Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

I'm sure most everyone in the United States over the age of, perhaps, 10 or 12, has heard one or more rendition of this Grammy Hall of Fame, multiple award winning song penned by the great folk writer/singer, Pete Seeger in 1955. It has been recorded by so many people from the folk, rock, R&B, jazz, country and even classical genres that the artists read like a Who's Who of musicians from the past 50+ years. If you don't remember all the lyrics, you can look them up on the Web. You'll also find YouTube videos of some of the many people who performed the song including Pete Seeger, himself, and iconic folk groups of the late 50's and 60's like Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio and others. Ultimately, it was a folk song about politics and war. The war back in those times was the very unpopular Vietnam War.

The words of the song came to mind this morning as I was reading through some of the various blogs, news feeds and other online information sites I peruse fairly frequently. Of course, one of the main topics of discussion in so many of the feeds was about the U.S. taking military action in Syria. This has been very disturbing to me of late. It's not just about the most obvious, overt aspects of this action. It's also about the layers and layers of underlying aspects of it all.

Proud To Be An American

First, let me say that I'm proud to be an American. Not only am I proud of my American heritage, I also feel blessed and very lucky to have had the great fortune to have been born in this country. I do not disparage any other country or anyone else's national heritage. I hope you are and you should be as proud of your country and citizenship as I feel about mine. Pride in our country, our homeland is a reflection of all those who came before us and paved the path. Unfortunately, most of the paths, whether in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world have some very dark, even ugly, things that happened in history. A lot of people want to simply sweep these things under the carpet and make believe they never existed. In many cases, the history books are written to reflect only the "good and righteous," making out anyone who was against the "good and righteous" as the bad guy, the enemy. However, since we are not privy to the entire history, all the fact, the real motivations behind many unspoken things, we buy into it.

The U.S. and all of those Americans who have been paving this path since the Europeans came to the New World and settled it have not realistically left behind such a pristine "good and righteous" record. We have not always been the "Good Guys" in the white hats. To listen to many of our elected representatives talk, one could be led to believe we have a right to pontificate over the rest of the world, that our way is the "right way" and the "only way." Remember, I just started this by saying I'm proud to be an American and I am. However, I am definitely not proud of all of our history or our record, both domestically and internationally. We have no base for a "holier than thou" attitude.

War and Peace

I am a veteran of the U.S. military. I proudly served my country. I served my country during one of the numerous unpopular wars, the Vietnam War. I served during a period of time when serving our country wasn't necessarily voluntary. All of the young men of our country, by law, had to register with the Selective Service Commission, better known to those of us of the time as the "Draft Board." The Selective Service System actually dates back to 1917 and has been changed, revised, reformed rescinded, reinstated and continues today, however, there is no active conscription or draft, currently. The Draft Board selection of those to be drafted changed to a "lottery" system in November of 1969 and by 1973, as the Vietnam War was winding down, the draft was abandoned and an all volunteer military replaced it. But, while the "draft" was in force, a single letter from a young man's Draft Board could and, usually did, change his life forever. I was one of those who, in the spring of 1969 was the recipient of one of those letters. I, however, chose to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. Air Force for a term of four years and having some control over my destiny versus being conscripted for two years with little, if any, choice of how my life and person would be used by our government and military.

Much has changed since my days in the Air Force. Being a member of the U.S. Military back before the all volunteer military took full force was little more than "indentured servitude." My entry-level pay as an Airmen Basic (no stripes) was $115.20 per month or $1,382.40 per year. I had already completed a master's degree by the time I had to go into the military, but there were no officer openings for someone like me. They only wanted pilots and navigators, which I didn't qualify for. If I could have gone in as an O1 (2nd Lt.), my pay would have been a whopping $386.40 per month or $4,636.80 per year. When I left the Air Force in March of 1973 as a Staff Sergeant, I was earning $328.80 per month plus they gave me $47.88 for subsistence and $70.20 for housing each month (my one room apartment in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC cost me $134.00 per month). If you tally that up I had a total of $446.88 (before taxes) per month or $5,362.56 per year.

Since I was already trained and experienced, the Air Force didn't have to expend anytime or money to train me. To put these figures in better perspective, when I left Syracuse to enter the military I was earning $5,317.00 per year on a 20 hour per week 9-month contract as a "technical consultant" (I was teaching junior college students television and radio production). That would have been the equivalent to about $14,560.00 per year on a full-time 40-hour week, 52-week year, a very handsome annual income for that time for a 24 year old. So, you can see why I called military service "indentured servitude."

Compare that to the current military earnings (actually, 2011 was the latest year I could find) for the same enlisted grades and time in service that I was in 1969-73. A current Airmen Basic receives an initial pay of $1,357.20 per month (and all housing and subsistence is provided as it was for me). That equates to an annual starting salary of $18,446.40 including basic uniforms, health, housing and subsistence. On a 40 hour equivalent that's about $8.87 per hour, well over minimum wage and the Airman doesn't have any of the expenses to feed, house, clothe or pay for healthcare. At the other end of the spectrum, today's Staff Sergeant with over three years in service would be earning $2,337.90 per month, plus $325.04 per month for subsistence and $599.40 for a housing allowance. That is a total of $3,262.34 per month or $39,148.08 per year. And those figures are only for an unmarried individual. The allocation is higher if the enlisted member has one or more dependents. There are, of course, other perks including 30 days paid leave, medical care, the use of the Base (Post) Exchange and Commissary for buying civilian items, groceries, liquor, gasoline, on-base restaurants, etc. at deeply discounted rates compared to the civilian economy off base. There are also very attractive educational benefits available to active military members.

My point is not to disparage today's modern military member. I'm simply pointing out that today's military members are not subject to "indentured servitude." Yes! They are warriors, just as we were during the Vietnam era, the Korean War, World War II, World War I and before. But, today, being a member of the military allows for respect in the community as opposed to very frequently being treated as second or third class citizens during my time in the military.

Here's the thing. War is war! I don't care if it was during Vietnam, like my service or during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. War is still and always will be war. It is ugly! It changes people in many ways, often unspeakable. It causes people (in today's military, men and women alike) to do things they never would have dreamed of doing before being subjected to the horrors of war and never knowing what will happen to you or your buddies next. Today's military are fortunate to have much better and advanced training and techniques. They have superior weapons and equipment for the most part. But, that still doesn't keep them out of harm's way. Vietnam didn't have all of these advances and we ended up with about 60,000 deaths and a lot of physically and mentally wounded warriors. In 21st Century warfare we only realized about 6,717 deaths combined from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars over more than a decade. Although the numbers in the chart I referred to only indicated about 50,900 wounded, in reality the total number of wounded warriors, especially those suffering from traumatic brain injuries, numerous mental disorders and other hidden, long term injuries could number well into the hundreds of thousands. War is hell and it impacts many more people than those who actually carry the weapons and fight in combat zones. It tears families apart and changes every dream and hope for the future these families ever had.

Where Have All The Young Men (and Women) Gone, Gone to Soldiers Every One

So, why am I on this rant today? Hey! I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud that I shouldered the responsibility and served my country, despite the fact that I had other plans for my life. I'm proud of my comrades and their families who endured the various horrors, indignities, injustices, disrespect (during the Vietnam era) and I'm proud to stand among them. We are all part of what makes America great. No! Not the killing, the blanket bombing, the napalming, the hand-to-hand combat or any of that. It's knowing that we stand together, strong, to defend our homeland, our families and our American way of life.

Here's what really, really gets to me. It's some guy in Washington, DC who has never actually proven himself and yet, he can make decisions to put our lives and lifestyle and the American way of life on the line. He's a guy who did not particularly excel in college, few people even remember him, smoked dope and admits it, never did anything notable or was really even heard of before a run for the state government of, possibly the most corrupt state in the country, where he did nothing of note. Then made it to the Congress, where he again did nothing of note and never completed a full term in the Senate. He never served in the military. He didn't live in the U.S. for a number of his formative years. His campaigns (which are ever on going) are media blitzes. I called him a "Rock Star" back then and I don't see any change. His cronies are much like him, some of them having questionable histories. His ego precedes him. He doesn't have a clue what real Americans are all about or what's happening in their homes and hometowns. I could go on and on, but this same guy who was going to end the wars started by his predecessor didn't really wind them down until it was time for reelection. He takes credit for the few great things that have happened, even if he didn't initiate them and blames someone else or sets up a fall guy to take the hit if whatever he is doing backfires. And he is deciding to enter America, my, our country, in yet another war action we can't win.

America versus the American Government

Let me make this important distinction. The government of the United States is NOT America or the United States. WE, the people are America. We live, work, sweat and pay for this United States. The government is only some paid hands. In my book, they are overpaid, under worked, over privileged hands and have no authority other than that allowed them by US. We pay their salaries and finance their staffs and their free air travel and overseas trips (called fact finding missions - right). This guy occupying The People's House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his sidekick from Delaware who also gets free housing in an elite home at the people's expense DO NOT represent me. And apparently, from a variety of surveys and polls, they don't represent us either. We don't want, need and can't afford another war (supposedly limited action - right - more "Awe and Shock"). We're going to be paying for these last two wars for decades, especially for those wounded warriors who paid the price - FOR WHAT? We accomplished virtually nothing (as was true of Vietnam) for the decade of fighting two wars. We actually don't get that much of our oil from the Middle East any longer - and we already have resources on this continent to replace that Middle Eastern oil. Interestingly, we claim that we are doing this for Israel, yet, why is Israel one of the countries who is spying on us and who doesn't trust us nor we them? Why do we continue to give hard earned American dollars to these Middle Eastern regimes when nothing changes? They are big boys and girls. They should solve their own problems. We have too many problems that need solving in our own country the taxpayer money could be better spent on.

As I read this morning and the old Pete Seeger song passed through my mind, I thought, I don't want to fire hundreds of millions of dollars of missiles into Syria. It's not our problem. We've offered all kinds of help and they don't want anything except to kill one another. They've been doing this for over a millennium. Why do we think we'll change that? Let someone else handle the problem this time. The Russians got their pants beat in Afghanistan, but we smugly thought we were better than them. So, we got our pants beat in Afghanistan, too. Hey! But we finally got Osama bin Laden - IN PAKISTAN. We went to Afghanistan to get bin Laden, and blew over a decade, and a trillion plus dollars - and here was bin Laden, living comfortably in another country - probably laughing the entire time. Well, he got his, but totally at our huge expense.

The government is not us and it is not America. Our liberties and personal freedoms are being eroded from us little by little, day by day. It's an insidious disease, like a slow growing cancer. It happens so slowly that most people don't even realize what's happening . . . until it reaches Stage IV and it's too late to do anything about it. WE are America. The guy in the White House works for US, we don't work for him. The same holds true for the over cocky, over ego-driven, self-serving mental midgets on Capitol Hill and in the Supreme Court. But, believe me, the Rock Star is going to plunk those missiles in Syria and when the shit hits the fan, he's going to blame the mental midgets on Capitol Hill and come back on TV with another of his shit eating grins and pompous speeches.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone, Long Time Coming?

Sorry for my rant today. You know I don't like getting political and do my best to avoid it. But, It's time to start leading the world in positive ways like rebuilding our economy, strengthening our NATIONAL DEFENSE - which means making sure our borders are secure and we can fight off an enemy attacking us at home. We need to restore our freedoms and liberties and our American way of life. We need to get the police state back in check. We need to fix our schools and educate our future generations. We need to work at finding a REAL solution to escalating healthcare costs and not create a system that is already unfair and it's not even already fully implemented. There is so much to be done right here and we have to do it, but we can't if our own government is working against us and depleting our economy and resources. Then they are spewing out all kinds of divisive bullshit that pits us against one another rather than creates an environment of camaraderie, fellowship, neighborhood/community and cooperation so we can all enjoy our homeland and be proud to be Americans.

That's it! My rant! I'm going to crawl back in my hole and start working on more ideas about personal freedom and living free. 

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