Happy Memorial Day

Best wishes to all on this Memorial Day. It is a sobering holiday on the heels of our passing the 3000 death in Afghanistan alone. This week we also learned that half of our returning veterans are filing for disability. While some of us opposed these wars, we still are united as a country in our gratitude and respect for the men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way in foreign lands. The cost to these heroes and their families is a debt that we can never fully repay.

The last identified loss is Royal Welsh officer Capt Stephen Healey, 29, who was killed in Afghanistan. Captain Healey was a former Swansea City soccer player who once raised money for blind veterans by walking blindfolded from Chester to Llandudno. He sounds like a wonderful person and a natural leader. He was blown up by a bomb in Afghanistan after previously surviving an IED attack. After his soccer career, he joined the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers). He died leading a platoon on the tour in Helmand province. He leaves behind his father John, mother Kerry, brother Simon and girlfriend Thea. He is a credit to his country and his family.

For most of us, today is a time for family and friends. Unfortunately, our own plans for the holiday had to be set aside so that I could finish the briefs in the Sister Wives case — summary judgment motions are due on May 31st. However, we will be having a cook out in the backyard. To everyone on the blog, have a fun and safe holiday.

70 thoughts on “Happy Memorial Day”

  1. “The disparity between what we are told or what we believe about war and war itself is so vast that those who come back are often rendered speechless.” — Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class>/i>

    I had that problem for awhile after retuning from Vietnam to a country, the United States, that I hardly recognized. I could still speak, but none of my words meant anything to my countrymen and none of theirs meant anything to me. The noises sounded similar, but they did not refer to the same reality. With other veterans, I could speak freely and we could understand each other, even if we disagreed about some things.

    Reading the other day about the Obama administration boasting in the New York Times of the President’s “nominating process” for personally choosing which foreign male “militants” to kill because they have reached “military age” (16 to 35), reminded me of occasions when I would have watch duty in the communications bunker at Solid Anchor in 1971.

    An officer would randomly stick little pins in a large acetate map hanging on the wall: one that represented the defoliated jungle surrounding our remote ATSB by the side of a muddy river deep in the bowels of the Mekong Delta. Then an enlisted man would read off the co-ordinates of the pins sticking out of the map, after which another enlisted man would relay the co-ordinates to an artillery crew who would lob explosive ordinance out into the surrounding night, all on the theory that any Vietnamese peasant walking around out there deserved to die since our maps and words said the area contained nothing but Viet Cong. We called this randomly-shelled area a “free fire zone.”

    Sometimes the villagers from the surrounding area would bring themselves and/or their little kids to our base sick bay where our only doctor would remove shrapnel from their arms, legs, bellies, and faces. Some of the Vietnamese lived. Some died. The random shelling went on until we finally packed up and left.

    President Obama has become that officer at his map, only without having to expose himself to any of the return fire that the victims of our random shelling occasionally sent our way. We have a power drunk war-slut for a President and will have another one after November’s election. We just don’t know his name yet. For 2016, however, we already know hers.

  2. “One useful way I have found for judging whether I want to associate with someone or not is to ask myself the simple question of whether I would want to be in a difficult or dangerous situation with them .. To put it more simply, would I want to be in a foxhole with them.” — 1zb1

    I’ve got your “foxhole” right here …

    After three months of basic training (i.e., thought reform, or “brainwashing”), I studied for several more months as a Navy electrician’s mate. Then I spent a year on a ship cleaning toilets, swabbing decks, and painting bulkheads (walls). Then I attended Nuclear Power School for a year only to discover that the Navy did not have enough nuclear powered surface ships to accommodate us recent graduates. Not knowing what else to do with me, the Navy sent me to Defense Language School for eight months to learn Vietnamese (Southern Dialect). I also had to attend Counter Insurgency School for eleven weeks — which included three weeks of weapons training with sadistic Marine instructors at Camp Pendleton.

    Then I shipped out to South Vietnam with orders to “Vietnamize” the Vietnamese into fighting for their own detested government so that Americans wouldn’t have to do it for them. For my part, because of all my past training, this supposedly meant teaching Vietnamese naval personnel in how to install, maintain, and operate small-boat electrical systems composed of batteries, cables, switchboards, motors, and generators. Other than the cursory three weeks of weapons training, I had no experience whatsoever with foxholes or with whomever one might encounter in them. Nor did I expect to acquire such experience as part of my assigned duties.

    Nonetheless, when I got to Saigon in July of 1970, no one knew what to do with me. Consequently, I spent a month in a stinking transit barracks waiting for orders. Finally, I got sent up to the Vietnamese Naval Training Center at Cam Rahn Bay where I found no Vietnamese sailors to train. After several months of complete boredom, Admiral Zumwalt, the Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., The Deity) promulgated a fleet-wide order authorizing Navy personnel to grow beards and/or mustaches in order to improve their morale. Having nothing else to do, I grew a beard and mustache to improve my morale. My commanding officer did not like my morale and ordered me to shave it off. I respectfully declined. So he retaliated against me by transferring me to “Solid Anchor,” the most remote ATSB (Advanced Tactical Support Base) down in the bowels of the Mekong Delta — where I languished as base interpreter/translator for more than a year.

    Upon arrival at Solid Anchor towards the tail end of 1970, I received a “battle station” in case of an enemy attack, a tower at one corner of the base equipped with an M-60 light machine gun and a starlight scope for night vision. Sure enough, my hairy face and I hadn’t been at Solid Anchor for more than a few weeks before we came under “attack” one night. As far as I could tell, an “attack” meant some alarms going off and everybody running off to their assignments, which for my shipmate and I meant climbing up the tower ladder while trying — unsuccessfully — not to drop our helmets, flak jackets, and weapons on the guy climbing up below. Then came the long wait while nothing happened.

    For hours, we took turns peering through the starlight scope at nothing but green mush. Then our local Vietnamese marines — who manned a 50-calber heavy machine gun emplacement at the base of the tower — started firing off into the night and we could see the tracer rounds arching out into the emptiness. Not knowing what else to do, I aimed the M-60 in the same direction where I had seen the 50-caliber tracer rounds go. Then I pulled the trigger.

    The Vietnamese marines down below us immediately stopped firing. The phone rang on the inside wall of the tower. I picked it up and answered, “Hello?” A disembodied voice demanded to know: “What are you firing at?” I answered truthfully: “At whatever the Vietnamese down below me are firing at.” Silence. Then a soft “click” as the command center hung up on me. Nothing happened the rest of the night.

    I never got assigned to that tower again. Instead I wound up out on the boats tied up at pontoons in the middle of the river during subsequent attacks — manning a radio with the Vietnamese in case the enemy overran the base and someone had to call in air support from somewhere. (I had no idea how one actually did this) During a mortar attack one night I accidentally kicked my rifle into the river and never told anyone about it. Nobody asked. Nobody wanted me anywhere near a weapon. Not in a tower. Not on a boat. Not in a foxhole. Nowhere. I took it all as a sign and never touched a weapon again. It has worked out better for everyone this way.

    So feel free to inhabit whatever foxhole you want — alone. You wouldn’t want a hairy-faced Vietnamese-speaking nuclear-trained electrician for a companion. And I wouldn’t want you, either. I’ve seen too many gung-ho idiots get themselves and others killed because they thought they understood explosive ordnance when they didn’t. I always knew my limitations. Dirty Harry at least got that right.

  3. Which story do you believe? More info on the link.


    Current affairs magazine The Diplomat quoted Brigadier General Neil Tolley, commander of special forces in South Korea, as saying soldiers from the US and South Korea had been dropped across the border for “special reconnaissance” missions.

    But Colonel Jonathan Withington, public affairs officer for US Forces Korea, said some reporting of the conference had taken Tolley “completely out of context”.
    Would our military do something like this?
    If so, would there be a denial?
    Would the journalist make stuff up or misquote or take out of context?

    My answers are yes, yes, yes. but this time maybe yes, yes, no.

  4. 1zb1 1, May 28, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    One useful way I have found for judging whether I want to associate with someone or not is to ask myself the simple question of whether I would want to be in a difficult or dangerous situation with them .. To put it more simply, would I want to be in a foxhole with them … Time and time again when it comes to so many of the people here my answer is no. There are the exceptions but it does seem this is not a place I care to be or people I care to be with.

    If I needed any reminder of that, todays conversation did much to remove any doubt. Maybe when we stop thinking in terms of “Happy Memorial Day” I might feel different.
    The word “foxhole” is a propaganda word for “killing ditch.”

    It is a place created in the wake of failure, then glorified through propaganda as the place for the best people on Earth, at least in warmongering societies.

    1zb1 you have no choice about being in a dangerous place. The Earth is in a dangerous place, and will ultimately be vaporized if we all do not work together to build technology with which to find a new homeworld.

    Which is not the same as destroying this Earth through war lust, ecocide, and ignorance. A world ideology based on getting in killing ditches so as killing the most, destroy the most, poison the most, thereafter to come “home” to be called a hero by The Elite of Bullshitistan, is a heinous pursuit.

    The big problems that thinking and caring people concern themselves with can’t be won from within a killing ditch yelling and chanting with psycho buddies.

    Let’s work together to defeat a bigger problem, one that will save the human species from extinction.

    Not just the few who see themselves as exceptional.

  5. “War is something you know nothing about if you haven’t been there and something you want to forget if you have.” — 1zb1

    So if you want to have another war, you sell it to those who know nothing of war while encouraging those who do know to forget or remain silent. Ignorance and amnesia only make for more unnecessary wars. I don’t recommend either, and most certainly not both.

    The VFW and other war-agitating veterans groups certainly show no signs of wanting to forget war, which leads me to guess that most of them know nothing of war because they never experienced it and thus have nothing to forget. But more importantly, these REMFs have no tolerance whatsoever for any other veteran who does know about war and who has refused to forget or keep silent. Witness the Sewer Boat Sailors for Slander who successfully attacked and impugned the wartime service of John Kerry. Worse than not knowing or forgetting, these pusillanimous partisans of the Republican party chose to spread lies about what actually did happen in war. So you can add Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification — i.e., Weapons of Mass Disinformation — to ignorance and amnesia as the greatest causes of unnecessary war.

    Veterans who do know something about war have no duty, as such, to communicate that experience to others. Some veterans have written great war novels and histories, but they number in the very few. And it takes real courage to endure the lies and calumny that the war-lovers hurl at any veteran telling the truth. Still, those veterans who can communicate should certainly do so if they can manage to care enough for those who for the most part don’t want to hear about what they don’t want to know. It can get pretty depressing, certainly. Still, if experience of war and its waste compels one to speak out against war, then good for one and all who do.

    Learn. Never forget. And do not lie.

  6. It’s really hard to look at the pictures in the video. And I’ve looked at the pictures of those who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and always come away depressed. They’re KIDS. They should be living their lives.

    Michael, You’re right. Every mother and every father should be speaking up. I really don’t understand those who send their kids off the kill and be killed in some far off land. There would be far fewer wars if everyone refused to fight.

  7. Dredd,

    Thanks for the link to your blog and the youtube clip of Buffie St. Marie singing “Universal Soldier.” I remember it well.

    Along the same lines, I’ve been watching some youtube clips of Dr Robert J. Lifton discussing War and Political Violence — in six installments. I’ve got his first book on Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism and have ordered some others: most importantly for me, Home From The War, about his interviews with returning Vietnam Veterans. In one of his youtube lectures he mentions that the Veterans he interviewed named as their favorite song, “Feel like I’m fixin’ to die rag,” by Country Joe and the Fish. I think the performance comes from Woodstock. The size of the crowd certainly seems to indicate that. Anyway, I certainly loved the song and thought that it captured the sardonic attitude of those of us condemned to do what we did not wish to do but whose government had decreed that we do it anyway. I don’t know if I can successfully post the link here, but I’ll try:


    The song contains some very hard words — but true words — reflecting the generational split that the war opened between us and our WWII-generation parents:

    Come on mothers, throughout the land
    Pack your boy off to Vietnam
    Come on fathers, don’t hesitate
    Pack your boy off before it’s too late
    Be the first one on your block
    To have your boy come home in a box

    I loved and respected my parents utterly, and I never doubted that they loved and cherished me, as well. But we never could resolve our bitter differences over what the War on Vietnam meant to us personally and as very different generations. My mother would say things like: “Who will protect us from our enemies if you don’t?” Since I couldn’t vote or have any say in my own future, I would ask in return: “Who will protect me from my own government if you don’t?” Some things that I wanted to say, I could never bring myself to say, because however true, they would only have hurt my mother terribly and so I couldn’t bring myself to say: “You would rather take the side of this lying government against your own son.” Yes, she would and did. I loved her and forgave her, but I never forgot what my government did to drive an inexorable wedge between me and my own mother. Sons of bitches, every one of them. Damn their eyes.

  8. From The March of Folly, by Barbara Tuchman:

    Protest blazed after Kent State. Student strikes, marches, bonfires caught up the campuses. An angry crowd of close to 100,000 massed in the park across from the White House grounds, where a ring of sixty buses with police was drawn up like a wagon circle against the Indians. At the capital, Vietnam veterans staged a rally marked by each man tossing away his medals. At the State Department, 250 staff members signed a statement of objection to the extended war. All this was denounced as aiding the enemy by encouraging them to hold out, which was true, and as unpatriotic, which was also true, for the saddest consequence was a loss of a valuable feeling by the young, who laughed at patriotism.

    With all due respect to the late great historian, I take issue with two of the things she said. First, I wish she would have used the word “Vietnamese” instead of “enemy.” No Vietnamese ever did anything to harm my country and I never considered them my enemy, any more than I consider Iraqis or Afghans my enemy. My own government wished for me to consider these foreign people enemies, but since I considered my own government a pack of lying maniacs, I learned through bitter experience to disregard my government’s nakedly transparent official propaganda. Second, I consider the loss of “patriotism” a salutary, rather than a negative phenomenon for reasons that Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce explained in his Devil’s Dictionary as follows:

    “patriotism: combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his [or her] name.”

    “patriot: the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.”

    America’s War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) made a confirmed “ex-patriot” of me, and I have remained one for life. My government once considered me cheap rubbish good only for burning, but I survived the fire. My government’s “statesmen” tried to make me their dupe and tool, and though I could not resist becoming an obscure and disposable tool of empire, I never let nearly six years of penurious indentured servitude become my own state of mind. As I learned to repeat daily, beginning with military basic training; “They can tell me what to do, but they can’t tell me how to think about it.” Patriots, in my experience, let their government’s “statesmen” tell them not only what to do but how to think about their own subservience. Not for me.

    Unfortunately, “patriotism” has made something of a successful comeback since the disastrous War on Southeast Asia, and so we have predictably experienced ten years of War on the Muslims: i.e, Vietnam II and Vietnam III in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the wholesale repudiation of our own constitutional freedoms at home — lest the “enemy” overhear us saying free things to ourselves and the world. The dupes-and-tools “patriots” can blame their combustible-rubbish “patriotism” for all that. A healthy ex-patriotism would have served the American people — not to mention the world — much better.

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