because they can cast a ballot for a Presidential candidate such as you.  They are vital because they are people, equal to us all.  I think we must show them that we care each day, not only on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday or in an election year.

Our fellow countrymen and women must recognize that the right to vote is only one issue affecting the disenfranchised.  Poverty and loss of hope create an intolerable circumstance.  When joining the military merely means exchanging one battlefield for another, something is terribly wrong. 

Senator Clinton, I do not want those with less influence and means to feel as though they must serve the military master in order to survive.  I have no desire to see people perish needlessly at home, in Iraq, or in Afghanistan.  I do not think you do either.

You must know that Blacks [Hispanics, and others among the disadvantaged] feel forced to enlist in the Armed Forces.  The military will train them and pay them.  That matters! 

Only recently, as the death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan increase are the poor questioning the quality of life in the military service.  With the prospect of death looming large, they too are declining to join.  Perchance life matters more than a paycheck or schooling with strings attached.

I think we must be honest and ask ourselves, how long will we maintain the fallacy ‘military men and women are committed to a cause.’  Does any one really believe that war works to the benefit of those thrown into battle.  Will we ever avow, most soldiers subscribe in order to survive.

Hillary, the military that you and others so actively claim to support, cannot be the only viable means of income for our poor and alienated.  Yet, for many it is.  These persons cannot achieve as their Caucasian counterparts can.  Those with little, if any savings, need funds for a future education.  They are searching for something of value, something to hold on to.  The dominance of discrimination effects many decisions.

An Armed Forces filled with those of lesser means and far less opportunities causes me great distress.  I do not believe we in America have a volunteer Army, Navy, or Marine Corps.  We have brigades comprised of the neglected.  I trust that this concerns you Missus Clinton.

These men and women realize few rights; yet, they fight for yours, his, hers, and mine.  I often wonder; do the wealthy or well-off European descendents create an underclass to serve in their silly wars. 

When assessing that more and more of the underclass are unwilling to go to battle, I realize I am grateful that at least they have that choice.  Apparently, after witnessing what is in Afghanistan and Iraq, those that once sought solace in the military accept serving this country may not serve them well.

Hillary, as you stand before this mostly Black audience and claim to care, I wonder.  Do any of us demonstrate the concern we deeply feel?  Knowing what you [we] know, why would you [we] wish to escalate the troop level in Afghanistan or Iraq?  Please, help us to help ourselves; do not continue to exploit the unfortunate.  Let them live and vote.  Do not force the disadvantaged to meet their maker.  People of color need not pay for the sins of their white overseers.  People with few opportunities need not be cut down in their prime.  They matter!!!  These beings are more than future, fighting, or fallen soldiers.

Realize those service personnel who do not die are likely to be severely injured.  The chances are high that all will experience some physical, mental, or emotional impairment.  Please let us all be principled in our support of our troops.

Afro-Americans, Hispanics, and the disadvantaged matter not because they are potential or past soldiers.  They matter as all people do.  Veterans and civilians alike, matter.  Freedom and justice must prevail for all Americans. 

I offer this supposition; would there be war if everyone was granted the respect they give their nation. 

Fortunately for candidates such as you Senator Clinton, we will not know the answer to my question any time soon.  Change is exceedingly slow.  Those that are deprived of their Civil and Voting Rights will still be available to fight the war so many, too many candidates endorse.  Even those that do vote will not have the power they might.  In a culture where ‘follow the leader’ is thought fun or fruitful, few cast a ballot conscientiously.  Most follow the crowd.  How sad and how true.

Senator Clinton, next time you speak of equal rights, civil rights, and voting rights, please ponder what these would truly mean to citizens of this county.  If we honor civil rights for all, equally, the “military industrial complex” could not exist as it does.  Please enlighten others.  People, the poor, and those with plenty matter equally!

Rights, Wrongs, Civil Discourse References . . .

  • Civil and Constitutional Rights.  New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
  • Clinton: Afghanistan Needs More Troops. The Associated Press.  Washington Post.  Tuesday, September 26, 2006; 10:17 PM
  • pdf Clinton: Afghanistan Needs More Troops.  The Associated Press.  Washington Post.  Tuesday, September 26, 2006; 10:17 PM
  • Youths in Rural U.S. Are Drawn To Military, Recruits’ Job Worries Outweigh War Fears, By Ann Scott Tyson.  Washington Post.?Friday, November 4, 2005; Page A01
  • pdf Youths in Rural U.S. Are Drawn To Military, Recruits’ Job Worries Outweigh War Fears, By Ann Scott Tyson.  Washington Post.?Friday, November 4, 2005; Page A01
  • Inquiry into new claims of poll abuses in Florida, By Julian Borger and Gregory Palast.
  • Block the Vote – By Paul Krugman.  October 15, 2004
  • America’s Military Population, By David R. Segal and Mady Wechsler Segal.  Population Reference Bureau. December 2004
  • Voter’s Rights Act?  United States Department of Justice.  Civil Rights Division?.  Voting Section
  • Voting Rights Act.  Renew.  Restore.  American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation
  • Civil rights.  LII / Legal Information Institute.
  • Voting Rights  LII / Legal Information Institute.
  • Army Recruitment Goals Endangered as Percent of African American Enlistees Declines, By David R. Segal and Mady Wechsler Segal.  Population Reference Bureau  November 2005
  • Service in Iraq: Just How Risky? By Samuel H. Preston and Emily Buzzell.  Washington Post. Saturday, August 26, 2006; Page A21
  • pdf Service in Iraq: Just How Risky? By Samuel H. Preston and Emily Buzzell.  Washington Post. Saturday, August 26, 2006; Page A21
  • Steady Drop in Black Army Recruits, Data Said to Reflect Views on Iraq War.  By Josh White.  Washington Post.?Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page A01
  • pdf Steady Drop in Black Army Recruits, Data Said to Reflect Views on Iraq War.  By Josh White.  Washington Post.?Wednesday, March 9, 2005; Page A01
  • Bayh, Clinton Call for More Troops in Afghanistan. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. January 17, 2007
  • Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961