Friday, July 4, 2008

Serving My Country

Notes for this post have been sitting around for awhile and the thoughts behind it for a lifetime so excuse the disjointedness. I remember thinking it would irritate some people if I posted it on Memorial Day and now here it is being posted on Independence Day.

There are those who worship the military and think they represent the best of the country and are always automatically right. This thought was brought home again with recent discussion of a veteran’s cemetery to be possibly located on a wild and apparently rugged area of a state park. I’m not a big fan of cemeteries anywhere but damaging a natural area for one seems especially stupid.

My father has always been a military fan and told me a few months ago he’s decided to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At least it’s one of the few cemeteries located on public transportation, so I may be able to visit some day. As someone who spent part of my teens watching where my birthdate appeared in the Vietnam draft lottery, I was always anti-military. I didn’t spit on any returning veterans but I had more respect for those who went to Canada or jail or underground rather than around the world to kill or be killed as pawns of governments.

Despite the slogans of the jingoes, no one has their freedom because of the slaughter of women and children at My Lai or the humiliating (for all participants) abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The country doesn’t show its best in the long list of military scandals including sexual harassment, cheating, forced Christianity, puppy killing, or a local vet killed with his own gun after wandering drunk and crashing a stranger’s party where he wasn’t welcome. Is that all we can be? Should we celebrate and honor people eager to do whatever they’re told?

There’s a version of the chicken and egg question involving the military and the people who make it up. Certainly being in a war is a brutal dehumanizing experience which many veterans struggle with afterward, and they don’t get enough help from the country which subjected them to the experience. But I believe most people who choose to be in today’s military aren’t the best of people to begin with. I don’t know if there’s ever been a good war but there have certainly been some necessary wars. It’s been many decades since the US has been involved in one of those.

Who chooses to join the military under those conditions? Certainly a big percentage is poor and uneducated, seeking some way to escape their current place in life by any means. The ends don’t justify those means. Many volunteers may be naive believers. I’ve read that standards on accepting criminals have been relaxed in order to get enough warm bodies into uniform. Whatever the motivation, what kind of personality is required to be willing to travel around the world and kill people? I think people who join the military are far more likely to already be violent and aggressive than the type of people I admire. It’s true--I do not support the troops.

In the old days, like many hippies, I wore a flag. It was attached to the collar of an old army jacket and I wore it as a liner or cape depending on my mood. I wear a different flag today as I type and this time it’s a flag I actually believe in—a t-shirt of green, white, and blue with trees replacing the usual stars, and the phrase “in nature we trust”.

Here’s the quote of the day from today’s NY Times email. "People go ape when they see it. It’s a feeling. It’s a feeling that takes over a whole stadium. If anyone in the stands opened their mouth and objected, there would be hell to pay."--Jim Alexander, whose company, Superflag, creates field-size American flags for sporting events. Leaving aside the disparaging of our fellow apes, it seems Jim thinks the thought of beating or killing anyone who didn’t worship the flag is a cause for pride.

The other day someone was stunned when I told him I’ve never used a gun. In this area of hunting worship and military worship and flat out gun worship, he truly thought I was kidding him. Like giant flags and the implied threat of violence, I don’t think the country’s gun worship all the way up to the politicized highest court is anything to be proud of either. Neither is its lack of healthcare for all, nor the high number of its citizens in prisons or homeless, nor its greed and lack of responsibility to the world and the future, nor its general “every man for himself” attitude.

My country is not about flags, the illusion of never-ending growth, domination, wars, and guns. My country is about trees, wildlife, ecosystems, beauty, simplicity, humility, and respect. The only lines on a map which interest me indicate rivers, trails, and topography.

A few days ago new Pew poll results came out showing increased support for drilling for oil in ANWR as opposed to conservation in light of the increasing price of gasoline. Sixty percent consider increasing energy supplies more important than protecting the environment. I saved the article under the title Americans Are Assholes. These results are no surprise to me; I’ve always thought that in the end Americans will destroy every bit of beauty, kill off every species, and pollute every inch in order to go on living their lives of excess one day longer. In fairness, Americans may merely represent the ultimate expression of human nature. This wouldn’t be the first civilization to cut down the last tree on the island. And this is exactly why I have favored the collapse of industrialism and human die-off to much lower numbers as soon as possible. It’s the only hope my country and I have left.

Happy 163rd anniversary to the beginning of living at Walden. May we someday be that wise again.


Lisa J. said...

This is an amazing post - I don't know where to begin.

For your thoughts on the military, it's a tough subject. I'd never known anyone who served (other than my dad who decided to join the reserves rather than risk the vietnam draft) really until we moved here. A good friend of ours is in the Air Force - he's a pilot. It's hard to agree with some of the things you said in the entry apply to my friend because he joined long before the war started... I guess all I can say is there are reasons "regular" people might join, but overall I agree with you: it's not always the cream of the crop "serving" in our military...

I don't support this war. I don't support our commander in chief. I feel sorry for the vets who are abandoned by the system once they return. And I agree that the US is the worst expression of human greed & aggression. I'm sad to see what we've become.

Also, didn't you know it's the democrats fault that the gas prices are high because we won't let the poor republicans drill ANWR to solve the oil crisis? Mean old environmentalists just don't seem to understand how important it is to drive Hummers all over the city.

I love the fact that people make fun of me for driving a Hybrid. :) It's only a small gesture, but it at least makes me feel better that I fill my tank less than once a month.

greentangle said...

Since I wrote this I've been thinking I should have spent more time explaining my attitude toward the military. I wasn't really trying to make an argument for my position, but maybe should have.

I wasn't trying to claim everyone who joins fits these categories so much as question our blind worship. I think the country as a whole would be a better place if we had a real questioning debate about the military's effect on our society. (But hell, we don't have serious and intelligent debate about anything.) Certainly teenagers considering joining would benefit from a more vocal anti-military option.

Every couple years, there's a military air show here (talk about wasting fuel). This year it's coming complete with the Virtual Army Experience, your chance to climb in a Humvee and have the virtual reality experience of using machine guns and missile launchers to kill Iraqis. It's all just a fucking video game to these people.

Lisa J. said...

I see what you're saying. Because nowadays, if you even speak out about the war, against the military, whatever, you're deemed "unpatriotic". At the beginning of this war, a beloved family member told me "now is not the time for free speech." WHAT??!

Here's my problems with the military right now: there are people who joined because there are career opportunities for officers & those trained at the academies. There's no denying that people like my brother-in-law (who plays in the President's Own Marine Band - which doesn't require basic training, so he has no military training whatsoever to serve) find careers outside of the fighting. But, there are those that haven't finished high school, who have no skills and can't find meaningful or paying work who join for the paycheck. It's no wonder they become killing-machines - what else do they have in their lives? Someone hands them a gun & leads them to believe that this makes them a successful person... kill or be killed. Fight or be a loser.

Then again, there are those that really truly are so patriotic that they feel serving is the right thing to do. I would respect them if this were 1942 and WW2 was what they were running off to join. But it's not. We're killing insurgents in their own country, driving humvees down mine laden roads, killing civilians... It's just not justifiable. We should not still be there. An entire presidential career should not be defined by an unpopular war - we should have learned this during Vietnam. Somehow, we didn't. Sadly, it seems like some Baby Boomers are more interested in continuing this war than remembering what happened 40 years ago.

And lastly, there are so many homeless people walking the streets here in Vegas. Many of them are forgotten vets from the air force - discharged, retired, whatever - who either come from Nellis or Creech AFBs and don't have homes, families, jobs, help to go to. So they end up on the streets w/ratty clothes, scruffy faces, holding signs that simply say "HELP" or "Air Force VET #xxxx" There are something like 4300 homeless vets in Las Vegas...

All I know is that if this war is still going on when my son turns 18, I am going to discourage him to join (have you seen the latest army ads talking about letting your teens join the army???). If there's a draft, we'll quickly be in Canada.

greentangle said...

Not too much to say because I agree with everything you wrote.

What I really love (heavy sarcasm) are the folks who go on about how we only have the freedom to say these things because of the military and then complain because we say them. I think they're completely wrong and the military hasn't done one thing in my 50+ years which had anything to do with defending my freedom and rights. But if they are right, then why are they so angry about people using the very freedom they seem to think the military is defending?

Lisa J. said...

I LOVE your last comment because it sums up my feelings way better than I could. I like to think that I'm good at composing sentences, but that paragraph hits the nail right on the head.

Unfortunately, many people just aren't witty enough to get this irony on their own. Too bad.

Northland said...

I agree with everything you said on your July 4 blog as well as your posted responses to Lisa J.

You have a very interesting and thought-provoking blog. I'm really enjoying perusing it.

greentangle said...

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it, especially since when I saw there was a new comment on this post, I braced myself for an attack.

I've read that enlistment is up with the New Depression, so it's a good thing we have a less war-prone President.

Eam said...

The blog Once Upon a Time ( has a lot to say about not supporting the troops. See this post in particular: