The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Chickenhawks and the wars they love

Serving one's country is an honorable thing to do, especially in the form of providing "for the common defense". Even though they are funded by all of us, our country's military forces, coast guard, and national guard are made up of people who have devoted their time, energy, and talent to protecting the rest of us from physical harm and dangers to our property, our infrastructure, and our government.

The existence of the military and the way it is funded is one of the greatest practical admissions on our part that there is actually a good of the commons. We have all come together as one country to fund and create a group of employees for our common defense. Without this, we would each have to hire our own personal bodyguard or mercenary force to keep us safe, and most of us don't have that kind of money. The military was placed under explicit civilian leadership in the constitution to discourage the military telling us what to do, rather than the other way around (the tail wagging the dog). The military are our employees, but they are incredibly valuable, incredibly valued, and should not be wasted, thrown away, or used for political gain. We should always remember to treat their service with great respect, for while we train them, clothe them, house them, feed them, and pay them, they allow us to concentrate on things other than if we will be killed or overrun by hostile people.

A young person's decision to serve America is a serious one, for while the military offers definite opportunities, it also makes severe demands on almost every aspect of one's life. It also occasionally calls for risk to life and limb, and hardship, grief, and mourning for both the members of the military as well as their friends and families. As employers, we need to make sure that our military employees are well taken care of, and that after their service they are also provided for. I'm surprised that we even need to discuss the need for good, accessible health benefits for older veterans, let alone people who have been injured while serving, but those are the times we are live in.

In light of all of this, it is amazing to see the incredible contradictions underlying the actions and attitudes of the public, the military, and the current Republican leadership with respect to our armed forces. I'm sure there are many cultural and social aspects involved in these contradictions, but one of the most important factors has got to be propaganda, pure and simple.

The biggest contradiction of all, from which all others flow, is that the military loves the current Republican leadership and despises the Democratic leadership. I know that is a pretty sweeping generalization, but it does seem to be generally true, and it is certainly the impression which our corporate-funded media is eager to promote. Let's try to figure this out.

Could it be that the military holds in high regard politicians who actually served in the military, who have experienced military life, and served their country with honor? That would certainly make some sense. I mean, after all, Clinton got an academic deferment to go to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship during the Vietnam war, and he was reviled as an odious draft dodger. And Bush Sr. flew for the Navy in WWII, and had his plane shot out from under him. Bob Dole is a genuine war hero. But they seem to be the exceptions to that rule. Let's return to two old favorite sites, "Who Served?" and The ChickenHawk Database. Who Served? lists people by who served and who never served in the military. The ChickenHawk database is focused on hypocrisy, highlighting people who are extremely bellicose in their warlike rhetoric and quick to throw military lives at problems when they themselves avoided combat. From these and other sources (see this for example), we find an incredibly long list of Democrats who served their country with honor: Gephardt, Daschle, Bob Kerrey, Al Gore, Charlie Rangel, Ted Kennedy. Jimmy Carter served his country for 7 years and flew fighters in the Navy. Even Mike (Zorba the Clerk) Dukakis and Walter Mondale served in the Army for a few years. Gore volunteered to serve in Vietnam as an Army reporter (an untrue smear about him is that he had a low lottery number and would have been drafted anyway, but he was already in before the lottery occurred) and was certainly shot at. Max Cleland, who the voters of Georgia recently voted out of office for “not being patriotic enough" (replacing him with draft dodger Saxby Chambliss), had three limbs blown off in Vietnam. John Kerry was decorated numerous times and was wounded three times in Vietnam. On the other hand, let's look at the Republicans (and Republican propagandists) who never served: Dick Cheney, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz and Perle (our two masterminds behind Iraq), Phil Gramm, Jack Kemp, virtue-meisters Bill Bennett and Ken Starr, Newt Gingrich, Denny Hastert, Tom Delay, Trent Lott, Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, and warmongers Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Tony Snow, Wolf Blitzer, and Brit Hume. (This last bunch should be especially ashamed of themselves, as they propagandized shamelessly for the spilling of American blood on foreign soil, something they themselves would never do). Sure, Rumsfeld and Powell served in the military, but other than them and Dubya (more on him below), it would seem that military service disqualifies someone for a leadership position in the Republican party. If Clinton is an odious draft dodger for taking a student deferment, how much more so is Dick Cheney, who took 4 student deferments, and finally a 5th because he was married? John McCain, that rare Republican who served in Vietnam, was tarred and smeared mercilessly by the Bushites in the primary season of the 2000 election, and the media stayed mum.

I find it fascinating that this lack of service is so common a feature at the top of the current Republican leadership. And yet, maybe it isn't so contradictory. After all, the current Republican leadership does seem hell bent to destroy the assets held in common in this country, giving them away to private interests. Perhaps it is natural that that philosophy would be advocated by people who would not donate their own time, energy, and possibly safety toward the common good. And yet, they don't hesitate to put other young people in harm's way. It's amazing that the media paints the current Republican leadership as the party of patriots, strong on national defense, and it is also amazing that the Democrats have let them get away with it. Why are the Democrats, so heavy with veterans, seemingly more reticent to send our military people into harm's way? It couldn't have anything to do with actually understanding the costs and dangers of service and combat, could it? I don't think that only people who have served can make combat decision wisely, but I do think that an awful lot of people who don't seem to show much regard for the lives of American servicemen are A) Republicans who have B) never served. Still, the military loves them. Fascinating.

Ok, so it isn't prior military service that evokes the military love for the current Republican leadership. That much is certain. Maybe the military shows loyalty and high regard to people who keep them safe, who only apply military force to situations where an attempt has been made to minimize loss of life, or to avoid military conflicts all together. This hypothesis is clearly a straw man, as it is untrue just by looking at the anecdotal evidence. The Reagan and Bush I administrations made liberal use of the military in the Middle East, in the Caribbean, in Central America, and in Africa. The Bush II administration has made it clear that it thinks the proper response to September 11th is an never-ending military campaign against all of our "enemies", which at one point or another seems to encompass the entire Muslim world, plus Germany, France, Canada, and Mexico. The Clinton administration, as a recent counter example, was very careful in its choice of the application of military force, and would seem to have also been very judicious in exposing members of the military to harm. It has been said that Clinton never sent anyone into a combat situation who didn't come back alive. I cannot verify this, but does anyone know what the US casualty numbers were for Kosavo, Bosnia, or the bombing campaign against Iraq? If they were not zero, they were certainly small.

Which brings up Somalia. There has been a lot of heavy lifting done in the media to place the Somalia ambush and debacle in Clinton's lap. But let's face some facts about Somalia. George H.W. Bush put troops into Somalia at around Christmas time 1991, about a month before Clinton took office, under the guise of a humanitarian mission. Clinton left Bush's commanders in charge, following their advice on military matters until Mogadishu, when he decided since there was a) no good reason to be in Somalia in the first place (except at the behest of US oil companies like Conoco, Amoco, Chevron, and Phillips, who wanted at Somalia's rich oil reserves and wanted Aidid out of the way) and b) US soldiers were dying, that he would end it. The movie Blackhawk Down apparently portrays Clinton as not caring at all about the military men stuck in Somalia. It is also a complete hatchet job on Clinton, brought to you by Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer. Far from not caring about our people enough to protect them, Clinton was the only one who was willing to pay the political price for pulling us out of there before it got really ugly. It is true that Clinton's Secretary of Defense Les Aspen and his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, (whom Clinton had left on in that role from Bush) did not send additional armor to the men in Somalia when it was requested. But Aspen and Powell were in the process of deciding to withdraw those troops. A congressional investigation into the matter drew mixed conclusions, but Clinton was never implicated in bad decision-making. Clinton did not send troops into Somalia, but he did get them out. So watching out for the life and limbs of people in the military does not win politicians friends. Only endangering military personnel will win military loyalty.

Maybe the military is attracted to people who do not cut deals with our military enemies? People who would never put profits ahead of our men- and women-in-arms' safety? Of course, this explanation doesn't work either, for our current Republican leadership is well known for profiting from people who shortly thereafter turn their weapons on American military personnel. Where to begin? How about with George H.W. Bush's father, Prescott Bush, who continued to trade and make profits from Nazi Germany for almost a year after America entered WWII, until his operation was stopped short by the Trading with the Enemy act in 1942 (see this for more details). Prescott's own son was soon to be shot down by Axis forces, but he couldn't see fit to stop making money with the Nazis? In more recent times, we can look to other US firms that made plenty of dough supplying arms to people who would use it against Americans. For example, there are the people who armed Noriega, the people who armed the Iranians (though the Iranians only used the weapons against our stated allies, the Iraqis), the people who armed the Iraqis, the people who armed the Contras (though, to be sure, the Contras only used their weapons against civilians, like a few American nuns, etc.), the people who armed the Taliban (and Al-Qaeda). In short, if we hadn't been fighting people who were armed to the profit of American corporations (and fighting them with weapons which also profited American corporations), we would have had very few people to fight with. Cheney's Halliburton, in particular, made lots of money in Iraq in the 90's, just shortly before he came to office and we started hearing about what a threat Saddam was. In the midst of all of this profitable, swirling activity of arming people and then having to take them out again, is Poppy Bush, the smiling mamba and prime mover in the Carlyle group. This most recent war in Iraq enriches the Carlyle group (and therefore Poppy Bush - and by extension Dubya, Frank Carlucci, former British PM John Major), Halliburton (and also Cheney), Bechtel (and therefore George Schultz and Casper Weinberger), Paladin capital group (and therefore James Woolsey), Trireme Partners (and therefore Richard Perle) - I could go on and on. War is a great money maker. (For more information, see this and this for starters). Isn't it wonderful that these guys can manage to save America from the imminent threat of Saddam's horrifying WEAPONS of MASS DESTRUCTION, and also at the same time get filthy rich in the process! What a neat-o trick. But if the armed forces have begun to feel like the puppets of American oil companies and defense contractors, they haven't complained about it. They sure do love their W! Clinton, of course, was never tied to war profiteering in any of his conflicts. That's why he's hated, I guess.

What about cutting veteran's benefits and military budgets? Here there might actually be something to the military's seeming dislike of Democrats. There was a spending bill prepared by the Republican House in 1995 that included some pretty major cuts in veterans' benefits, which Clinton did sign into law. Many people consider it to be a major mistake on his part. Surely Dubya, with this fervent love of all things military, has improved things for veterans and those in the armed forces (he did keep repeating "help is on the way" in the campaign). Alas, I find many articles online with titles like "Bush Cuts Veteran's Benefits by Billions", "How War Distracts from Outlandish Bush Policies", "Michaud, Allen protest cuts in veterans’ benefits", "At a time of war, how dare we reduce veterans' benefits?", and "As President Bush pours money into the military, he also reduces money to military veterans". All of this, of course, is to help fund the tax cuts Bush so desperately needs to get to his core constituency, the rich. Also this little gem: "Bush wants 175 million cut from military schools". So, you see, help is on the way, in the form of someone who will tell you how much he loves you, but will cut your benefits as well.

So, what kind of politician gives the military that warm fuzzy feeling they so evidently crave? Apparently, it is someone who A) never served in the military themselves B) enthusiastically puts them in harm's way C) profits enormously by selling weapons to the very people who are using them against our military D) profits enormously by selling weapons to our military and E) slashes veterans' benefits. To be fair, the above description only applies completely to Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, etc. Dubya himself served in the Texas Air National Guard for 4 of his 6 year commitment, and so doesn't fit all the criteria. Oh, also that person has to be a Republican, because no Democrat would have the rah-rah backing of the corporate-sponsored media. Now, looking at these criteria, you'd think that our military personnel were perhaps not acting (and voting) in their own best interests. Perhaps.

What we haven't addressed yet is bellicosity, which is the only criterion which I can think of which explains the (what I see as skewed) affection of the military for Bush. Bush wants to go to war - war wasn’t his last resort in Iraq, as he claimed - it was his only resort. Bush likes leadin’ the troops and killin’ our enemies. Bush sees nothing wrong with a state of perpetual war. Bush used his first state of the union address to call three other sovereign nations "evil". Bush called our military effort against a Muslim government a "crusade".

Our military is trained for combat situations. If they don't get to go to combat, I guess some of them feel disappointed. Combat makes them feel important, and more noble. It raises the level of their sacrifice. It brings their existence into sharp focus. It gives them the right to bitch at all those hippy peaceniks. Combat and war is an extremely validating experience for them, I guess, in their naiveté. They would rather be wounded and killed under Bush than come home alive under Clinton.

I'm not sure what to think about that conclusion. Can it possibly be true? Can anyone think of another reason why the military loves Bush?

It's not because of his sterling service record. We've been over this a few times, but it is worth repeating. During the Vietnam War, Bush chose to join the "champaign unit" of the Texas Air National Guard. There was a waiting list of about 100,000 others at the time for his slot. He scored a 25% on the pilot portion of the test, the lowest acceptable score. A family friend was asked to pull strings to get him in the unit, and get him in they did. He got a commission as a 2nd Lt., which usually required ROTC training which he didn't have. He was trained at enormous taxpayer expense. In 1970 he applied for a voluntary 3-month tour in Vietnam (the bravest thing he ever did, on paper), but was (shockingly) turned down. His flight activities fall off for the next two years. Finally, he is scheduled for a physical to maintain his flight clearance, shortly after the military institutes random drug testing. He never appears for that physical and loses his flight status. He appears to have lost all interest in the TANG after that, essentially just deserting his post during wartime, wandering off to another state to work on political campaigns. During his last two years of service, his flight status is never reinstated, and his expensive flight training is not available to a country at war.

Well, ok, that was 30 years ago, and the things that Bush did when he was young and foolish were young and foolish, so what is the problem? The problem is his latest stunt, the TopGun flight out to the Abraham Lincoln on a jet, wearing a military uniform. The jet wasn't needed, of course, because the carrier was very close to shore. The stunt was costly, of course, but that wasn't the problem with it. The military trappings, which made him look like some tin pot dictator in some banana republic, were not necessary (several people have reported flying in such planes without the jumpsuit costume our littlest dictator chose to wear). And he also delayed the service people from getting home to their families by a day (for some reason, the entirely made up story of Clinton causing a 4 hour delay at LAX for a haircut got more outraged air time, but we'll even give Dubya a pass on this one). The problem was, he was using the servicepeople, _our_ servicepeople, as the backdrop for an election campaign photo-op. We own that carrier, all of us, Protestants, Catholics, Pagans, Atheists, Wiccans, and Muslim Americans. Every person who protested Operation Deserter Storm owns a piece of that ship, and Dubya ("put another quarter in the horsey, Daddy") Bush thinks nothing of using it for a campaign photo-op. When we get to the 2004 election (Dubya's motto: "Elect Bush - Just This Once!" [thx to Barry Crimmins]) and we see pictures of this guy acting like the Republicans and Republicans alone own the military, I hope the Congress submits a bill for the show to Dubya's campaign. With this stunt, and by playing up his "flyboy" background, Karl Rove has opened Bush's record up for scrutiny, and I think we should scrute away. Because it is one thing to desert your National Guard post and shut up about it. It is an entirely different thing to desert your National Guard post and then play "war hero" at the taxpayers' expense. Who does this guy think he is?

For more on all of this, please see this excellent timeline of Bush's TANG career, this article, "Media AWOL in noting irony of Bush's flight", "Man on Horseback" by Paul Krugman,this, and AWOLBush.

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