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The 4th – Random Thoughts of an American Marxist

July 4, 2019

Sir, No Sir – a documentary of American patriots in the military opposed to the Vietnam War they were supposed to be fighting. Available on YouTube

July 4th…

However well it began, even at the outset, 1776, there were sizable “shortcomings” I suppose we call them, although the term hardly describes the reality – slavery, the ongoing genocide against Native Americans, the seizure not long after of the northern half of Mexico – to name some of the more obvious ones. It never did become “a more perfect union” and now, by the day, the country becomes “a more imperfect one”, one whose negative influences are felt worldwide. To mark the occasion of this country’s declaration of independence from Great Britain, our president, “the one and only” is organizing a right-wing militarist orgy in Washington DC, with moneys transferred from the Parks Service – public space that he is helping undermine if not destroy. I might watch the spectacle just to remind myself of what I am fighting against… with the time I have left to do so.

I had no intention of writing about July 4 when I woke up this morning.

But then on a hike – well more of an extended walk – with my daughters Abbie and Molly, five-week old grandson, Teddy, Molly and I somehow (but how?) got into a discussion about trauma. Mostly we were talking about people we know, family and friends, trying to deal with it with varying degrees of success and failure. The conversation somehow shifted to “collective trauma” – the kind that people who have experienced war know. Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria were touched up. Whole nations, millions of people living in trauma.

I kept thinking about it afterwards. And my thoughts went further back in time, to previous traumas, those within my lifetime, but especially to the Vietnam War, the time when I had to make a personal decision about war and “patriotism.” Then on social media, I read the comments of Claire Ryder, who wrote about “false patriotism” and her powerful distaste for war. I found her remarks quite moving (as usual).

My dear friend, Ed Wood, now 93 – or is it 94? – speaks frequently of the idea of “service to one’s country” – in many ways a lost virtue. I can’t say that I think about it much the way that he frames it – who can think of serving “this” – what the nation has become, nor did it begin with Donald Trump.

Yet the idea of “service to others” and by others I mean all living things – human or not, American or not. That is important… a commitment to what I can relate – that is how I think of July 4.

The notion of service – like so much else, sports (a long time ago), religion (especially the Christian – and Jewish – fundamentalist varieties), education in many ways, the cars we drive (SUVs, Hummers are little more than the civilian version of tanks) – all have become militarized. Add to that flags on virtually every street and it all comes together into that toxic mix called ‘patriotism”.

I have friends who, rather than accept being drafted to go to war to kill people in Vietnam, went to prison. I consider them great patriots. Others, to avoid the draft, went to Canada. Some went so far as to smash their knees with hammers to avoid going. I simply failed my physical because of a knee injury suffered playing sports (baseball, basketball) as a teenager. I don’t know if back then I would have had to courage it took to do prison time as several friends did, or had gone into the military and organize anti-war sentiment there from within. That is courage, that was patriotism.

Probably not, I would guess.

Although it wasn’t a subject that came up, for the past ten years or so, I have been asked repeatedly “Did you serve your country, and if so in which branch of the military?” The question is asked more often than not by friends and acquaintances of a conservative political bent. I answer unapologetically, “Yes, I served my country but not in the military, but in the Peace Corps, in Tunisia from 1966-1968.”

Having a choice between “joining” the military (meaning a letter from my draft board) or serving my nation in the Peace Corps in Tunisia, I chose the latter. Was much more satisfying helping build bridges rather than blowing them up. For as insipid as the Peace Corps could often be, to this day, I can think of nothing more valuable than for young Americans to get out of their bubbles and live, especially, in a Third World country for a few years. Still recommend it to one and all. Funny thing was, that my personal invitation to join the Peace Corps arrived on exactly the same day as my draft notice. It was the day I returned home from St. Lawrence University to the family abode in Jamaica, Queens, New York in late May, 1966. There they were – the two letters – on the kitchen table. I remember turning to my mother and asking “Mom, where’s Tunisia?”

But I wasn’t going to fight in that fucking war in which not just 55, 000 American died – a high percentage of them Brown, Black, Red “fellow Americans” – those who died overwhelming working class and poor, but, also, mostly unmentioned in the country that slaughtered them, something between 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 Vietnamese, and untold (I’ve never seen the numbers) of Laotians and Cambodians. We hear a great deal every July 4 about the 55,000 – there is also a memorial in Washington DC honoring them, a powerful emotional place of pilgrimage. Like many – perhaps most – people my age (74) I have friends and acquaintances who died in Vietnam, know others that five, ten, thirty years later committed suicide.

Then there were many others who were so traumatized by their war experience – like the brother of a dear friend that today lays dying of brain cancer – that they never really recovered. In Vietnam, there continue to be those dying of different forms of cancer from the defoliants, people scarred forever with white phosphorus, napalm burns…a whole nation – no a whole region of the world living in trauma, even now, 40, 50 years later.

Nor have any of the wars this country has fought in (or provoked), the governments it has worked to undermine or overthrow, been anything to be proud of. Just a bunch of stinking imperialist wars, nothing more, nothing less. Every single one of them. Not one of them that in any way helped preserve American freedoms, as we often hear. Pretty much every intervention “on the wrong side of history.” The idea that the military “our troops” were “there” (fill in the missing blank – Grenada, Panama, covert operations in Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile, Congo, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Palestine to name a few) to defend “our freedoms” is ludicrous.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    July 4, 2019 2:59 pm

    Excellent article Rob. I do not feel like the Lone Ranger when I read your stuff.

  2. China Smith permalink
    July 4, 2019 4:12 pm

    Awfully sad times. I feel more of humanity when I read your stuff, esp. what you wrote today. Thanks. Please continue. PS. Congratulations to mother and baby Teddy.

    • July 4, 2019 4:19 pm

      Hi China Smith… will extend congrats to mother and baby…warm greetings to you and “the baron”…I’m not saying “this too will pass” – because it won’t for quite a while.. So we do what we can, including giving hope to those that follow – bad as the situation is…

  3. Tom Moore permalink
    July 4, 2019 8:22 pm

    No, you are not alone! Thanks for putting fingers to keyboard!

    • July 4, 2019 8:26 pm

      I know I’m not alone Tom, but thanks anyway…it will take more than lone rangers, no?

  4. Sarge Cheever permalink
    July 5, 2019 1:39 pm

    When and how did you turn into such a good writer?  Kudos.  Sarge

  5. Tom Moore permalink
    July 5, 2019 6:57 pm

    next to last Paragraph— replace ‘phosphate’ with white phosphorous. Phosphate is a generally benign ion (PO4).


  6. David J. Nemeth permalink
    June 9, 2021 3:42 pm

    Ditto your sentiments!

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