The General with the Mercedes Medal

Photo by Doruk Bayram

A few years after the Vietnam War, a war in which I, along with a few million others, were war resisters, a relative drew a caricature of a general adorned with medals, one of which was a baby dripping with blood and hanging from a ribbon on his chest. The artist screwed up a bit and also hung a ribbon around the general’s neck that mistakenly depicted a Mercedes symbol rather than a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) peace symbol. The artist may have thought of the My Lai massacre in the drawing, as that was the most publicized massacre of scores of massacres in Southeast Asia and particularly in Vietnam. Cambodia would soon outpace Vietnam in mass murder as the Khmer Rouge took control of the nation. While most would have picked up the error, a Mercedes represents the kind of ostentatious consumerism that most in the peace movement, at least in the late 1960s and early 1970s, would have immediately noticed. Once a person knows how to pay attention critically, then all kinds of hypocrisy becomes apparent. We now live in a society where all kinds of hypocrisy and mayhem are not universally apparent, but adored.

Art aside, the following comment I made in response to a New York Times article reporting that the US had warmed to providing more arms to Ukraine (“U.S. Warms to Helping Ukraine Target Crimea,” January 18, 2023) for use in the Crimea was removed from the Times comments about that article. “Just about now the US needs to be promoting an off ramp from this awful war, not fanning the flames of more war.”

Now Germany is pushed to provide tanks to Ukraine. Diplomacy falls again to the militarists and the “masters of war.”

Before my comment to this article disappeared, I wrote a rejoinder to a response to the original comment. The commentator wrote an anti-Putin diatribe that was very typical of the nearly 1,000 comments about the original piece. The expression of warmongering accompanying the Times article was not surprising. Those in the US are taught how to be tame and get along by going along and that sameness of opinion and inaction has long been apparent by the vast majority of support for the Ukraine war and arming the Ukraine with US munitions. Anything other than the party line is sent out into the desert like the Biblical scapegoat, which may be a particularly excellent metaphor because it was the sins of the community being disposed of through the symbol of the scapegoat. It was a kind of ancient expiation.

US support of Ukraine is normalized. That Germany is pushed to provide tanks to Ukraine is not surprising. Alternative media is the only source of different views on Ukraine and the censorship mechanisms of the Internet have largely drowned them out. There is negligible criticism by the mass media of the billions of dollars that have been sent to Ukraine for war. With the US facing its debt limit at this writing, it is forbidden to ask the question of why so much money goes to armaments and the preparations for war. To ask that question puts a person subject to an inquisition and earning the same fate as a scapegoat or nonbeliever. Attempt to raise the threat of nuclear war arising from the Ukraine war and that will lead to a cul-de-sac of attacks, often vicious.

The Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute accurately notes the trillions, $8 trillion from FY 2001-FY2022, dollars thrown at the endless wars in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, among only a few of the other endless wars the US fights, sometimes surreptitiously through spy agencies like the CIA. Billions more have been spent so far on the debacle in Ukraine, a preemptive and illegal war by Russia that the US and its NATO allies have been encouraging for years. This is indeed good news for the military-industrial-investment complex.

Power trained those in the US much like Pavlov’s dogs or Skinner’s subjects and it doesn’t matter which form of conditioning is used as long as the method works. Shock the hell out of ordinary people with a government that provides comparatively little for the general welfare and the furor for war grows and grows. Human needs could easily be met here with reduced military spending. Chris Hedges writes eloquently about this phenomenon in War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, 2002.

A six year old shoots his teacher in a school in Virginia and the thoughts and prayers cry is raised. People don’t want teachers shot, but nothing is done on a national level. Violence and war have become so normalized in the US that school shootings and wars and the preparations for war keep happening.

War is like hemlock was to Socrates. But if those left standing oppose war, particularly the war in Ukraine, we earn the slander and libel of “Putin apologists.” The latter is great news for the war industry and the military. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, among many others, are in a celebratory mood. This is a boon and a    billion dollar profit industry and the slander and libel coming from those who are the gatekeepers of what passes for the acceptable call the tune. That there is not a single antiwar voice in major media outlets is the exact opposite of the Vietnam War era when the three major TV channels brought that war home each evening and sickened many in the US.

The US Congress, in which a call for diplomacy in October 2022 was rescinded one day later, indicates where official and mild criticism of the Biden administration leads.

I received an email from a group in Massachusetts that calls itself Left Field. The email wanted to know which issues the recipients of the email were interested in furthering for Democratic Party causes. One item on the checklist of interests was “Support for Ukraine.” Readers are well aware just what “Support for Ukraine” means to Democrats today. While support for Ukraine might include humanitarian aid, it certainly does not mean peace.

The streets are empty where once those with high ideals with hopes for a newer world once protested.

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