"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Let's examine the kind of patriotism we express

There is a fine line between patriotism and jingoism. Young men weren't eager to be drafted into military service during Viet Nam. Yet we were told we were fighting to stop "communist aggression." My generation didn't buy into the grandness of that pronouncement.
Objective journalists can now report, without meeting any objection, that the Viet Nam war was a mistake or that "we lost." Wolf Blitzer has said "we lost." Brian Williams, back in his NBC heyday, said Viet Nam was "a colossal mistake" by the U.S.
I remember being at our University of Minnesota-Morris P.E. Center for the welcome-back for the National Guardsmen who had gone to Iraq. I remember sitting there and wondering why no such event was held to honor Viet Nam troops coming back. The event came off as a glorious pep rally. I thought it was somewhat perverse that way. Military confrontation is nothing but grim. It is hell. Even when the cause is justified, it is hell.
And now we have Jeb Bush himself saying the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. It took him several days to concede that but he finally did.
Why does our nation have so much trouble mustering the self-discipline to resist an impulse toward military action? To be more blunt: why are we so naive in following jingoistic voices?
What if this nation hadn't been forced to build up its military for World War II? We associate good things with WWII: our triumph over evil, as the rhetoric goes. It's hard to comprehend the scale of conflict that engulfed much of the civilized world in the 1940s. There was a fundamental problem with humanity. General MacArthur understood this as he mapped out plans for Japan's reconstruction. What was his blueprint? It was primarily liberal politics: more power for women and a trade union movement.
The conflicts ever since WWII have seemed to present a devolution. None of the wars since could be called "the good war" as WWII came to be known. WWII is credited with establishing the great U.S. middle class - no small accomplishment. Look what the G.I. Bill did. We could have had something like that without the war, couldn't we? Maybe wars could be fought with rubber bullets.
WWII is credited with pulling the U.S. out of the Depression. It's scary if you buy that because any way you cut it, war is nothing but bad. We hear these inspiring speeches on occasions like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. I would describe such speeches as innocuous. I suppose there's no harm in hearing that "freedom isn't free" etc. If a soldier who was killed in WWII could return to us and give his perspective, he might not be so reverent about the war commitment.
The people who give these speeches were able to survive and they have reasonably good health today. They find they win respect just being known as veterans.
The flag at the focus of controversy in South Carolina was by definition a "battle flag." Let me tell you one thing about the Civil War: If you were to walk through a tent full of dying Civil War soldiers, many dying from "blood poisoning" (infection), you would never again even want to think about the Civil War. We achieve emotional distance as the years pass following a conflict. We begin to see movies about the conflict. Hollywood finally decided these movies had to includes greater historical accuracy (i.e. no sanitizing). You can't argue with that. I doubt that our appetite for WWII-based movies has increased.
I find many Republican politicians to be inconsistent in how they talk about the Confederate flag. At least early-on during this controversy, some prominent Republicans proclaimed "it's a state issue" and "let the South Carolina people decide." Of course, these guys are jockeying for votes in the South Carolina primary. However, back when George W. Bush commanded National Guard units of the various states to go over and join that hellish conflict in the Middle East, I didn't hear these same Republican politicians say "hey, let the states decide if they want to send their Guardsmen."
I remember being assigned to try to get a good photo on the morning our Guardsmen left Morris for their tragic venture in the Middle East. I almost whiffed on that. Purely by luck, I got a photo pointing toward main street, of some pathetic soul in the foreground holding up a little American flag as a motor coach containing Guardsmen passed by. It was a quite decent photo. Howard Moser was in the car with me. We would have breakfast together.
I suppose you could characterize my attitudes about all this as "liberal." OK, that's what it is. Chris Hayes of MSNBC has been kindred with me. Hayes stepped over the edge 3-4 years ago with his comments on how the word "heroes" is thrown around too much in connection with fallen U.S. soldiers. Before spitting on me, keep in mind we had a close family friend, from Brainerd MN, who was a victim of friendly fire in Viet Nam. For years I only went on the rumor that he had been shot by someone he trusted. Finally, due to online research, I had it confirmed that it was "friendly fire."
And if you still insist on condemning me, I'll respond with a blog post about the phenomenon of "fragging" in the Viet Nam war. Just recently I saw a panelist on a C-Span channel saying the U.S. "had to get out of Viet Nam because we were killing our own colonels." I'll assert again: war is hell. When it's necessary, let's do it, but let's not go out of our way talking about the "heroism" of it all. Heroes exist as individuals and in specific cases, but the mass thrust of war is not to be confused with anything glorious. Those deceased troops from WWII wouldn't be impressed. They would like to have had grandchildren.
What Chris Hayes said: "I feel uncomfortable with the word 'hero' because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war."
We never seem to learn about war. Ever since WWII, our ventures get us bogged down and depressed. Every now and then I'm asked to join in the Pledge of Allegiance. I do so half-heartedly.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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