Saturday, May 31, 2014

On Desecrating Memorial Day

My Memorial Day post was pretty incoherent (I blame a late start and technical difficulties), but a friend was kind enough to slog through it and get at least the gist of my intended meaning. His response (lightly edited):
To judge history you have to try to live in that moment. The decision to fight in Vietnam was in large part noble, and the military and all the veterans that served there served a good cause, though I can understand how some believe that we should not have gone in and supported the French. [The military] actually won the war, but the [politicians] handed the country over to a totalitarian government during the days after the war was won.
I agree that our government is too big and taking away our freedoms, but I do not believe that Bruce died in vain; rather, he died for his country.
I disagree strongly with most of the people you quote. I signed up for service at the end of the Vietnam conflict.
I also believe that some of the brightest and most intellectually open people I have known were military men. I have had prolonged discussions with enlisted and officers, from seamen and privates, ensigns and second lieutenants to vice admirals. Your characterization of our military is unfair and incorrect. The reason our military is successful is that we encourage our non-coms and junior officers to exercise independent judgment and consider the situation they are in. We have our My Lais and other atrocities, but we strive for better. I spent years carpooling with a Pennsylvania National Guard captain who served in Fallujah in Iraq and have a pretty good feel for what happened in that war. Good men are leaving the military in large numbers as they cannot live with the political mandates that are being forced on them—these men are not ignorant vassals.
Our troops are still the finest in the world, and our goal is to promote freedom. We are not perfect, but I cannot support the comments that you made being broadcast on Memorial Day – a day to honor those who paid the ultimate earthly price. For me this like debating our theological differences during the middle of the Easter service.
If you believe that our freedoms are being threatened—and I do—have you gotten involved in supporting political candidates and helping to turn the ship around?
Maybe I should have waited a day before posting. By posting on Memorial Day I may have broken the resolution I made that if I were a missionary to a pagan people I would not go into their temples and smash their idols.[i]
On the other hand, it isn’t like there’s only one time a year when the troops are honored: every other highway in this country is named after veterans. Every significant athletic event begins with a giant flag held by soldiers, a moment of silence, and maybe a flyover. Veterans Day and the Fourth of July always include a salute to the troops. If every overpass in the South isn’t named after a “fallen hero,” it’s only because they haven’t found enough soldiers (or state troopers) to name them after.[ii]
But maybe that’s like we go to church every Sunday. We’ve got fifty-one other Sundays to debate theological differences. Let’s put them down at Easter, especially if (as is the case here, to follow the analogy) we’re going to deny the resurrection. I hereby confess that my shock and awe this week was no more effective than Bush’s was in Afghanistan and Iraq: it provoked a reaction, but not the one intended.
But my correspondent raises some good questions.
Are “our troops … the finest in the world,” whose “goal is freedom”?
I would suggest that people are people: we’re all made in the image of God, and we are all hopelessly twisted by sin and in need of the blood of Christ if we are to be reconciled to our creator. We all know of men who have lived sacrificially to build churches and other ministries only to throw it all away for illicit sex. If men of that caliber fail, how exceptional can the rest of us be? If people “sold out to Jesus” sin grievously, what of US soldiers with no commitment to Jesus?
People who otherwise seek to be good neighbors can come to believe horrible things. From my own camp Ludwig von Mises, Stefan Molyneux, and Darren Wolfe have devoted great parts of their lives to speaking out against the evils done against innocent people and for a neighborliness that comports with any reasonable reading of the last five commandments, yet they believe there is no God. Is it unreasonable to ask whether sincere evangelicals—yes, me included—can be deceived?
I consider what is called American exceptionalism one of the deadliest spiritual plagues ever to hit the Christian church, cousin if not brother to Hitler’s doctrine of Aryan supremacy, and certainly an essential ingredient in the current US imperialism. It’s why killing innocent people overseas is considered “collateral damage” and not murder.
If “the finest in the world” drop napalm and depleted uranium and white phosphorus on women and children, what should we say about the men who, even though they are hopelessly outgunned, try to defend their homes and families against “our troops”? Is a man piloting a drone from Arizona really more noble than the guy on the ground trying to shoot it down? or, for that matter, a kamikaze pilot?
How can anyone who can see, as my correspondent does, that our government threatens our freedoms say that the goal of our current wars is to protect freedom? Of course the politicians will say they’re all about freedom, but does that make it true? The German populace was convinced they were free people trying to maintain their freedom, and many of the troops who fought for Hitler were good neighbors, otherwise well intentioned, and all of them who faced death were brave. They all had “GOD IS WITH US” on their tax-financed, government-issue belt buckles, but how true was that? How can “some of the brightest and most intellectually open people” not make the connection between the anti-freedom leanings of a Wilson, a Roosevelt, a Johnson, or an Obama—or the ominous support of the Bushes for the New World Order—and their eagerness to send people to kill and die in wars that are of no concern to us?
But maybe I’m not intellectual enough. If the military actually won the war in Vietnam[iii] and then the politicians gave the country away, would it not be true that the politicians’ actions made all the destruction of life and property have gone for nothing? Of what benefit was all the carnage if the result was the same as (or worse than) it would have been had Bruce Gustafson and the others not gone over there? And if there was no benefit, isn’t no benefit synonymous with nothing, and dying for nothing the same as dying in vain? What am I missing?
And what “his country” did Bruce die for? If the Vietnamese ultimately got no benefit from his death, then I certainly got no benefit from his death, so he didn’t die for me—I must not be part of his country. As Smedley Butler said so presciently, he died for the armament makers and the politicians. Some of those “Masters of War” may end up in heaven, so I need to be careful here, but in earthly terms they are not my country any more than the Wehrmacht troops were Belgian after the Blitzkrieg or the US military was Iraqi in 2004.
In a word, to assume, as today’s US evangelicals do, that “our troops” are truly defending our freedoms, “a force for good,” or anything close to the good neighbors God calls us to be and to commend, is to assume what needs to be proven.
I don’t know when the proper time is for the question of the moral worth of US wars to be raised, but it seems like every day is the right day for it to be ignored.

[i] I made an exception to that in the days following 9/11: I desperately wanted to see a bomb dropped on the Kaaba big enough to break the rock under the shroud into a zillion pieces.
[ii] South Caroline is going one better. They even have an interchange named after Ben “Bankster Bailout” Bernancke.
[iii] I have never heard this argument before. I’ve heard many times that the military could have won the war if the politicians hadn’t bound their hands, but that’s not what my correspondent says. Nor does he say the US won the war (i.e., beat the enemy’s uniformed military) but failed to win the peace (i.e., control the underground and criminal elements). We used to joke that the army should just declare victory and come home, but that’s not what he says either. His claim is that the US military won the war, period.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Vietnam War Heroes

In memoriam
Bruce Gordon Gustafson
July 9, 1945 – December 13, 1969

All of a sudden, [Gerry] looked over at me. “What the hell are we doing over here, anyway?”
“Killin’ Commies for Christ,” I laughed. “Makin’ the world safe for Democracy. Helpin’ the stockholders at Dow Chemical pay off their mortgages. Now look who’s thinkin’ too much.”
“No, I mean it.”
“So do I. How the f*ck should I know? I knew the answer, you think I’d be a f*ckin’ lance corporal? Why don’t you go and ask the Colonel?”
“I did,” Gerry said, “Yesterday.”
“Go on.”
“No, really, I did. I hadda take him some documents and stuff, and I was just standing there waiting for him to sign ’em, so I asked him.”
“Chr*st, you got brass balls. You buckin’ for private? What’d he say?”
“He said, ‘Our jobs.’”
“What? What the f*ck kind of answer is that?
“That’s what he said. That’s all. Real serious-like. ‘Our jobs.’”
“J*s*s. Hell of a way to make a living.”
W. D. Ehrhart, Vietnam–Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir (p. 98–9)

Muhammad Ali

Ehrhardt disagreed with Ali when he first got to Vietnam. I have a hard time believing he disagreed by the time he left.
“Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”
“My conscience won't let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people inI the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me, they didn't rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father... Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.”

Daniel Berrigan

I can’t come up with any quotes from Daniel Berrigan, but he went to jail for saying that the war was wrong. He was right.

Daniel Ellsberg

From today’s version of Wikipedia (my emphasis): “In late 1969—with the assistance of his former RAND Corporation colleague Anthony Russo and the staff of Senator Edward Kennedy—Ellsberg secretly made several sets of photocopies of the classified documents to which he had access; these later became known as the Pentagon Papers. They revealed that the government had knowledge, early on, that the war could most likely not be won, and that continuing the war would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted publicly. Further, as an editor of the New York Times was to write much later, these documents ‘demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress, about a subject of transcendent national interest and significance.’”

Murray Rothbard

“The British [during the American Revolution], just as the Americans now in Vietnam, had very great difficulty distinguishing between the peasants and the guerrillas. They say they all look alike – well, they are alike, they are them. In other words, peasants in the daytime pick up the guns at night and pop the British soldiers. … In the American Revolution, it was the British soldiers, in the Viet Nam war, it is the American soldiers, but the principle is the same. The interesting thing is that on the other hand, the counterrevolutionary forces, in other words, the Government battling against the Revolution, has to do just the opposite: they have superior fire power for various reasons, they have the official army, but they don’t have the support of the population – so in their kind of warfare, they have to amass genocidal terror against the civilian population, they try to break the morale of the civilians, try to cut their support off from the guerrillas and so forth.” - from an interview in Reason magazine, February 1973

Jeffrey Miller

I have never stood my ground when it looked like weapons would be fired. Jeffrey Miller did.

Honorable Mention: Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

The most decorated soldier of World War I

“I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.” -- Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933 

Remember the bravery of the Vietnam veterans if you will, but do not forget that after the war was lost, for whatever reason, we did not lose any freedom to those they were sent to fight. We have been losing freedoms ever since, but we have been losing those freedoms to the people who sent those men to fight in Vietnam and those people are the same people who are sending men to fight overseas today.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Quill Pig’s Handy Grammar Guide: Lie vs. Lay

It would have been nice if “proper” English had followed simple logic: lie would always mean to tell an untruth and lay would always mean to make something, either the self or another object, horizontal. Any four-year-old could understand that.
But apparently the spirit that messed up language at Babel has been put in charge of the language as spoken in academia, so we’re stuck with a system based not on meaning, but on whether the verb takes an object. Wrap your four-year-old’s mind around that one. Wait. Don’t.
Take a deep breath and have him memorize this simple table. At that age he’s a sponge and should get it down in, I don’t know, an hour or two. Piece of cake. Parent-kid bonding time.

Kind of verb
Present tense
Past tense
Past participle
make something horizontal
transitive (always takes an object)
lay, lays
make self horizontal
tell an untruth
Intransitive (never takes an object)
lie, lies

The good news is that most English speakers today speak it as a second language. I expect them to hijack the language in a few years (as did the Singaporeans, who don’t “buy a pair of pants”; no, they “buy a pant” like any sane person would). Then my grandchildren will “lay on the couch” with no fear that this grandpa will beat them with a cane until they can “lie on the couch” while telling the truth.