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When James added his signature to the enlistment form, his Army recruiter leaned across the desk and shook his hand. He told him the decision he had made represented an honorable commitment to his country, and that he should wear the military uniform with pride and dignity.

Less than three months later, after having completed the rigorous training at "Ranger School," his commanding officer pulled him aside and informed him he had been selected to participate in a special ops program -- he was the most qualified candidate to accomplish the mission’s objectives.

The specialized training he received was short but intense, and before the month had ended, he was airdropped behind enemy lines, landing in the middle of a rice paddy, deep inside the jungles of Cambodia. His orders were to operate as a lone “wolf,” laying landmines along transportation routes that serviced the Ho Chi Minh Trail and to use his considerable military skills to identify and disrupt illegal sanctuaries.

Warning: This scene contains a graphic description of military death.

It was during a one-day mission to destroy a supply route that he chanced upon an American soldier suspended from a tall tree. The Viet Cong, who had hung him by his feet, had made a long incision across his back, pulling his intestines through the opening to inflict a slow and painful death.

The G.I. pleaded with James to kill him. He knew he was dying, and he told James a speedy death would be more merciful than a quick call for help. But James balked. How could he kill a fellow American? The two soldiers quarreled for a long time, but eventually the dying man triumphed by forcing James to acknowledge that a rescue operation would take longer to plan and implement than it would take for him to suffer an agonizing death.

When at last, the soldier screamed out in pain, James unholstered his pistol and put a bullet through his head.

He never knew the man’s name, but he never forgot his face. Even in his sleep.

James's assignment ended shortly after that.

A day after suffering a gunshot wound to his shoulder, he was ordered to return to the United States. It was only then, in the country where he had been born and raised that he sustained the most painful wound to be inflicted during his short stint in the military: he discovered the country that he had loved since birth had deserted him.

He did not recognize America. Attitudes had changed, and when his airplane touched down at Langley Air Force Base, he learned that two days earlier, four students had been killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State. He had come home to a deeply divided country during a time of great upheaval.

There were no parades. No one extended a hand of gratitude for his service.

Several days later, when he was discharged from the military and transported to DFW Airport, no one from the military was there to greet him; no one from the government felt it important enough to see that he received adequate treatment for the wounds he had suffered to his soul.

The message was clear: he was on his own.

It would take over twenty years before Congress would enact a comprehensive piece of legislation to treat the memories that haunted him.

But unfortunately, the help he needed came too late.

When he tried to resume civilian life, he found his mind didn’t function the same way it had before he had enlisted. He was restless, and he couldn’t concentrate. Each day — from the moment he woke up until the moment his mind succumbed to exhaustion — he was angry. He fought with his wife, who complained that his aloofness had created emotional distance that was too vast to bridge. She told him he had returned from the war a stranger, and most certainly, he was not the same man she had once loved. On one occasion, in the midst of a heated argument, she told him the military had shipped his body home, but they had forgotten to send his heart because it was still dying a slow death somewhere in the jungles of Cambodia.

When his twelve-year-old daughter experienced the first angst of puberty, he flew into a rage, ranting like a madman because he couldn’t understand her moodiness. After the argument ended, she locked the door to her bedroom and practiced guitar. It was an act of rebellion that he soon learned to hate.

A year later, no longer able to tolerate his abuse, his wife and daughter left him and moved away.

I became involved in this tragedy when James and his wife -- separately -- shared the details of his story. I was teaching their daughter at the time. I am only sharing it now because it is relevant (in a round about way) to what is happening in our nation's capitol. I believe it helps to expose the fallacy of the Republican meme that all government is evil, and that we are better off when it is kept out of our daily lives.

To put it in a proper context, consider this: the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 -- more popularly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights -- was one of the most successful government programs enacted in our nation’s history:

The gold standard of commitment to veterans was established in 1944 when Congress passed the G.I. Bill of Rights. The measure was an attempt to do right by the 16 million Americans under arms during the greatest war in history; it also was a key part of Roosevelt's plan to keep the economy from slipping back into depression once the stimulus of wartime spending ceased. The G.I. Bill put mustering-out money in the hands of soldiers and supplemented that with compensation until vets found jobs. The government also underwrote the biggest purchase most vets would ever make—a house. Three-and-a-half million vets benefited from mortgage assistance. In the late 1940s, the G.I. Bill financed nearly half the new houses built in the United States.

The bill's provisions for education payments meant that soldiers wouldn't flood the labor market. The government offered to pay tuition and fees and a monthly living stipend. Nearly 8 million G.I.s took advantage of the program. A few years after the war, G.I. Bill students occupied more than 40 percent of the seats in colleges, which welcomed the mature, motivated learners.

Many historians and economists consider the G.I. Bill the best investment the country ever made. The original bill and subsequent updates cost taxpayers $70 billion, but studies show that several times that amount was returned to the government in the form of higher taxes paid by G.I.s who would never have gone to college without government help. The economy surged, the middle class grew and millions of lives were enriched. (emphasis mine)

Unfortunately, veterans of the Vietnam War did not enjoy the same quality of benefits as their predecessors, and because our nation’s leaders were so incredibly myopic, the cost of treating their problems -- mental illness, homelessness, and poverty -- is still ongoing.

And herein lies the real fallacy of the Republican’s argument that big government is an obstacle to prosperity: FDR clearly demonstrated that expensive government programs implemented during hard times can stimulate the economy in a big way. (emphasis mine)

The real problem with government isn't the institution itself, nor is it the cost of some of its most expensive programs: it is the corruption and shortsightedness of its leaders.

The success of the G.I. Bill exonerated FDR. Many of his fiercest Republican critics accused him of driving the American economy over the cliff. They believed his decision to invest in building a strong American middle class would bankrupt our nation. Fortunately, FDR's vision paid off, and because he had the courage and determination to see the program enacted, our nation's citizens enjoyed a tremendous period of prosperity.

But that prosperity began to disappear when Ronald Reagan became president.

Why?

Because his policies favored only the wealthy. In an effort to please wealthy benefactors, he began dismantling programs that had been designed to guarantee the poorest people in our nation had access to the American Dream. By limiting opportunities for lower and middle class Americans, he reduced our national tax base, which in turn, contributed to the stagnation of our economy.

Our country desperately needs leaders who have the political vision and determination of FDR. The plan he created for recovery was successful because it treated every American with dignity and respect -- and that is the strength of the Democratic message. Unlike the Republicans, we value all human life.

Originally posted to praenomen on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 08:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Manifesto Initiative and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It Began to Disappear Earlier (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    praenomen, a gilas girl

    and we need to get into that after the election.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 08:58:15 PM PDT

  •  Very well done with the personal account (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    praenomen, Pandoras Box, mkor7

    interwoven into the historical and polical background.

    The tragedy today is that not only have we failed to reach our potential in humanitarianism, but we've been chipping away at it until we are on the verge of abandoning it altogether.  The truth of how bad the situation is today is that the MIC having expanded to include the media can advocate placing the obligations to and appreciation of our service members at the bottom of priorities with defense spending and there's no public outrage.

    Chief neoconservative/fundamentalist allied belief: All things are possible if only you lie.

    by blueoasis on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:13:18 PM PDT

  •  The GI Bill is what saved this country and made it (13+ / 0-)

    a powerhouse. THen the MIC who had become adddicted to government spending started devaluing the people who fight  the wars and began looking at them as most corporations look at thier employees... Disposable and worthy of no care either while in service or after. Slowly in the name of defense the Republicans have shifting government funding from soldiers to the manufacturers and NOW the fU**ing mercenaries who ge tpaid top dollar while soldiers couldn't even take a safe shower or have adequate armor.

    Your story made me cry. I am a vet married to a vet and he was in Vietnam, shot in a helicopter. He is one of the most caring compassionate and kind human being I have ever met... he saved me from my pain and I hope I saved him from his... I think so because we both are very happy. Not everyone I knew and cared for has been so lucky. I had friends in high school who served in Vietnam... one was shot down 4 times and when he came home he killed himself...  

    You are so right ... as a democrat every life, even that of someone who cannot see or hear or walk or talk or think as clearly or is not human has something to offer us all... It is only the selfish, the brutish, the lying Ahs determined to use the labor of others to take most of the pie that I can not bear. Most of our wars  while sold to Americans as necessary were really about wars for the wealthiest and thier corporations to gain resources or markets. Can we not learn?

    How can you tell when Rmoney is lying? His lips are moving. Fear is the Mind Killer

    by boophus on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:15:43 PM PDT

  •  Important to remember though (7+ / 0-)

    that the GI Bill only pertained to white GIs.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:28:00 PM PDT

  •  you're on your own (3+ / 0-)

    thank you for posting this note,
    i am transported back in time when i read this. i'm not sure if that's good or bad.   thanks for putting so much into words for all of us.
    dbs

  •  Thanks for this moving diary. Just recently (4+ / 0-)

    we saw the  disconnect between Washington politicians and our veterans when Congress voted against the veterans jobs bill. John McCain himself, a vet and former POW, did a 180 degree reversal and voted against it. It's sad to think that if this vote was not so close to a presidential election, it would have passed. Politics took precedence over morality. Too bad.

  •  best thing to do for veterans? stop creating them (1+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite
    Hidden by:
    Fiona West

    sadly, there was little honor, dignity or pride to be gained by volunteering to fight in Viet Nam, especially by 1969.  perhaps that realization is too much to expect from young men (and women) who are whipped into a jingoistic frenzy by our press and government.

    too bad our military isn't subject to truth in advertising requirements.

    armed forces recruiters, who presumably know better, are despicable pimps for the plutocrats getting rich off of the MIC.

    however, it's always useful to keep in mind that Viet Nam was started by Kennedy and perpetuated by LBJ, democrats both, so thanks for that.  And also for sharing this powerful first hand account that reminds us of the horrors of war.

    The Good Soldier

    Young men: The lowest aim in your life is to become a soldier. The good soldier never tries to distinguish right from wrong. He never thinks; never reasons; he only obeys. If he is ordered to fire on his fellow citizens, on his friends, on his neighbors, on his relatives, he obeys without hesitation. If he is ordered to fire down a crowded street when the poor are clamoring for bread, he obeys and sees the gray hairs of age stained with red and the life tide gushing from the breasts of women, feeling neither remorse nor sympathy. If he is ordered off as a firing squad to execute a hero or benefactor, he fires without hesitation, though he knows the bullet will pierce the noblest heart that ever beat in human breast.

        A good soldier is a blind, heartless, soulless, murderous machine. He is not a man. He is not a brute, for brutes only kill in self defense. All that is human in him, all that is divine in him, all that constitutes the man has been sworn away when he took the enlistment roll. His mind, his conscience, aye, his very soul, are in the keeping of his officer.

         No man can fall lower than the solder—it is a depth beneath which we cannot go. Keep the boys out of the army. It is hell.

         Down with the army and the navy. We don't need killing institutions. We need life-giving institutions.

    Another favorite, from Founding Father Elbridge Gerry;
    A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.

    Constitutional Convention (1787)

    No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

    by No Exit on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:20:15 AM PDT

    •  What on earth is that "Good Soldier" quote doing (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      praenomen, MKSinSA, Dbug, auron renouille

      on Daily Kos?

      No man can fall lower than the solder—it is a depth beneath which we cannot go.
      THere are a lot of vets and military family members here who are going to reject that kind of statement as false, extremely offensive, and stunningly clueless.  Beginning with me.
      A good soldier is a blind, heartless, soulless, murderous machine.  He is not a man.
      Really?  Is that what you think when you meet an Iraq war vet?  "Damn, look at that heartless soulless machine."  Is that what you think of Tammy Baldwin? Markos?  DOn't you have any Viet Nam war vets or World War II vets in your family?  Or are you just throwing out this kind of vile generalization without acknowledging that the quote is talking about actual human beings?

      There is a lot you could have said about the traumatic effects of war on both civilians and soldiers (becaused they are NOT soulless machines); or about the horrific number of unnecessesary wars being waged around the world, and the suffering they cause.  Lots you could have said.  But this kind of simplistic, arrogant moralism doesn't belong here.

      Hide rated.  

      --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

      by Fiona West on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 01:50:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes. I do have a Vietnam vet (0+ / 0-)

        In my family.  He was drafted and came home with a plate in his head and legally blind.  He will be the first to tell you he feels and felt no honor, dignity or pride in what he did.

        You don't seem to understand the role of a soldier.  The only way to end war is for people like kos and Baldwin to refuse to serve.  To recognize that military service by its very definition means you check your free will at the door, and, if you are going to be a "good" soldier you will do what your told, including kill who your told to kill.

        My father did a full twenty years for the money and benefits.  He rose high in the ranks, but he had no illusions he was anything more than a mercenary.  There's no honor in dealing or threatening death to others and certainly no existential threat to our way of life.

        America's military fetish is not only clueless and offensive it's down right harmful.  To our youth who buy into it and for the harm it inflicts globally.

        No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

        by No Exit on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 07:13:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Who wrote "The Good Soldier"? I agree (0+ / 0-)

          and would like to find more material by the author.

          "We're right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo! And somebody's giving booze to these goddamn things!"-Hunter S. Thompson ;-)>

          by rogerdaddy on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 07:40:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It was mentioned in a biography I read (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rogerdaddy

            Of jack London, the author of white fang and many other stories around the turn if the 20th century.  A self professed socialist, he was suspected of being its author when it was published in a periodical called the American Socialist shortly after the end of ww1.

            He didn't write it, but probably supported its sentiment as would most socialists and pacifists and others critical of war.

            Many people don't realize that there were many socialists in America before the McCarthy witch hunts.  It's worth noting they were so unpopular with the establishment because they're arguments and political activism impeded our capitalistic plutocrats.

            No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

            by No Exit on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 02:43:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  This is why we can't have nice things! (0+ / 0-)

          You're right, but how do we balance that with the immediate reality that we're not going to be able just to disband the armed forces immediately?  I thought the all-volunteer force was supposed to be a part of that, but now it seems you can't read a war thread without some DKOS commenter calling for a return to the draft (as if that'll ratchet down the cycle of militarism).

          FACT:  We have wars BECAUSE WE HAVE ARMIES.
          FACT:  We have armies because we have wars, which we have because other countries have armies.  What do you do?  What country is willing to risk going first?  (Or I should say second; Costa Rica has apparently gone first, with generally OK results.)

          We can't have nothing; we have to have something.  Therefore, it can't necessarily be wrong to be part of it.  What do we do in the face of that?

          The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

          by Panurge on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 08:58:09 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I disagree. (0+ / 0-)

            I support going to an all draft army.

            I support massive cuts to our military spending.

            I support having a dialogue about exactly what our military is up to.  Hint it's not keeping us safe.

            I support questioning America's military fetish and the notion that killing strangers half way around the world is somehow honorable or worthy of support.

            I reject the notion that some one who volunteers to "serve" in the military in the absence of an existential threat to our way of life is somehow deserving of respect either because they bought a load of crap spewed or simply want to indulge their youthful urge to engage in combat.

            No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

            by No Exit on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 07:44:43 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, which do you want? (0+ / 0-)

              Do you want massive military cutbacks OR do you want a conscript military?  Are you talking about universal service?  I fail to see how sending EVERYBODY (women, too?) to Soldier School will make for a less warlike society.  I don't know if it's a coincidence, but ISTM our most warlike period coincided with our having a peacetime draft.

              If you support an "all-draft army", then you're admitting that we have to have something.  If you don't disagree with that, and you obviously don't disagree with the idea that we have wars because we have armies, what exactly do you disagree with?

              The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

              by Panurge on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 07:09:07 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Since I see no need for an army at this time (0+ / 0-)

                Saying I think we should go to an all draft army means I don't think anyone should be serving now and we should just wind the whole thing down.  

                That's the starting position.  

                We can debate whether mandatory service is needed to fulfill our current needs.  I don't think so, but we can talk about it.

                If we must have some people, which I personally disagree with, it should be some sort of draft or mandatory service.  No reason to rely on the poor, desperate or insane to volunteer.

                No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

                by No Exit on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 08:48:09 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  What I am suggesting is not mutually exclusive (0+ / 0-)

                No System of Justice Can Rise Above the Ethics of Those Who Administer It. (Wickersham Commission 1929)

                by No Exit on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 08:48:52 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

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