Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembrances on Memorial Day

Memorial Day. The day we're supposed to honor our military and especially those who gave their youth for the defense of this nation. Many more gave their arms, legs, eyes while others gave their very lives. Today, we've turned it into the unofficial start of Summer; a times for opening swimming pools and cut outs. Some use the day to start planning their vacations. Yet, few take the time to honor our active duty military personnel, the retired or disabled veterans, or to visit veterans in VA hospitals, and especially to visit cemeteries and help to put flags or flowers of the graves of those made all the above possible; these are the real heroes who deserve to be honored.

Thus far, I've have lived to see the last of the veterans from the Spanish American War pass away; the last participant of the Battle of Wounded Knee, the last of the WWI veterans, and will likely see the last the WWII veteran who are dying at a rate of 3400 a week. Many of us will likely see the last of those who served in Korea too pass away too. Nevertheless, I have had the honor to meet several WWI soldiers, plus numerous WWII veterans; many in their 90's. A few were Japanese POWs, captured in the Philippines and forced to participate in the notorious Bataan Death March. I've had the privilege to know individuals who fought in North Africa; who landed at Normandy on June 6th, 1944; British veterans who survived Arnhem during Operation Market Garden; who fought at Bastogne during the Battle of Bulge, as well as countless individuals who fought in Korea and Vietnam, including former POWs, "tunnel rats", snipers, along with others who were awarded the Purple Heart..I had the privilege of meeting Paul Tibbets, the aircraft commander of the "Enola Gay" and was a "Volunteer Crewman" for the day on the famous B-17 bomber, the "Memphis Belle" while on static display in Memphis, Tennessee. I have come to know survivors of Nazi concentration camps and simply marveled at the resilience of the human condition. I've been lucky enough to get the unique opportunity to meet individuals who fought in Rommel's vaulted Afrika Korp in North Africa; who served in the Kreigsmarine aboard the ill fated DKM Bismarck, fought on the Eastern Front and survived the Battle at Stalingrad, who fought in the Battle of Berlin, as well as those who risked all to fight for Israel's independence in 1948. Their brief moments on the stage of history were often as humble as they were humbling to listen to. Amazing individuals all.

While I was in the Navy and just afterwards, I got to know individuals from the British Marines, the Canadian Navy, the US Navy's SEALs, as well as Army Rangers and Green Berets. I became friends with several individuals serving in US Marine Force Reconnaissance. I got to spend time with some of those who are now considered our nation's enemies and some who remain our allies, including air crews from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Egypt as well as the Israeli Mossad and Shin Beth. Perhaps the greatest honor was attending the retirement of a certain Master Chief. This individual was straight out of boot camp when he arrived at Pearl Harbor on December 6th. He had hoped to spend some leave time touring the islands, but that wasn't too be as we all know what happened the next morning. He went on to complete 30 years active duty before transferring to the Navy Reserves. I met him on the day he was finally retiring and got to spend an hour with him before his discharge ceremony. I even got to met a former member of the Russian special forces, the Spetsnaz.

While the countries and circumstances may differ, but their commitment and professionalism doesn't. Despite the stereotype, no one wants peace more than the ordinary soldier, sailor or airman. What most people aren't aware of is that in the heat of battle, few admit to fighting for any vague ideals. Most will tell you that they fought for each other---the person to their left or their right. Friendships forged in the military are usually deep lifelong bonds. There's nothing quite like danger and the possibility of death that puts your life in perspective; to see and experience what your made of. Some have the mettle. Some don't. Few if any think about being a "hero"; most of those are dead. Instead, they focus on surviving. War knows no race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. It knows only the living, the wounded and the dead.

Some people claim that war is Man's highest calling. We see Man's nature at its worse and at its most noble. Personally, I agree that war shows the depth and height of Man's duality. We are at once incredibly humane and caring while at the same butchers. Mankind is more often than not a cruel species. We are past masters in the arts of death. Even our holy books are full of bloodshed. Unlike most species, which kills to survive, we kill for the sport (and occasionally for food). We fight over the possession of land or mineral rights which ultimately returns to nature. We may fight over another individual's actions; actions that we have no control over and an individual whom we can never truly possess. We fight over possessions or money; both of which are only temporary given our limited life spans. We commit act of cruelty over religion without understanding the nature of God without even understanding the irony of our actions.

German Air Marshall Hermann Goring once said “Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” This is what concerns me the most. Wars of today are not fought for concepts such protecting home and hearth, justice or human rights. Today's military actions are fought over control of resources, not for the salvation of a people or nation, but to improve some transnational corporation's bottom line. We wage wars and "police actions" in order to gain access to economic markets. We install and remove governments with equal ease as it suits the agenda of the 1% ; usually it's a military junta or other fascist regime with little to no concern about the people in the nation or region.

Today's "friend" or ally may quickly be tomorrow's enemy, depending on their economic usefulness and cooperation. If you have any doubts, consider this---since 1898, the US has actively overthrown or helped to destabilize some 35+ countries, including Syria, Iraq, Iran Turkey, South Vietnam, Brazil, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Cuba, Venezuela, Congo, Guatemala, or the Dominican Republic. Most, if not all these, were at the behest of a transnational corporation, while others were removed because the people of these countries elected an individual or political party that the US Government (and its corporate handlers) didn't agree with (usually a popular elected Democratic Socialist or Communist government). In return, we installed or provided support to a right wing military junta which usually resulted in the suppression of freedoms, murders or disappearances of millions, and the systematic looting of national treasuries and misuse of American taxpayer provided aid). Is it little wonder that the American Government (though not necessary Americans) is so despised throughout the world today or that no country has chosen to emulate the American form of government? I think the answer is quite obvious.

This brings me back to reason for this article. Our Founding Fathers warned us about becoming entangled in the troubles and tribulations of Europe (and I'm sure they would agree that this included the rest of the world as well). Our military was only to be used to protect America and its interests from invasion or harassment. It was not to used to enforce the desires and interests of transnational corporations to enhance their control or access to various global markets. Memorial Day should be the day when Americans reflect on those who fought and died for our nation and the preservation of freedoms in a world that is more hostile than most can imagine. We must also remember those who were wounded; they are still fighting their own personal battles. Those are our among our greatest heroes too. Finally, we should remember those who served this nation, be it by result of the draft or those who volunteered. We should be on guard against those who desire to "entangle" us in wars, conflicts, or police actions for the sake of profit. They represent a threat not just our nation, but to the legacy of all those who served our nation in the past and of those who are currently serving and to those who will serve in the future.

Lastly, for those who are "offended" at the sight of the American flag, be it on a tee shirt or flying from someone's home or in a
classroom, I urge you to visit the military section of any cemetery and thank each and everyone lying there in neat rows under their white crosses and Stars of David; who give their lives in order to protect your right to criticized, trample, burn or spit on that very flag and its ideals. Don't like cemeteries? No problem. Go to any VA Hospital and thank all those men and women who sacrificed their bodies or who are permanently scared mentally in order to secure your right to spew the hatred you have for this country and its symbols.

Suicide Rate Among Veterans and Active Duty Military Jumps

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