Proud to Serve

Let me first say that I am an aspiring pacifist. I say "aspiring" because my goal is to rid my life of all violence and I'm not there yet. That violence can take many forms— some that others may not consider "violence", like assaulting my own body by ingesting unhealthy foods or not getting enough exercise. Emotional violence can take the form of greed or hatred, verbal violence the form of name calling, swearing or screaming in anger, mental violence the form of head games and self-belittlement, spiritual violence the form of condemnation for holding differing beliefs and of course physical violence. I can only control my own actions and hope it inspires others to do the same, much as Gandhi's non-violence inspired Martin Luther King. I do not condone war in any circumstance since I believe that all war could be avoided if we removed the injustices that often precede them.

Many, however, will say that sometimes you just have to fight and will point to Hitler or to a woman being raped as the perfect example. They will claim the right to defend themselves in their homes or places of employment. But what are they really defending? Are they defending material property that will break, wear out, become obsolete or outlive its usefulness? Are they defending their physical body (which is prone to disease and will eventually die) or their continued existence (which, in the cosmic scheme of things is but a blink of an eye even assuming creationism IS correct)? Or are they protecting that which is eternal: their soul as expressed through their moral convictions. I choose to defend the latter. That said, let me continue.

In recent conversations, both online and off, the sentiment has been expressed by some current and/or former military personnel that those protesting the US occupation of Iraq only have the freedom to do so because of the service of those who joined the military and served their tours of duty. It's almost as if these soldiers somehow seem to think that the fact that they went through boot camp makes them better citizens or means they understand the complexities of the world better than those who remain forever civilians. The most arrogant of them seem to believe that I should thank them profusely and defer to their obviously greater knowledge and experience. (I wonder if this is part of the indoctrination process you go through in boot camp, which to my way of thinking is psychologically damaging to most inductees. But that's another story.)

The first US militias were called up during the civil unrest of the early 1770s. There is no denying that this nation was founded in bloodshed, although we did try to break away peacefully by using our words but King George didn't seem much impressed with the Declaration of Independence. (Yes, I realize that by the time the Declaration was issued, violence had already erupted, but it wasn't yet full scale war.) The ideals upon which this nation were founded are the same ideals that form the foundations of my own moral convictions: that everyone has the right to live their life as they see fit and that the job of any government is to protect that right for every single individual. I don't believe it is an accident that the Declaration of Independence begins "When in the course of human events..." and continues later with "...that all men are created equal." These statements apply to every human being throughout the world and I truly believe that it is the duty of the US government to respect the right of every citizen of this earth to live his or her life as s/he sees fit. But that doesn't mean I also believe that the US government has the right to create laws that govern citizens of other nations. Imagine the US government as a parent of a child. The parent must respect the rights of every child the parent encounters, but that doesn't mean the parent is entitled to make rules that govern the behavior of children of other parents. But the parent can set up safeguards to protect their child from other children. Our government has done this by creating the US military.

The attitude of the US commander is chief since 9/11/2001 has been that the US is blameless for what happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. True, no one in the US is responsible for the actions of those who chose to use those planes as weapons. But to suggest that the US is an "innocent victim" is no different than suggesting that a playground bully who finally gets beat up by one of the much smaller kids is an innocent victim. Most students in the US learn the sanitized version of American history— the one in which the Americans are usually the good guys. We don't learn about how American imperialism has been protecting the rich in America since shortly after we won our independence. We don't learn about the institutionalized racism that's still so rampant in our society. How many of us have ever read anything written by Abraham Lincoln, viewed by most as the great emancipator of slaves, that is overtly racist? (These documents are far from rare.) As shocking as it may be, it wasn't until after 1940 that married women gained the legal right to own property or sign contracts in every state. It wasn't until 1968 in the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Loving v Virginia that blacks were given the legal right to marry the one they chose even if it was a white. That's less than 40 years ago! We don't learn about how the American economy has forged ahead by depleting the natural resources and destroying the ecology of third world nations. We're not told that the US, which is less than 5% of the world population, creates 25% of the world's pollution and uses a full 50% of the world's natural resources while controlling 59% of the world's wealth. We don't learn about how much we have destroyed other cultures simply because of our desire to feel "at home" even when we're in a foreign country. So we bring in our McDonald's and our Budwiesers and our football and our language and our religion. Sadly, this is a very one-sided exchange as witnessed by the lack of support for things like soccer and how few Americans know how to fluently speak anything but English or really know anything about any faith other than Christianity.

Many American readers will say something like "But we send the most money in aid every single year!". Let me just say, "You're right!". But (and you knew that was coming) this is only true when you compare total amounts of money. However, we also have a population second only to China and India. Yet when you compare the percentage of aid the US sends abroad, we are last among the 22 nations that are included in the studies. (Note: Clicking on the word "studies" will take you to the latest data available.) Denmark gave more than 9 times the aid (when measured as a percentage of GNI) that the US yet has a population that's only 1.85% of the US total— about the same population as the state of Wisconsin. Can you imagine the people of Wisconsin giving 486 times the aid to other countries than the entire US? What makes this even sadder is that so much of the aid that the US does send comes with strings attached (you can't promote or allow abortion, you can't do business with anyone who does, you can't have the money unless you don't teach about birth control) or with conditions that, in the end, benefit American business more than the country we're trying to help (ie, you can't have the money unless you let our companies put up business in your country with all kinds of special tax breaks and privileges.) Much of the money that comes from private sources has a religious string attached as well: you can get health care at our free clinics, but we expect you to come to a church service or let us come to your home and preach to you. (Would you refuse to do either if it meant your child could get medicine that cured them of malaria or provided them food on a daily basis?) I'm not denying the positive things that America does, but they in no way justify the negative things we've done and continue to do.

The bottom line is that American history is full of incidents when American foreign and/or business policy has forcibly imposed American standards on other nations— often by using the US military. Then to make matters even worse, when these other nations take their complaints to international courts of law, the US refuses to abide by the rulings of these bodies while expecting other nations to do so. The hypocrisy exhibited by the US government and the ignorance of the average US citizen as to the impact that American policies have on foreign nations have led to an attitude in the minds of many Americans that this country can do no wrong. This is the same attitude that your average playground bully has when he knocks down the little girl starting to climb the ladder of the slide so he can go up next. If you ask him why he did it, the bully will say, "Because she wouldn't get out of my way!" He will see nothing wrong with his behavior, anymore than the average American sees anything wrong with the actions of our nation, particularly those of George Bush. That's what gives us the audacity to ask for protection from criminal prosecution— and expect to get it!— just after the abuse at Abu Ghraib was revealed.

What America has become— as embodied by our government and our business corporations— is nothing like what I believe the founding fathers envisioned. And while US military personnel follow orders and continue to fight (and die) in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is another "war" going on among those of us who may have never served a single day in the military and who are still stateside with our families and friends, enjoying the freedom to go where we want (unless it happens to be anywhere near George Bush and you haven't signed a pledge of support.) This war is being fought to protect the US Constitution not only from the wrongs of the past (eg, Lawrence v Texas) but also from dismantling by the current administration (eg, the PATRIOT Act and fighting against the FMA). It is not a war fought with guns and there are no rules of engagement to follow— other than those laid down by the US Constitution. It is a war in which the individuals fighting it must not rely on blind obedience to a commanding officer but must often defy the orders of those in authority in order to effect changes that affect the lives of every citizen, not just the rich or corporations.

How many blacks felt safe sleeping in their beds at home during the 1940's when segregated units of black soldiers fought in WWII? How many felt safe when they returned home? It took this different kind of war to change that (which shouldn't be read as suggesting that discrimination and bigotry against blacks is no longer an issue.) How many gays feel safe today? Certainly not too many in the US military, where recently, a gay man was sentenced to ten years in prison for having consensual sex with other males under his command. Just this past month, someone spray-painted the word "fags" on the stop sign at the end of my street. It took the county more than three days to change the sign despite the fact that I personally witnessed at least six county employees sitting idly in/on their county road maintenance equipment for more than forty minutes less than one quarter mile from the offending sign. I wonder how long it would have taken to change had the "n" word been written on the sign. Because of the non-violent "war" that was waged here in the 60's (and by non-violent, I mean in terms of the "attackers" (ie, those seeking change)), it is no longer acceptable to allow that word to remain on display on public property. Yet the word "fag" is still acceptable in normal speech.

Freedom cannot be given— it must be earned. If it is given to those who are not mature enough to handle it, they end up hurting a whole lot of other people as well as themselves. (Picture a ten year old with the keys to the family car.) We in the US earned our freedom with the Revolutionary War. And we're still fighting to retain those freedoms: some with guns (by joining the military) and others with words and court cases. The latter often don't get paid for their service, but do it for the same reasons that others chose to serve in the military: Love of country and what it stands for. Or what it's supposed to ideally stand for. It's getting old being told that simply because a current/former member of the military took up arms and went overseas that s/he has more right to call him-/herself a citizen than I do or that s/he loves this country more than I do, especially since that same country still limits my free to exercise all the rights to which I'm entitled. I recognize the service that the members of the military have given this country in defense of the US Constitution. (I may fail to see how invading Iraq is in defense of the US Constitution or US citizens, but let's not go there right now.) But I also recognize the service of those of us who chose not to take up arms and instead conducted our battles in the courtrooms and living rooms and coffee shops and yes, even internet websites, of this great nation with the same goal in mind: to defend and protect the US Constitution from attack by enemies, both foreign and domestic. Especially when that enemy is the current president of the United States.

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