Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Harry Patch Was Right

“War is organized murder and nothing else." ~ Harry Patch, 1898 - 2009

I expect my cynicism as expressed in this post will turn some people off.

Oh, well.

I’m tired of scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed at any time of the day and night and seeing photos of American servicemen and women on airport tarmacs and in terminals greeting their spouses, lovers and children, meeting them for the first time, becoming reacquainted with dogs and cats, and otherwise resuming their place in the lives of those they left. If one more person tries to pressure me into “liking” these photos in gratitude for our soldiers’ willingness to sacrifice for my freedom, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.

I find it inaccurate to cast their experience in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere as an attempt to sacrifice for my “freedom.” Those who fought the Germans and Italians in World War I preserved my freedom. The Americans who fought the Germans, Italians and Japanese in World War II protected my freedom. (I guess a case can be made that the American Revolution was about my freedom, although I’m not sure if the British gave my ancestors any grief back in 1775.) But the interventions in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan had more to do with Communism, oil and politics than with making sure that I’ll always be free to do whatever I want whenever I want with whomever I want.

Speaking of that, conservative politicians kind of want to put the kibosh on that whole “I can do whatever I want” thing anyway, don’t they?

Don’t get me wrong. I respect those who’ve served in the armed forces. I respect their sacrifices and discomfort and the risks they’ve taken. I’m sorry that we’ve lost some of our soldiers on the battlefield and some after they’ve returned home. But every time I see a photo of an American G.I. kneeling to hug his or her beaming offspring, I think about all those who can’t hug their children anymore because of American foreign policy. I think of the Americans who will never experience a joyous homecoming with their sons and daughters and I think of the parents with brown skin – those who worship Allah instead of Christ – who don’t love their offspring any less but have had to bury them because of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, oil reserves or some agenda item discussed in Washington, D.C.

I also think, whenever I see one of those surprise homecomings – when the father shows up in his child’s classroom or appears during halftime at the Army-Navy football game – that the whole thing is trumped up and unnecessary. So many families suffer and sacrifice and do without for specious reasons that I find myself actually resenting the tugging of my heartstrings and the mawkish displays in front of audiences and news cameras.

(I’ve expressed this sentiment before. See “He Surprised My Achy Breaky Heart,” July 20, 2011.)

If these families feel better – if it helps them to go without and get through the day – by telling themselves that their loved ones are fighting for our freedoms rather than protecting our oil interests, I’m not inclined to burst their bubbles. But just between you and me, it’s sad that we force people to pull the wool over their own eyes when it doesn’t have to happen, isn’t it?

I recognize I'd have more credibility if I had actually served in uniform – if I had slept in barracks, cleaned latrines, fired an assault rifle, forced down MREs and watched friends who had become brothers die. If our borders were actually invaded, if enemy paratroopers descended upon our local high school football field and forced my neighbors to flee into the mountains a la “Red Dawn,” I’d like to think I’d fight for my family, my freedom, my country, my way of life. But the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld machinations don’t qualify as justification to shout, “Wolverines!” and take up arms against evildoers.

We spent $1.4 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A million civilians lost their lives. Thousands of Americans were killed or injured. And for what? What was the return on this investment? The costs, tangible and less so, of this criminal folly can never be recouped. (Click here to read, “One Million Civilians Dead, 37,000 American Soldiers Dead or Injured – And We’ve Learned Nothing from Iraq Debacle,” March 19, 2013.)

I surprised even myself when I wrote last month that I support more forceful U.S. support of the Syrian rebels in order to stop of the slaughter of innocent children 6,000 miles away. (See “Israel Helps Syrian Rebels: We Do Nothing,” May 6, 2013.) When I posted the piece in an anti-war Facebook group, a prominent and wise peace activist named Margaret Nielsen commented, “Share your concern for suffering people - but know that more guns and bombs will only worsen their suffering.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Click here to visit the “Jobs, Not Wars” website and obtain a petition urging politicians to “redirect our nation’s resources from war and uncontrolled Pentagon spending to fund social programs and public services, protect and improve Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, repair the social safety net, meet the challenge of climate change, and reduce poverty and inequality.”



  1. Utah Phillips speaks very eloquently about his experience as a Korean War soldier and a very valuable lesson he took from his experience: he will never (nor will I) allow someone else to determine for me who my "enemy" is. He goes on to say that to "support the troops" does in fact mean to consent to what they do, and that regardless of other people's opinions on patriotism, if I do not consent to what they do then I do not in fact support the troops. Call me what You will.

  2. Patrick - I just spent a week in Texas. Signs 'supporting our troops' everywhere. There are even signs that try to shame anyone who isn't overtly supportive. I have had many of the thoughts you just expressed so well. Carry on. You are a voice in the wilderness of misguided patriotism. Our government's continued military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan make a mockery of the lost and shattered lives of American servicemen and servicewomen and the countless unnecessary deaths of so many innocent men, women, and children. Shame on us as a Nation for our failure to hold our Government and the Pentagon accountable. Someday, somebody will.

  3. Harry Patch was "the Last Fighting Tommy" in the war to end all wars, and if anyone could talk about the horror of war it was a private in that horror where millions of Working class men from all countries were shovelled into a war about empires and powerful people playing their games of chess. Sound familiar? In England when they were enrolling men to fight, about a third of them were severely malnourished, especially from the North but no doubt from London slums and every other City, town and village. This was one of the richest and most powerful empires the world has ever seen and yet people everywhere were going seriously hungry and without real employment and then being asked to 'go and defend democracy', go and fight to defend the society that was keeping them poor and in pitiful slums and malnutrition in the first place. The kicker was that they introduced 'pals battalions' where men from the same villages would all join the same battalions and ... you can see where I am going with this hey? Often whole villages and areas had men wiped out, all friends. The Germans said quite succinctly of the British Tommy that 'they were lions led by donkeys' Can't see much has changed there then.