Don’t Thank Me for My Service

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Op-Ed By Rob Howard, a 14-year U.S. Navy Veteran
Veterans Day

Another opportunity for the Empire to beat its war drums and fly its battle flags and remind people of how noble and honorable it is to wage perpetual warfare upon people thousands of miles away who look and believe differently than we do.

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Another opportunity for the Empire to point to the oft-times heroic sacrifices made by previous generations to convince the next generation of teenagers that, what the hell, since the economy is a mess and good jobs are impossible to find anyway, you might as well come on down and help your friendly neighborhood military recruiter make his monthly quota by signing up to be cannon fodder for the next phase of World War Forever.

Another opportunity for  the politicians of the Empire to appear at military cemeteries and before veterans organizations and give speeches praising and thanking them for their service to their country…the same politicians that will then go and vote to cut veteran care services and to grant even more war powers to the President.  That is, after all, what the oil companies and military contractors are paying them for.

Another opportunity for the blind, gullible, obedient people of the Empire to spew forth their patriotic slogans and go up to veterans and say, in a robotic manner, “Thank you for your service to our country”.    These are the same people that will then go home and numb themselves with beer, sports and reality television so they don’t have to face the fact that they are slaves in a corrupt system.

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Over 6,800 US service members have died in the questionably legal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since September 11, 2001, with over 50,000 injured.  Over 220,000 civilians have been killed because of the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as drone strikes in nations such as Pakistan and Yemen, and millions more have been driven from their homes.

As for the veterans, who this holiday is allegedly meant to honor, disability claims continue to pour into the Veterans Administration, with 970,000 claims filed as of March 31st of this year.    Over 100,000 service members have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and another 250,000-plus have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).   One in four homeless people are veterans of the armed forces.  Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day.

So, yeah… let’s celebrate Veterans Day.  Let’s tune in to our favorite cable channels and watch a day filled with concerts of martial music and movies celebrating the American war-fighting capability.  Let’s go put little red, white and blue American flags made in China on the graves of our “honored” dead.  Let’s listen to the speeches from the Imperial politicians and the pundits glorifying the wars of the past and drawing parallels to the wars of the present and future.  Let’s continue perpetuating the lie that there is anything at all honorable about war so that we can continue to justify sending our brightest hope for tomorrow off to spill their blood on foreign shores in order to make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful.

I joined the United States Navy in the fall of 1982 because I was not ready to go to college, and after spending the summer after graduating high school looking, I couldn’t find any jobs I was interested in that would help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life and pay me enough to save to eventually go to college. I joined the Navy more or less out of desperation. I volunteered for submarines because I gave in to the ego-stroking of the recruiters who, upon looking at my ASVAB scores, told me I was among the top 10% of recruits. To this day I don’t know if that was true, or if they just identified me as being among the 10% of recruits gullible enough to buy that line and volunteer to serve on ships built to sink.

I served for almost 14 years, until I was diagnosed with a physical disability that rendered me no longer fit for active service. During the time I was in, I subscribed to all the patriotic bullshit I was fed…and since I enlisted while Ronald Reagan was president, there was quite a heaping helping of that bullshit! I believed that I was serving my fellow Americans. I believed that I was defending the Constitution and protecting freedom. I believed that if it wasn’t for me and my shipmates, and our fellow service members, that the Soviet Union would come marching onto our shores and make us part of their Evil Empire. I was so blinded by the false patriotism and sense of self-importance and phony American exceptionalism that I failed to see that WE ARE THE EVIL EMPIRE. In fact, it took me years after getting out before I was finally able to get the scales to drop from my eyes so I could see the truth.

President Dwight David Eisenhower, himself a decorated war hero, warned the American people in his farewell address in 1960 to beware the Military-Industrial Complex. We, the people, didn’t listen, of course, because Ike himself had fought in the “Big One” and we’d all seen the movies starring true “heroes” like John Wayne that told us war was a thing of honor. By that time, the Military-Industrial Complex had already started gearing up. It was the Military-Industrial Complex that called the shots for Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam. Jimmy Carter didn’t want to play their games, so the Military-Industrial Complex went and found a “B” movie actor who had stumbled and quipped his way into California state politics and backed his run for the presidency.

Ronald Reagan came onto the national scene and made speeches about “morning in America” and “the shining city on the hill”…phrases that meant absolutely nothing in the context he used them, but boy, they sounded good! I, like many others, got completely taken in by his optimism and his empty platitudes about the greatness of our nation. He was a good front man to divert the attention of the people and the press as the Military-Industrial Complex used their money and influence to turn our Constitutional republic into an Empire. And they’ve been running the show ever since.

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I used to idolize Ronald Reagan. I used to believe he was the greatest President in history. The story of my journey from rabid conservative Republican to where I am now would be a blog post unto itself, but suffice it to say that, while I was on active duty, and for several years after getting out, I had drunk so much of the Imperial kool-aid that I couldn’t see what was really happening. Unfortunately, too many Americans were in the same situation as I was…blinded by Reagan’s charisma and voodoo economics and “strong military for safety and freedom” rhetoric. By the time we realized that the corporations and billionaires were taking control of our government, they already had themselves entrenched. It’s always harder to remove the parasite than it is to prevent it…but it’s not impossible, as long as we work together. And that’s what the Empire doesn’t want.

I’m a veteran, and I don’t want your thanks. What I want is for you to join me in taking actions to bring down the Empire, in order to ensure that my children and grandchildren – and, by the way, YOUR children and grandchildren – won’t have to go thousands of miles away from home and kill innocent people, or be killed by those same people defending their homes, in an endless struggle for control of oil and other natural resources. What I want is for the people of this country to join me in getting our priorities in order – clean renewable energy; healthcare treated as a human right, not as a “product” to be sold on the free-market in accordance with the laws of supply and demand; action to reduce the effects of human civilization on climate change; ending poverty and hunger not just here in the United States, but worldwide.

These are the things we, as compassionate human beings, should be putting our focus on. Instead, we numb ourselves by putting our focus on how our fantasy football team is doing or which Real Housewife is sleeping with the husband of which other Real Housewife. We put our focus on whether the left wing of the Imperial political machine will get more votes in the next election, or whether the right wing will get more votes…completely and WILLFULLY ignoring that right and left are both parts of the same corrupt, diseased bird of prey! We put our focus on whether or not the minimum wage cashier at the big box store we shop at said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, because the myth that the United States is a Christian nation persists, courtesy of the cable news propaganda outlets, no matter how many times the myth is debunked. Division equals control. As long as the Empire can keep us divided against ourselves, it doesn’t have to worry about us uniting against it.

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I have a confession.  I have failed this nation.  So have my fellow veterans, and all of those currently serving in the military.  When I enlisted, I took the standard oath, swearing to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  Instead, I not only allowed the billionaires and corporations that wish to pervert the Constitution for their own ends, or to eliminate it completely, to march in and take control, I helped them do it.  I blindly believed what I was told.  I parroted the patriotic slogans I was taught.  I obediently voted in the way that the political machine instructed me to vote, helping to perpetuate the lie of the two party system.  I assisted the domestic enemies of truth and justice to insinuate themselves into the highest levels of government.

Then, finally, I woke up.  Now I’m ready to fulfill my oath of office.  Now I’m ready to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and especially domestic.  Not by violent action, because that’s playing their game, by their rules.  It’s time we gave peace a chance.

You want to do something on Veterans Day for me and my millions of fellow veterans?  Join me in waking up and taking action to end the insanity before another generation is sacrificed on the wheels of the war machine.  Let’s turn off the mainstream media political propaganda channels and open our eyes to see what is really going on.  Let’s stop supporting the two party political system, and instead seek alternative candidates who will actually act as representatives of We, the People.  Let’s speak up and speak out when we see injustice, and actively work to end suffering.  Let’s demand that the wars stop, and that our service members be brought home.  Then, let’s demand that a big chunk of the trillions of dollars that are being spent annually on the perpetual wars be instead used to take care of our veterans.  It was the actions of our government that took healthy, promising 18 to 29 year olds and sent them overseas to be broken.  The very least we can do as a society is endeavor to restore those veterans to wholeness or, failing that, take care of them for the rest of their lives in gratitude for what they gave, and in awareness of what we asked of them.

Empires are remembered primarily for the corruption that brought about their downfall.  Great, enlightened societies are remembered for the good they did and the change they brought about in the world.  It is time for the citizens of the United States, We the People, to decide how we want history to remember us.

Keep your thanks, I don’t want or need them.

This article was published on Theantimedia.org

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