In my profile I identify myself as "Father, husband, veteran." The order is intentional, and while I might debate within my own mind whether "father" should precede "husband," my veteran status (about which I retain pride) is a distant third. While third, it is not insignificant, because I enlisted coming out of a white, upper middle class, suburban upbringing. My friends entered Cornell, UVA, Perdue, Stanford, etc. I tried a year of college, decided I was not ready, and concluded the most productive thing I could do if not in college was to serve my country in Reagan's army. Thus, while my friends were preparing to become high-earning professionals and attending lectures by acclaimed professors, I was getting up at 0300, crawling around in the mud with a bunch of country boys, black kids from the inner cities and poor Puerto Ricans getting yelled at by battle-hardened, square-jawed drill sergeants with PTSD from Vietnam.
So much so in Reagan's army that after training, I ended up stationed in what was then West Germany as a satellite terminal operator in an "artillery" battery, where in the "artillery" were actually Pershing II nuclear missiles. Basically, I served at the literal tip of the Cold War spear.
Though my father had flown helicopters for the Marines at the tail end of the Korean War before leaving the Marines to live a life as an educator, none of my four other brothers chose to serve. None of my five sisters either (though that was less surprising in those days). But we were raised as "patriots." We lived in the DC area. I was intimately familiar with every monument to those who served, I watched in awe as the Marines displayed their rifle (with fixed bayonets) drill routine. Our family soberly witnessed ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown. Our family flag flew at every appropriate occasion and you'd better believe it NEVER touched the ground. Upon my 17th birthday, I was first in line when the Post Office opened to register for the Selective Service. That was the measure of my devotion to country as a patriot.
As a soldier in training I won an award for Soldier of the Month for my battalion -- not a minor feat. I was also a bit of an odd enlisted guy, as were the other members of my squad. You see each of us had been handpicked because we tested for extremely high IQs and had squeaky-clean backgrounds, so we were offered to leave our regular "MOS" (military occupational specialty") to receive months of additional advanced training for a more "responsible and important" position, one that required also a Top Secret Clearance. Not only that, but it required a special clearance level called "nuclear surety." Our new jobs? If the message came from the President to "send up the balloons," it would pass primary through our satellite equipment and it would be us who first received the order and would be required to pass it to the officer in charge whose job it would then be to execute the launch. So this was a serious job that none of us took lightly.
So we were a small band of bright, uber patriots. Even beyond that though, I was a bit atypical as an enlisted kid, even among my squad peers. I was interested in geopolitics and learning what shaped societal thought in different cultures. During early morning hours in the barracks on "CQ" duty (manning the phone and entrance to the barracks) when we were not on the "Rock" (where the nukes were housed), I was reading things like "A History of the Soviet Union," books about the GRU (10x bigger than the better known KGB) and had subscriptions to both Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy periodicals. My commander would sometimes pass by me late at night and ask, "What are you reading now ___?" I'd crisply answer and show him the book; he'd shake his head, amused by the oddity of an enlisted kid happily buried in intellectual content.
Father, husband,... veteran.
So now knowing my "patriot" street cred is real, the deliberate seriousness of my approach as a soldier, yet understanding I rank my status as a veteran a distant third to father and husband, you have some measure of the seriousness with which I must take my role as a dad. (And thank you for the patience -- if you are still with me.)
Join me on the other side and I'll try to explain why, despite the above, I am raising my children to feel free to emigrate from the U.S.A. to live their lives.
Fast forward some thirty years later. Am I still a patriot? I like to think so. I go through the motions. I dutifully install a mount everywhere I move so my flag still flies when it is supposed to. It still never touches the ground. My old dress green uniform still has its insignia and pins attached and it's lovingly wrapped, hanging in the hall closet. But, the uniform no longer fits, and not merely because I am both taller and wider. The fit is off because the country it represents has itself become misshaped and constricted. Somewhere along those years -- ironically starting with Reagan and my time in service -- the United States of America has been annexed by Big Company, Inc.
When I entered service, a CEO made some 35 times the wage of the average American worker, today the differential is exponential. The dominance of our society by big corporations is now brazenly out of the shadows, shameless and institutionalized by no less than the Supreme Court. Lobbyists have always influenced legislation, but now they literally draft the bills and THEN direct their servants of the State we pretend to call Congressmen and Senators of our states and federal government to introduce them as bills. The halls of Congress, Governors, agency and department heads are rife with former big company CEOs and executives. Watchdog groups, both liberal & conservative advocacy organizations build graphics of the incest -- the revolving doors of big companies and government leadership (see Monsanto or Goldman Sachs graphics). Our ex-presidents and fed chairs use their former positions as cash cows to reap 1/4 million dollars giving one hour "lectures" to bankers and masters of the universe. We exalt financial pirates to the point of fronting them as presidential candidates. Our DoJ says the big bankers are too powerful to prosecute, lest it destabilize the system.
But I'm old enough to remember some 800 convictions of bankers in the more tepid Savings & Loan crisis in the 1980s. Meanwhile, LIBOR is admittedly manipulated, commodities are hoarded and manipulated, "financial innovation" invents gimmicks to extract wealth from the People, mortgage fraud is standard operating procedure, yet no indictments ensure, much less convictions. Instead, the unspoken agreement between government and banks is that they'll get fined. Public shareholders absorb the burden; the executives walk and are feted at balls wherein their servants in government come, holding hat in hand. It's just a business calculation, and oh, here's a few million for your next campaign. "Corporations are people too, my friend" and "money is free speech." Here's a few million more of "free speech," we raped it from the little people. We looked down upon them and laughed with champagne glasses in hand while they protested in the streets and the boys in blue and riot black beat them black and blue.
Are you a big company in pursuit of profit? Right this way, Sir. Take that farmer's Right of Way, Sir -- so much the easier to route your pipeline. What, the ungrateful little fucker is resisting you, a multinational company based outside the U.S.? No problem, I'll condemn his property, or better yet, I'll tell the governor to decree it and force the little people to drain their life savings battling you in court.
Are you a big company needing to be cut some regulatory slack? Not a problem. The gov's your former CEO, he'll officially look the other way, choke inspectors from resources, and perform creative subterfuge so you can be freed from burdens like protecting the environment. It is all about freedom, after all. Oops, coal ash destroying waterways? Hey, it's a great way for Nestle and Coca-Cola to sell more bottled water. Oil spill? Same deal. Hell, we'll even close the airspace and let you command Coast Guard vessels to keep the pesky press out. Leak some nasty chemicals that no one knows what harm it may cause? But it has a pleasant licorice scent and you are FREE!!!...not to drink the water. Give it up for Christ, give water up for Lent. You can always buy bottled water (cha-ching again for Coke and Nestle). By the way, the Nestle CEO says clean water is not a human right anyway. Thirsty? I've not a tears-worth to shed for you worker bee bitches.
War on drugs? Prisons? Militarization of law enforcement? Drone killings? Healthcare? Food stamps? Bank regulation? NSA? Net Neutrality? What subject shall we rant about next; all are fodder and proof that in the United States of America today the GREATEST CRIME one can commit is to threaten the profits of big companies and the pockets of the rich. Why not just rename the country Koch and Sachs?
Too organize and complain is to find oneself at the wrong end of pepper spray, tasers and beanbag cannons, all being closely coordinated and orchestrated with the proven, explicit and intimate cooperation between big companies and the national "security" apparatus. Blow the whistle on any of this collusion between the State and Global, Inc.? Do it and you become an actual enemy of the state and by God no less than the President of the United States will force down the plane of a sovereign head of state if he thinks you might be absconding aboard.
And if this weren't lovely enough to attempt to fight, but much the nation has been quite literally brainwashed and rendered ignorant, whether in the pews of their "churches" or by much of the media. So bad is "FOX News" that the Canadian government forbade it receiving a license in Canada -- and that's a country that'll elect a person like Rob Ford mayor of its biggest city. Clearly they understand FOX is the bigger joke.
Even the hallowed "60 Minutes" has become a transparent sycophant to the State and power brokers. So rare is integrity within the press that it makes national news when a real journalist leaves his or her position to flee to alternative media, where the truth may yet find fertile ground, where the soil is pray not so toxic to common sense, decency and investigative reporting.
We have a cult wing of a major religion now in control of one of the two major parties, yet nary a soul in the press dare speak of it for fear of "Christian bashing," instead calling them conservatives (further contributing to the Orwellian fun house mirror mangling of language). We have actual candidates for positions in state or federal government openly advocating in writing and/or speeches for the death penalty for rebellious children, forced rape of women with medical devices, making "Christianity" an official religion, and who proudly scoff at evolution and science (the work of the Devil, you know). Whole state houses vote to allow guns in bars and classrooms (on the hips and in the purse of students even). We kill young black men because we are afraid and we walk free. We shoot 90 year old, near bedridden WWII vets because they brandishes scissors...or was it a bread knife? (They followed appropriate police procedure, or course.) As this all happens, we que sera sera and shrug it off as a nation.
One of our great political parties (and we only have 2) is now closer, literally, in ideology to the Taliban than to that of its fore bearer President Eisenhower.
We are a nation that's become 1/3 literally insane and 1/3 I-can't-be-bothered-ignorance-is-bliss, leaving the remaining informed 1/3 (I'd like to think folks like Daily Kos readers) in a near state of controlled panic or either terrified stasis.
And at this point in the Nation's history my children are crossing into young adulthood.
So what's a patriotic parent to do?
Here's what we have done. It was simple, but has taken commitment.
- Starting in kindergarten, we found a dual immersion public school program where our kids become bi-literate by the end of 5th grade. This is to enable them to function and navigate a large part of the rest of the world. My eldest is also taking Chinese now in middle school.
- We focused on teaching them respect for all people and awareness of the world around them.
- We have kept them away from organized religion, leaving them to learn about the topic intellectually first.
- We've consciously lived in communities that are diverse (even to the point of us being in the minority).
- We've openly discussed that there are many other nations as good and in many ways better than our country. We are not a GREAT or EXCEPTIONAL nation. (I categorically reject American Exceptionalism as a dangerous lie.)
- We've never been jingoistic about our nationality and while making clear being a citizen comes with responsibility, being a good global citizen if far more important.
This week my eldest turned 13. We took her to dinner and I revealed to her our master plan for them. That real freedom for them and their lives may mean moving to another country. I said it is noble to fight for justice, but there comes a point where the war is lost in some places and it is time to go where people are valued first. I don't begrudge a person who escapes from North Korea or a gay man who emigrates from Uganda instead of fighting for change back home.
Things are not that dire here, but things are also relative. What good are civil rights if you can't afford to feed your family or put a roof over their heads? What good is an education if it burdens you with debt for life? What good is social equality when economic inequality is so great and institutionalized that escaping a paycheck-to-paycheck existence becomes impossible? What good is any of it when the State will back a corporation over your rights essentially as policy?
Do I encourage them to stay for the sake of some imprinted hogwash notion of "patriotism," which today is meant to translate as fealty to the State? Do I urge them to become productive American citizens, all the while knowing a medical accident or crisis can send them into poverty (and in places like Florida, at the risk of being imprisoned for debt)? Do I advise them to stick around in a nation with a healthcare system fundamentally structured to consider a dying child a profit opportunity?
Do I guilt them that their home should be here to make it easier for me to see them or my future grandkids, even as I know my country claims it has the right to kill any one of us merely upon suspicion? Why should I pretend they have freedom of speech, when they do not really unless they are very rich? Oh sure, they have freedom to howl into the wind about injustice and march along carefully plotted routes within the lines laid out by cops dressed in battle gear, but society has no ears. We have ample freedom to hate though, and even the ACLU will be there to protect that right. To what end?
Why would I do that when there are numerous places in the world where they can live without fear of their government, without fear of economic ruin, with a true free press, and population that values science and the well being of their fellow human beings? Place where concepts of "sustainability" trump "growth" as measures of success.
Why when there are countries who say, "You know what, no! You cannot start a new Nazi party. You cannot protest 'God Hates Fags' at the funeral of dead soldiers or little kids from tornadoes. You cannot do those things or even advocate for them because they are toxic, the U.S. has is wrong and it has brought them nothing but grief and ignorance."
Why implore them to stay here, where even their leisure is corralled, while in places like Norway all open spaces are open to all, without restriction or fee except that you leave no trace. Why, while in places like Canada, no one owns the lands to the sea and all are free to pass, provided they respect the property.
Three of my children are girls. Why ask them to stay here when a big chunk of the nation thinks it has the right to shove a probe up their vagina by force of the State? Are you fucking kidding me!!!!
No, it's a big world out there. I will not teach my children that the country of their birth is worth their fighting for out of a vague notion of patriotism when there are others that may more eagerly embrace their talents and respect their lives. I will not bid them to stay when the hate here is so open and simmering, and has perhaps terminally infected our politics.
No, Carlin's words were never so right about the American Dream as they are today.
Run children. Run FOR your lives, for the sort of lives YOU choose to live. Come visit old dad over your (ample) holiday. Come for the 4th. I'll have the flag out.
3:08 PM PT: Thank you for placement into the Community rec'ed diaries. I'm honored. I'm not as strident in person as on the page ....except on this topic.