Spitting on Soldiers
just another stupid war movie,
with a phony respect for the dead.
-- Paleface, "Stupid War Movies"
from one of my favorite neglected albums, Paleface (1991EV)
I had intended to post about two terrific things we saw on tape yesterday: episode six of Wolf's Rain, a show I've plugged here before (and though I assume that a friend's tall blonde Japanese daughter knew about it when I did, fansubbed a year or so ago, well, if she didn't, it's from several people who worked on Cowboy Bebop, is on Cartoon Network Saturday nights at 11:30, and (even dubbed) it's wonderful, is all), and the "thirty-sixth-birthday" ep of Lucky, a long-since-cancelled FX Original show from the Cullen brothers which was one of the finest things ever to hit television. But, well, y'see....
I suppose it's the convergence of three things: my reaching February 1973 (the beginning of the end of US involvement in Vietnam) in the Consciousness Cycle; the dedication of the US's long-overdue World War II Memorial; and Memorial Day itself, our annual commemoration of US war dead -- especially poignant in recent years, of course, and particularly this one. I've also been trying to stay away from partisan political stuff, so I'll keep this as nonpartisan as possible. But...well...y'see....
Over the years, I have had many friends and acquaintances who served in the US military. I didn't serve, though like millions of others I registered for the draft just after my eighteenth birthday -- as fate would have it, in my case, only a few weeks before call-ups were suspended in '73. I am well aware how easy it is for a civilian pushing fifty to get huffy about military issues, and in particular I'm not gonna reopen the draft discussion here. But with that aforementioned convergence, I've been giving some thought, this Memorial Day, to what a nation owes its fighting men and women.
Our title is taken from a story which began to surface in the late seventies, early eighties, about civilians having literally spat upon returning US soldiers after Vietnam. I recall thinking when I first heard it that the story sounded fishy -- not only did the peaceniks I knew have nothing but respectful regret for the soldiers themselves, but they certainly weren't self-destructive enough to go spitting on strapping GI's, even had they wanted to; and apparently some academic (details forgotten here, I'm sorry to say) has tried to track the stories down, and is persuaded they're an urban legend. Whether they happened or not, though, is irrelevant to my point, which is this: a major military power which loses genuine respect -- and fails in genuine support -- for its soldiery, is courting national suicide.
In every generation, sizable numbers of Americans don the uniform of their country, swear an oath to its Constitution, and willingly give up important rights and freedoms for the rest of their lives. Many of these folks are currently serving in Afghanistan*, and Iraq, and around the world. They get plenty of lip-service, particularly on holidays like this one and during election campaigns; and, thankfully, some measure of real support now and again. But their country owes them, bigtime, and practical support is a hell of a lot more important than words.
IMO, the Reserves are meant to be used in emergencies, and for as short a time as possible. The National Guard is meant for just that purpose: guarding the nation at home, largely in natural disasters or civil unrest. IMO, a nation that calls up so much of its Reserves and Guard for extended combat duty overseas is playing with fire. And finally, also IMO, we all owe it to everyone in our military to see to it that they're used properly, sent when and where they're absolutely needed (and in sufficient numbers), well-supplied in the field**, and well-treated on their return. In all of these areas (I say in as nonpartisan a way as possible, and it is indeed a bipartisan problem, being met, however belatedly, with some bipartisan concern), I fear we are falling seriously short today.
(I am far from alone in this fear, of course; Tom Clancy recently "almost came to blows" with one well-known armchair strategist who criticized Colin Powell for his reluctance to see us make reckless use of our soldiers.)
Heroes in the skies over Britain preserved her against the Nazis in 1940, in a way little short of miraculous. Russian heroes at Stalingrad, and Brits, Americans and plenty of others on the beaches at Normandy and elsewhere, defeated Fascism against enormous odds, and at enormous cost. Various nations have built memorials to these heroes; thanks to the efforts of Bob Dole, Bill Clinton, and a number of private donors, the US has finally built one, too.
On this Memorial Day, I pray that our nation pays, and will pay, more than lip-service to those serving it under arms. It strikes me that there's more than one way -- despite one's best intentions -- to end up spitting on soldiers.
93 93/93 -- AJ
* Where, "freedom fries" or no, a number of French, Germans and others have also been serving for years, let us not forget.
** Not, for example, forced to get their kevlar and ceramics flak vests through the efforts of their families and friends, f'rgodssakes.