I have to admit to having a bias against the American military. Not as individuals of course, but as an institution. I suppose this is a function of my political socialization as an adolescent, becoming politically aware as I did during the Reagan years when our military was used to promote a capitalist agenda in Latin America, by overthrowing their democratically elected governments and installing brutal dictators that would open their doors to multinational corporations who could then gain control of their natural resources. At least that was my interpretation of events at the time, and nothing I have learned since has changed my view.
I also remember distinctly the look in my grandmother’s eyes whenever there was a deployment of troops into a “dangerous” part of the world. Being a Republican who had voted for Reagan didn’t inoculate her from the omnipresent fear of loosing her baby boy who was serving in the Navy at the time. I’m sure the stark contrast between my uncle and my father made an impression on me as well. I remember hearing my father say that if his son, my brother, were to enlist in the military he would kidnap him by force if necessary and take him out of the country. That is a powerful image for a teenage girl who is feeling her political oats and tending the seeds of a political philosophy.
I must also admit that in addition to my biased against the military as an institution, I have a deep respect, admiration and a downright attraction to those who serve. Both of my grandfathers served, one in the Navy and one in the Army, and no one had more nurturing, loving, thoughtful and giving Papa’s than I did/do (one has passed away, the other is alive, well and thriving). These two men sacrificed for their country, and then turned around and continued to sacrifice for their families, teaching those around them the value of hard work, but more importantly the value of having a good time. In my experience, military folks could teach us all a few things about how to have fun. Maybe it’s simply that they understand in a way that the rest of us never will that when your life is on the line, who you are, what you have done and the memories you’ve left with those you love, in the end is all that really matters.
As an adult, I have few personal connections to our men and women in uniform, but the ones that I do have, have inspired me. I watched one of my dearest friends marry one of hers, a mere days before he was shipped off to Iraq. It was a wedding put together on the fly, but being there, you would never have known it. Strings were pulled and many people went out of their way to make it one of the most romantic, heartfelt and true weddings most of us had ever been a part of. It was an honest expression of optimism and love that brought out the best in everyone in attendance. And beyond that, it was a grand old time, like I said, those military folks know how to get down.
Liberals get a bad rap when it comes to supporting the troops, and in my opinion, it is downright unfair. We may not all tie yellow ribbons around our old oak trees, but we were the ones screaming the loudest about providing proper armor to our troops. It was on Air America Radio
and banner ads on liberal blogs where the plea for calling cards was made. It was Republican policies that forced injured veterans at Walter Reed to pay for their long distance calls to family and friends. My husband, an authority challenged musician, was so disgusted by this fact that he immediately contributed money we didn’t have and continued to rant about it for weeks on end to anyone who would listen (I still bring it up every now and then just to rile him up). Liberals arranged for donations of frequent flyer miles to military folks who were provided a ride home from Iraq to the States, but after that were left on their own. While it is true that Americans of all stripes, colors and political leanings headed the call and contributed more than could ever be used, it is liberals who consistently point out that it is a travesty these donations are necessary. Our troops deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and we owe them a ticket home and phone calls to family, these things should not be viewed as charity but as just compensation for their heroic service. It is Democrats, who continuously scream the loudest for raising military pay and it is liberals who contend it is a disgrace for military families to be living in poverty while their loved ones are serving our country. In my estimation, liberals support the troops and conservatives support the military industrial complex. A yellow ribbon on a truck doesn’t mitigate that.
For my part I am coming to terms with my prejudices. I still think that I would be devastated if my son joined the military, but that is because of the fear that would color my every day life and not because I don’t see the value in that choice. In fact it is hard to look at him now and not believe I would be proud, and for me, this is a huge step forward. I am beginning to understand the importance of diversity within the ranks of our armed forces. My friend’s husband is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, progressive thinking men I have ever met and our country is better off because he, and others like him, chooses to serve. The liberal point of view is currently present within the rank and file, but imagine what it would be like if they were not a minority. Perhaps if we liberals joined up, there would be a greater outcry from within when our troops are made scapegoats for civilian decisions. We all know that Abu Ghraib was not the result of a few bad apples, it was policy set by those not in uniform and how dare they turn around and paint our brave young men and women as monsters acting of their own accord? Donald Rumsfeld is more to blame for those disgraceful images than Lindy England and I dare anyone to say otherwise.
As we head into Christmas, my thoughts are with all of the young (and old) soldiers, sailors, marines, reservists, national guardsmen and those serving in the Air Force. I thank you for your service to our country and I try every day to truly appreciate what you have given up in order to do so. I mean no disrespect to you when I challenge the policies that sent you on your current mission and I hope you respect my patriotism, as I respect yours more than you will ever know. My right to speak out against our government and its policies in an attempt to make a more perfect union is only possible because you, and those before you, chose to do what you do. I promise to continue working on breaking down my prejudices or to at least better articulate the line I draw between the institution and those who belong to it. I just ask that you, in return, listen to what liberals say about our troops and more importantly, look at what we do. I think you will find that we support you in the ways that really matter and that the brush we are painted with by the conservative media, gives a distorted view of who we are and what we believe. Patriotism is love of one’s country and we all have an abundance of that, why else would we be fighting so hard to protect it?