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Footprint of the American Chickenhawk--Your Congress  
Memorial Day, 2005

On this Memorial Day, I honor the veterans of my family--my father Hugh (U.S. Navy, Pacific Theater, World War II), my stepfather Jim (U.S. Navy, Pacific Theater, Korean War), my stepfather Bill (U.S. Air Force, Korea and Vietnam War), my uncle Wally (U.S. Army Air Force, European Theater, World War II), my uncle Jim (U.S. Army, World War II), my stepsister (U.S. Navy, 1970s), my first cousins Wally, Larry and Jim (U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, Vietnam Era), and my second cousins (U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army, active duty)--and all the veterans I have known as colleagues and friends--Denny, Scott, Don and dozens more, mostly Vietnam-era veterans.

If only those voting to send the volunteers of the U.S. Military to war had the same record of service. Back in the mid-60s, about two-thirds of the members of Congress had military service. Now the number is less than 30%, and most of those are ageing veterans in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Congresspeople with children in the military number a grand total of seven (out of 535 members). Young congresspeople with military service are rare as chicken's teeth.

Back in the Vietnam Era, supporters of the war derisively labeled the Peace Sign "the footprint of the American Chicken." Now the footprint of the American chickenhawk blankets the hallways of Congress.

Is anyone else appalled by the cheapness of their "patriotism", men and women alike? (Plenty of females serve in the Armed Forces, so being a woman is no excuse.) Most are Caucasian children of privilege who run straight to law school or lucrative careers which enable their jump to a political career. Once ensconced in power, they send the children of lesser mortals off to war with no understanding of the military or war.

Their lack of service can only be interpreted as a form of high hypocrisy. "Patriotism" for them is making a ton of money and assembling the network needed to grasp power, while "the dirty work" of actually serving in the nation's military is left to others less privileged, those whose patriotism gives the lie to those with no record of service other than to themselves and their careers.

To highlight the dangers of leaders with zero understanding of military matters, let me illustrate with an essay by James Fallows which ran in the Atlantic Monthly back in the 80s. Mr. Fallows--no doubt a fine person and a decent reporter--flayed the Air Force for wanting the costly F-15 fighter jet while the F-5--a cheap trainer-- was available for an eighth the cost.

By Fallows' bean-counter reckoning, one was as good as the other. I sent his essay to my stepfather Bill Ferguson, a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. He sent it back heavily notated, highlighting the mis-information (plenty) and all that was left out of the article, which turned out to be everything of importance.

The bottom line came to this: if you're the one flying the plane, wouldn't you want the best the nation has to offer, the one which gives you the best chance to get home? The Fallows crew would have happily sent guys off in inferior planes to die in order to save money. Having a loved one killed to save money is as stupid as seeing them killed for a political gesture; it's not a Red State or Blue State issue at all. It's called experience and expertise; know something about war before you assume the mantle of power to send someone else off to war.

The F-15 is an old aircraft now, but it's still doing duty, while the F-5 is forgotten: it was slower, less capable, with less range, no night-flying abilities, no electronic warfare, basically a stripped down plane for cannon-fodder warfare. Great if you're the pipe-smoking essayist, not so great if you're the pilot.

As for me (if you're wondering)--I was granted conscientious objector status at 19 in 1972, the year of the N.V.A.'s huge offensive in Vietnam, and of the Christmas bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. I was available for service as a CO if my lottery number had been called. I went to my pre-induction physical and received a 2-S classification, which basically meant "once we work through the 1-S guys, you're next." Even though I had a low number (49 as I recall, out of 365), I didn't get the call. I did not want to serve that war and was relieved I wasn't called up. I considered the war a misguided, ineptly conceived catastrophe for the U.S., Vietnam, the ideals of democracy (the South Vietnamese government was certainly one of the most corrupt and venal in world history) and for the people drafted to serve in an unwinnable (picture LBJ picking which bridge to hit each night and Nixon patting his "secret plan to end the war" in his coat pocket) war.

It takes courage to stand up for what you believe, as my friend Jeff Blair did, refusing to comply with Selective Service laws, and consequently standing trial in Federal Court. I did not have such courage, and so I went along with the system, just like all the guys who didn't believe in the war but got drafted. Most of the vets I knew who served in Vietnam were drafted; most just went because the alternatives were few and difficult (five years in Federal prison, for instance). Most didn't choose to go to war; they went because they had to.

The same is true of those serving in the Reserves now; they signed up, sure, but they're getting sent to Iraq because the current political leadership of our nation refuses to enlarge the standing Armed Forces, preferring to "do it on the cheap" by using Reserve forces as more or less permanent units in the regular Army. If there's a difference between the "cheap" liberals like Fallows and "cheap" conservatives like Mssrs. Bush, Rumsfeld, Congress, et.al., I fail to see it.

War on the cheap--just what you'd expect from the cheapest form of patriotism.

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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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