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The Elephant in the Living Room

Readers who recall the 1968 Democratic National Convention may recall the police riot against protesters in the streets of Chicago; and earlier in the decade of the sixties, the tragedy of the Kennedy assassination; and later, the tragedy of the failure of the McCarthy presidential campaign; the tragedy of the King assassination; the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the horror of the Vietnam War. But not many recall with great accuracy or impression the defeat of Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s campaign against the Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Nixon triumphed under the banner of his great lie: his secret plan for peace in Southeast Asia.

Nixon’s win and secret plan for peace gave us a more inhumane war (Was a humane war really possible?) with a massive bombing campaign against civilian targets in Southeast Asia, vicious actions and words against protesters that led to the deaths and injuries of many students and anti-war protesters, a campaign of law and order that was famous for the COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) government-led (FBI) program to decimate the anti-war and black power movements. It was all a monumental horror!

I know because I was a war resister. There were tens of thousands like me who took risks to attempt to live in an imperfect world that reflected our imperfect ideals. Many took similar risks in other movements within the counterculture. Our efforts must have been effective because the culture wars are still being fought by the far right. Most of those on the left either dropped out long, long ago or lived lives within the system that goes on with such glaring imperfections that it sometimes feels that we are not grounded in reality.

Those who stayed with the left are like Alan Sillitoe’s character Smith in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959)We play the game to a point to survive and are appalled by what we see. There is the pull of wanting to say no to it all and just react to the ugliness that surrounds us and literally stop in our tracks. We often ask how a part of the electorate can support a politician like Ronald Reagan, who called for bloodletting as an answer to anti-war protests. We watched with horror as Bush II, et al, broke every premise of the concept of a just war, an idea in any case that went up in flames with the massive civilian deaths that were the hallmark of World War II.

And later, the growth of neoliberalism that is now well over three decades old. It is the slow erosion of the rights of workers, the livelihood of families, the egregious attacks against racial and religious groups and the celebration of great wealth and the unbridled power of great wealth. The party on and off Wall Street has decimated Main Street and those who have kept their eyes wide open often wonder if their protests amounted to much of anything.

But still we fight and go on! It’s in the nature of a long-distance runner, both the real and political and social kinds. The horror of a Trump presidency is a very real possibility. That’s how far the two corporate political parties have regressed. Attacks on fair housing, equal schooling, good nutrition, access to medical care, and the right and responsibility to forge a better world are where the right and neoliberals have left us sometimes speechless. Simple ideals like those of  FDR are decimated and it is nightmarish to think that as a nation the very real possibility of a neofascist in the presidency sickens beyond comprehension, but is indeed possible because so many of those ideals have been turned on their proverbial heads by the forces of hate and extreme wealth. They will even mortgage the future of their grandchildren and those whom they love for their short-term gain.

From the anti-war perspective from so long ago and the present, it was very, very disappointing to hear the complete lack of the issues of war and peace raised in Philadelphia, or the outrageous corporate profits made from war, or the unending cycle of violence that began with the U.S. support of religious fundamentalists in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was as if nearly half of the fiscal federal budget that goes toward present and past military spending does not exist in the real world. The War Resisters League pie chart for FY 2017 shows about 44% of the federal budget going to present and past military spending. I thought that perhaps Bernie Sanders would address those issues on Monday, but with an imperfect candidate like Hillary Clinton it might have been somewhat embarrassing to bring those issues to the podium of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

But Hillary Clinton alone can’t be blamed for over thirty-five years of state violence that has erased any meaningful debate about the issues of war and peace from the national agenda and individual conscience. Bernie’s speech was as if the specter of George Orwell was in the Wells Fargo arena. If the line is not toed accepting endless wars, then there will be hell to pay, but that’s already a reality all over the globe and on the streets of the United States. Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer Prize former reporter at the New York Times puts the reality of the total loss of electoral democracy in context in a debate on Democracy Nowwith Robert Reich, former President Bill Clinton’s secretary of labor, in “Who Should Bernie Voters Support Now? Robert Reich vs. Chris Hedges on Tackling the Neoliberal Order,” July 26, 2016). Kids in poor neighborhoods (those neighborhoods were never brought into either the 20th century or 21st century through social movements for change) still receive hideously inadequate educations, nutrition, medical care, and housing while the fat cats of the corporate “defense” and gun industry live like royalty. Guns will continue to proliferate on the streets of the U.S. and wars will continue to be endless and it will be as if late President Dwight Eisenhower never raised the issues about the danger of the growth of the military-industrial complex.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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