Unexpected Allies, Unsung Heroes

Among the most eloquent voices at the Augusta, Maine peace rally I attended October 26th was Dud Hendrick, board member of the Maine Chapter of Veterans for Peace and a Vietnam vet. His staccato litany of the myriad abuses of international trust that the Bush cabal has perpetrated in just twenty-one months brought a spontaneous roar from the crowd. His description of his own coming-to-terms with what he saw and participated in as a sailor in Vietnam was equally inspiring. He should be running for office.

Many other veterans attended the event. I spoke with several and noticed others in the march and at the rally; in the rain-drenched shadow of the State Capitol Dome (picture 3,000 protesters of all persuasions, gathered in a downpour, determined and attentive), a couple of elderly gentlemen held up a large Veterans for Peace banner. They looked like they could be retired accountants, or school principals…likely WWII vets.

When we think about protesters who are veterans, the stereotype of the Vietnam era–unruly hair, screaming at the barricades with an Apocalypse Now-look in his eye–is often the image that we reflexively conjure in our minds. Well, folks, it’s time to toss that one out. If you want to get a good handle on the Armed Services member (retired or active)–or Defense Department employee–who is fed up with the Powers That Be and who isn’t ashamed to make his or her feelings public, you best go read (are you sitting down?) Stars and Stripes! That’s right, the official journal of the United States Armed Services.

Since this Spring, their letters-to-the-editor feature has become so jammed with anti-Bush epistles that a few days ago a frantic “W” fan felt compelled to post the following (in the October 28th edition): “…’Stop the madness.’ I’m extremely weary of the tired and ill-conceived arguments made against President Bush and his administration in the letters to the editor. Nearly every day I read a letter or two that critiques and demonizes the president because of erroneous information accepted as fact.” What is the “erroneous information” that this writer is referring to? Well, the list is pretty daunting. Click on this link, www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=125&article=11241 and http://www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=125&article=11366 to read the last two weeks’ offerings (or click on the “letters” feature at www.estripes.com and look at any recent week’s batch of letters).

Some pretty strong stuff, no? The Bush-backers are definitely on the defensive. Some of the damning information presented there (error is in the eye of the beholder, as usual) may be news to even the faithful readers of this site. Intra-military disputes undoubtedly qualify for that distinction, and they comprise a category of hot campaign talking points for any Democrat with a military base in his or her district. A few of the more incendiary of these topics are:

outsourcing of base-support work to the cost-plus benefit of Cheney’s Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root–while sidelining service personnel who could do the job cheaper and with more dedication; Army Secretary Thomas “Enron” White’s proposal to greatly expand “unaccompanied tours”–meaning that spouses and children have to stay stateside–a hardship that European Army troops don’t have to endure currently (and a distinctly anti-“family-values” ploy); White House undermining of “concurrent receipt”, a move to deny retired disabled vets benefits for their service-related injuries…benefits which non-career vets already enjoy. This is in order to help pay for “more pressing needs,” like smart bombs, the occupation of conqured states, and pay raises for acitve troops (some of whom in turn will be injured in the next war and subsequently be denied their benefits…Joseph Heller would be proud); underfunded base daycare facilities, another “more pressing needs” casualty; underhanded, bureaucratic discouragement of the use of the VA health system, aimed at disadvantaged vets; and “stop/loss”, the practice of extending a soldier’s enlistment, involuntarily, beyond what he or she signed up for.

This last outrage, which is designed to save training money at the expense of experienced GIs, is no doubt being implemented in anticipation of a war on Iraq. To compound the outrage, re-enlistment bonuses have been slashed. In the letters found at the link above, there is one that eloquently covers this topic (and other subjects more familiar to readersof this site) , from a particularly brave individual, one Spc. Adam Redgrave, based in Kosovo. His bold missive, nothing short of a blazing excoriation of the President and his policies, is likely to get him into hot water at the very least–a good dressing-down and/or hazardous duty, for example–or at worst, he could be court-martialed for insubordination. He deserves our full support. Any readers out there who are military-connected in any way, or who have relatives who are, please consider writing a letter of support for this guy to the editor of Stars and Stripes.

Among the many other anti-Bush controversies covered in the Stripes forum: the “Chickenhawk” phenomenon; the folly of invading Iraq; even the “under God” controversy has had a good airing. And many are sticking their necks out. When one is immersed in a military environment, standing up openly and publicly for progressive ideals is about as far from comfortable as a foxhole is from a sofa. Among the many Stripes letter-writers who have abandoned their comfort zones are: a VFW post commander; DOD civilians; spouses of those on active duty; several other enlisted personnel; and even a few officers…unsung heroes, all.

This is all very heartening. While the mainstream media stateside continues to marginalize the burgeoning Peace/anti-Bush movement, this traditionally most conservative of publications has stepped in to partially fill the breach by allowing an unfettered exchange among its readers. More importantly, such an extreme level of distrust for the current administration, coming openly as it does from the ranks of its most steadfast constituency (remember that the Florida overseas ballots allegedly put Bush over the top in 2000), is a welcome harbinger of profound–and immanent–political change.

Maybe we are farther ahead in this fight than we give ourselves credit for. We should not let up now, not even a little bit.

BRUCE F. COLE is a carpenter, songwriter and political activist living in Maine. He can be reached at bccpcole@earthlink.net


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