In Praise of Warriors, Not War

Editor’s Note: I reprint this essay every Memorial Day. I sometimes feel that I should write something new each year for this special day that Americans celebrate so gleefully. But there are few human customs more perennial and more celebrated than war. The best and the worst of it are nothing new.

By Don Pelton

On this Memorial Day, I must speak a few words in support of warriors, and in opposition to war.

Despite reaching my formative young adulthood during the anti-war 1960s, and despite my minor experience with something remotely similar to combat – in the National Guard at the Watts riots in August of 1965, and at Berkeley’s People’s Park in May of 1969 – it occurred to me sometime in the early 1990s that I knew almost nothing about the “Good War” that our father’s fought, which left us with a world mostly free.

I studied American history in college, and read good histories such as William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but aside from reading Shirer’s reporting from Berlin in the early years of the war, I had never listened to the voices of those who experienced the frontlines of World War II (and Korea soon after) first-hand.

So I began to read many personal accounts of those wars, and the harrowing reports that haunt me still are – particularly – E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/With_the_Old_Breed)), Farley Mowat’s And No Birds Sang ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farley_Mowat#War_service)), and a report I’ll never forget, by U.S. Army historian S.L.A. Marshall in a collection I can no longer locate, about the hand-to-hand combat of an American squad against some Chinese infantry during the Korean War.

This effort to study war by reading first-hand accounts and by viewing documentaries and films on the subject serves as my poor but only possible substitute for the actual experience of combat. Every citizen who understands that some wars are unavoidable and necessary owes this same effort – to understand what combat really is – to those whom he may ask to risk their lives.

E.B. Sledge described the horror on the island of Peleliu in the Pacific, digging in to fight the Japanese, who were holed-up in caves. By the time he arrived on that island there had already been so much close fighting that he could find no place to sink his spade to dig a foxhole where there weren’t chunks of human flesh mixed up like rotting compost in the loose soil. If that isn’t a description of Hell, I don’t know what is.

Farley Mowat spoke of his upbringing in a patriotic Canadian family, and how the old stories of war filled him with a keen desire to find glory in combat, but not necessarily in the infantry (where he ended up). He finally found combat in the campaign to force the Nazis out of Italy. His vivid description of the savagery of war includes the awful poetic detail of his title, “… and no birds sang.”

S.L.A. Marshall told the story of an American squad that attacked a hill held by the Chinese in Korea, and despite heavy losses – with only three surviving the fight – they prevailed, killing all of the enemy. But the hand-to-hand combat with bayonets had so unleashed the blood-lust of the Americans that – with no more enemies to kill – they went on and slaughtered a small herd of horses that the Chinese had corralled there.

The power of this account – and the sadness of it – is in the awful realization that each of us is capable of such blood lust, given the same circumstance.

I take it as axiomatic that in war, all sides lose some portion of their humanity.

It also seems to be axiomatic that those who are least experienced in war are often the most gung-ho to start it, and those who are most experienced are most reluctant to undertake it lightly.

Then there’s the lethal shallowness of a man who experienced combat, but whose motives for taking us to war – when he became president – may have included personal insecurity. There have been plausible suggestions that George Herbert Walker Bush undertook the invasion of Panama in part to solve the problem of his “wimp image.”

As citizens, we must weigh the inevitable horror of war against the justness — or unjustness — of waging it. Anything less is a betrayal of those whom we claim to hold dear.

We honor the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers and remember them on days like this not because war is always glorious and just, but precisely because – whether just or unjust, whether noble or ignoble — it is always Hell, and we have asked them to go into Hell for our sake.

Statue of soldier (at Vietnam Memorial, Capitol Mall, Sacramento)


 

RELATED ARTICLE:

The following column by Howard Zinn from 1976 is completely in accord with what I wrote above. Here’s his intro to a reprinting of it in The Zinn Reader years later:

Memorial Day will be celebrated … by the usual betrayal of the dead, by the hypocritical patriotism of the politicians and contractors preparing for more wars, more graves to receive more flowers on future Memorial Days. The memory of the dead deserves a different dedication. To peace, to defiance of governments.

In 1974, I was invited by Tom Winship, the editor of the Boston Globe, who had been bold enough in 1971 to print part of the top secret Pentagon Papers on the history of the Vietnam War, to write a bi-weekly column for the op-ed page of the newspaper. I did that for about a year and a half. The column below appeared June 2, 1976, in connection with that year’s Memorial Day. After it appeared, my column was canceled.

“Whom Will We Honor Memorial Day?”

 

Democrats – Lemmings in Search of a Cliff: Why You Shouldn’t Bet the Ranch on 2018

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who soared to national prominence during last year’s presidential campaign, is now the most popular politician in the nation. (Photo: Common Dreams / CC BY 3.0)

 

 

 

 

 

Republicans should be on the run.  Trumpcare is toxic, the White House stumbles from disaster to disaster, Trump’s budget is a giant slap in the face to the people who voted for him, and Russiagate just gets worse and worse.

But Democrats—rather than catching what should be a progressive tsunami—are acting like lemmings in search of a cliff.  Here are the details.

The lesson from 2016 should be clear

The age of the neoliberal, elitist, insider politician is gone. The people are wise to it, and they won’t show up to vote for candidates who spout progressive rhetoric, while feeding at the corporate money trough, and backing policies that favor Wall Street and the uber-rich.

“The age of the neoliberal, elitist, insider politician is gone.”

The political mainstream of both parties is either ignoring the extent to which they’ve alienated the people, or they don’t care. Here’s just one finding from a landmark study called the Smith Project that summarizes people’s dim view of both political parties: “Americans overwhelmingly agree (78%–15%) that both political parties are too beholden to special interests to create any meaningful change.”

The analysis also found that “American voters strongly believe that corruption and crony capitalism are among the  most important issues facing our nation—almost equal to jobs and the economy. Political alienation has existed for decades, but it now envelops over three-fifths of all   voters. These are the numbers that precede a political upheaval. (emphasis added)

This kind of alienation explains how Trump got elected by less than 27% of the eligible voters.  The passionately ignorant minority responded to his limbic hymnal of hate, greed, fear, blame, jingoism and xenophobia and showed up; the progressive majority—offered pre-packaged, pseudo-progressive pablum—did not.

Make no mistake, Democrats lost because turnout was low.  And turnout was low because progressives were turned off by their choices—or rather, lack of choices.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the presidential vote in 2016. Despite the headlines about a large turnout, it’s clear that many people weren’t thrilled with their choice, and turnout was lower than anticipated. In fact, in fourteen states, candidates in down ballot races received more votes than candidates for president.

That is, people voted for down-ballot candidates but left the top of the ticket blank. And it would have been the case in fifteen states, but Nevada allows voters to choose “none-of-the-above.” This was unprecedented, and it confirms the public’s rejection of politics as usual found in the Smith Project and in virtually any poll addressing the issue.

The fact is, the majority of Americans hold progressive views on an issue-by-issue basis.

This is why Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America.  He says what he means; he doesn’t equivocate; he backs progressive policies without reservation; he doesn’t take money from dark money Super PACs. The Smith project and nearly all poll addressing voter preference tells us these are the qualities American voters are looking for.

That means many of these sidelined voters could be easily wooed back to voting if Democrats would only run true progressives. In fact, one of the reasons the Democrats have been losing ground at all levels of government since the 70’s is because they’ve abandoned the New Deal policies favoring people, and adopted raw deal policies favoring plutocrats.

So you would think the Democratic Party would be embracing the progressive wing of the party and backing progressive positions and candidates.

But you’d be wrong.

“You would think the Democratic Party would be embracing the progressive wing of the party and backing progressive positions and candidates. But you’d be wrong.”

Instead, the Democrats seem intent on playing the same old cynical, centrist game that has turned them into a minority party.  And that bodes ill for 2018.  Even as Trump lurches from disaster to disaster, the Democrats plot ways to snatch defeat from what should be—indeed, must be, given the stakes—certain victory.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Pushing Perez while derailing Ellison

When the Obama White House recruited Tom Perez to run for Chair of the DNC, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) had been in the race for a month and had collected endorsements from many of the party’s power brokers, as well as the Sanders’ branch of the party. When progressives objected to Perez, Clinton and the Obama surrogates claimed that Perez was “just as progressive” as Ellison. As The New Republic‘s Clio Chang asked before the vote for DNC, if that was indeed the case, why insert him in the race?

While Perez was perhaps the most progressive member of Obama’s cabinet, he supported the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and, more importantly, he was firmly aligned with the establishment. The real reason for shoving him into the race was because Ellison was aligned with Sanders and the emerging progressive arm of the party, and with the Sanders supporters increasing their influence, they were afraid of losing control.  And it seems the establishment would rather lose elections than lose control.

The troubling “Ideas Conference” by the Center for American Progress

Imagine holding an “ideas conference” to seek new ideas, but not inviting one of the few people with new ideas to the discussion.

Imagine billing it as a gathering of progressives and not inviting the most popular progressive politician in America—and the most genuine.

That’s exactly what the Center for American Progress did last week, in their invitation-only gathering which specifically excluded Sen. Sanders.

Imagine realizing you have to have a more populist appeal to win elections, then holding your conference in one of the most expensive hotels in Washington, complete with a $1000 a plate dinner and no website allowing for … well … ideas from the people.

In fact, one of the biggest topics at the CAP conference seemed to center on blaming the Russians for Clinton’s defeat. And yes, she won the popular vote, but in our current system, that’s a consolation prize.

“Trump’s rank idiocy offers Democrats the opportunity of a lifetime.  But the establishment arm of the Democratic Party is apparently more interested in maintaining control of the party than it is in winning elections.”

So let’s say it again, one more time—it was the content of those emails, not the emails per se, that helped to sink Clinton. The emails revealed that, contrary to her progressive rhetoric, Hillary Clinton subscribed to the neoliberal consensus that has empowered the plutocracy, disempowered and impoverished the people, and that is resulting in the wholesale destruction of our planet and our climate.

About the only idea of substance to come out of the CAP meeting was the Marshall Plan for jobs, an ill-conceived hodge podge that contained as much rhetoric about protecting the private sector as it did about guaranteeing jobs.

Now consider the election to head California’s Democratic Party: Here again, the power elite fought off a serious challenge from the progressive wing. Long-time political operative Eric Bauman barely edged out progressive challenger Kimberly Ellis to take control of the California Democratic Party, winning by just 62 votes.

Bauman is a typical DLC Democrat—a pragmatic power-broker who steers by the hood ornament, rather than by a set of values rooted in an ethical framework.  For example, Bauman lobbied heavily for the pharmaceutical industry, when California’s Prop 61 threatened to cut their obscene profits.  Ellis, on the other hand, was a Sanders supporter, who has backed a bold and progressive agenda.

So there you have it.  Trump’s rank idiocy offers Democrats the opportunity of a lifetime.  But the establishment arm of the Democratic Party is apparently more interested in maintaining control of the party than it is in winning elections, so expect a slate of split the difference Democrats, who will struggle at the polls.


John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections, tentatively titled, WTF America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back on Track, which will be released in the Spring.

Help Fiber Come to Your Neighborhood By Taking A Simple Survey

By Don Pelton

If you are interested in Spiral Internet’s fiber deployment and — like me — you are in the “Comcast Challenged” zone, take the following survey:

https://spiral.servicezones.net/ServiceAreaA/ComcastChallenged

In this zone, Comcast claims that residents are already well served by them, so the Calif Public Utilities Commission has made this zone off limits for Spiral’s fiber service.

However, if enough of us take the survey and explain our need for better service, it may turn the CPUC around and help us get fiber

If you are unsure whether you are in this zone, click on the above link to see the map.

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