Monday, October 8, 2007

"Where Have All Our Heroes Gone?"

I vividly recall my grandparents, my parents, my brother, my sister and I all gathered around the Philco console radio in order to listen to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declare war on the “Empire of Japan,” for the dastardly surprise attach on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Although I was too young to grasp the gravity of that event, I knew it had to be a momentous occasion in order to command the presence of so many important people in my life.

I remember the young men going off to a war that I could not comprehend. There were the ration coupons that limited so many of our choices and were traded between homemakers in order to balance the needs and wants of their families with those of others. I can still hear the adults in my life complaining because they had to smoke Wings when their prized Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields were not available. Scarcity and conservation became the hallmarks of a new way of life.

As the war progressed, there was the pall cast over our small town whenever a new pennant was hung in the living room window of some family’s home that created an aura of reverence I had not seen before. Then there was the home that had a pennant with not one but two stars, both of which were gold rather than the customary blue. That home became a symbol of service and sacrifice unmatched by any other.

The most popular radio program was the Hit Parade with a whole host of favorite singers and sentimental songs that seemed to nourish and sustain the hearts of adults of every age. They were the stuff of movies, so many of which were fantasies that helped to take the edge off of the fear and loneliness etched in the hearts of those waiting and hoping for good news of a loved one on some far distant shore. Each word of the lyrics struck a chord and conjured up memories of a special love and time, or a hoped for reunion at a future time yet to be realized.

As I watched Ken Burns’ THE WAR on PBS, all those random bits and pieces stored in my bank of memories have gradually coalesced into a collage of complete images of so much I had forgotten or simply could no longer accurately recall. A brilliant piece of work has touched me deeply. Seeing the horror, death, human cruelty and suffering from an adult’s perspective is a humbling experience.

World War II was spawned by the most heinous evil the world has ever known. Nazi Germany and its systematic approach to death and destruction were as nothing the world had seen, coupled with the unbelievable brutality of the Japanese throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The United States of America and its allies knew it rested with their collective will to stem the onslaught of the scourge and to stop the perpetrators in their tracks. And they did it simply because it was the right thing to do. No ulterior motives or political agendas; just because it had to be done.

I believe the mettle of a nation and of a person is tempered by the fires of adversity. Those who fought in World War II were the product of the Great Depression and already knew what sacrifice meant and the courage it would require to face what was before them. They were witness to things and events no human being should have to face, particularly the young so full of hope and dreams for a future yet to be realized. They were scared and knew full well the odds were stacked against them that they would ever return. But they did what they did because it had to be done.

Those on the home front also knew what was before them as a nation. They joined hands and put their shoulders to the wheel of the war effort so the full might of this nation would be brought to bear against their common enemy. They willingly gave up so many of the creature comforts of their day but, more than that, they willingly gave up their sons and daughters. The Japanese whose families had been consigned to government internment camps answered the call. The African Americans answered the call, ignoring the symbols of segregation that persisted in the face of their courage. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.
There were no options. They were and remain our finest generation.

World War II was soon to be followed by the Korean Conflict, better known to those who fought as a “police action.” The agony and the face of war were essentially no different. But I have never quite figured out what the distinction was between a war and a police action. Perhaps it was because the result of the latter was containment rather than victory. Perhaps it was the growing specter of nuclear power. Nevertheless, an evil adversary had to be stopped with force and military might. Political considerations seem to have weighed more heavily on the outcome. We still live with the vestigial remnants of that conflict. It remains a truce that has yet to be brought to full closure by a peace treaty.

Those who took up arms and fought in Korea had the full support of the home front. When their tour was over, they came home to a grateful nation. Those who didn’t were and are remembered for the price they paid on our behalf.

The war in Vietnam had a far different complexion. It occurred against the backdrop of the Cold War. The threat of communism to the free world was forever present and our vigilance could never be relaxed. In this case, however, Vietnam posed no direct threat to the United States. Rather, any threat to us was a perceived possibility by the political establishment in Washington. The stage was set by the Kennedy Administration, coming to full bloom by the megalomania of Lyndon B. Johnson and ending in defeat under Richard M. Nixon. It was a war that had its genesis in the political ambitions of those in power in the White House. It was a war fraught with lies, misinformation, exaggeration and manipulation of the facts by the politicians and military elite in Washington. Those who fought that war did so because their “Commander in Chief” sent them to war. It was not because those who took up arms necessarily agreed with the mission, but those in uniform have no choice but to follow the orders of their superiors. What I find so appalling is that it was those consigned to combat who were scorned by the public when they returned from service. They were treated like common criminals by celebrities and a broad base of the population at large, with little or no gratitude for having served as they were ordered to do. As if they had any choice in the matter! The impact of the daily television news coverage of the casualties and body counts was to figure prominently in a future “war on terror“ and the manipulation of the images of war.

The culmination of the major milestones of war has to rest with the current war in Iraq and the “war on terror.” We went to war based on a pack of lies peddled by the investiture of the President by the Supreme Court, also known as the “Commander in Chief,” plus a bunch of co-conspirators in the Cabinet, the Pentagon and those among us known as “neocons.” To my knowledge, not one of them has sent a son or daughter off to this war in order to “protect our freedoms.” Please! Enough of that crap. The greatest threat to our freedoms has evolved from our having come as close to an absolute dictatorship in our history as ever, aided and abetted by the power of the military-industrial complex about which we were so aptly forewarned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Our news media have been intimidated and manipulated by the political establishment in Washington, including the Executive and the Legislative branches. Corporations, politicians, financiers, contractors, etc., all feeding from the same troughs of largesse and corruption provided by those who control the message and funnel untold billions into their coffers.

Our government scoffed at the Geneva Conventions and that fine thread of civility that is supposed to govern the conduct of adversaries in war. Citizens’ privacy was violated and our civil liberties were summarily trampled by those drunk with their newfound power.
The war is planned by the privileged ensconced in the corridors of power in our nation’s capitol. The war is fought by the underprivileged from across this great land, and who have few if any alternatives in order to survive in our rapidly disintegrating economic and social environment.

The coffins coming home with the remains of the vanquished have been barred from public view as they return home, almost as if their deaths are a mark of shame, rather than honor. Those who are permanently disabled through their service are shortchanged by what should be a grateful nation, both in terms of access to good medical and rehabilitative care, plus the means necessary for a decent standard of living. The Governor of Oregon has attended virtually every funeral of a fallen Oregonian brought home for burial. How many funerals have been attended by our illustrious "Coward in Chief" in Washington? None, I suspect. Too much of a reminder of what he should have been rather than what he has proven himself to be.

Regardless of who gets elected to the presidency, from either party, I seriously doubt that it will make one modicum of difference. They are all beholden to the same power structure and that is certainly not the voters! It will be business as usual, just peddled in different packaging. Until there are some fundamental changes in our system of government and the way we do our nation’s business, we will continue our meteoric descent into a two-class society.

So, where have all the heroes gone? To the arms of their loved ones at home eagerly awaiting their return. To their graves, each marked by the badge of honor that goes with having made the ultimate sacrifice. To lives of quiet dignity as they struggle to cope with the disabilities of armed conflict. To a life they left to fight a war that should never have been. They are all heroes. They did what the uniform they wore required of them. They fought for the badge of courage each of them proudly wears, pure and untarnished.

I pray that Divine Justice will descend on the heads of all of those who have exploited our heroes and who have fanned the fires of war for their own personal gain. May they forever hang their heads in shame before the same God from whom they will surely beg for eternal mercy and forgiveness.

Cowboy Bob