Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.80.3: HEROIC EXPLOITATION

Random thoughts on Veterans Day

V080-03_general-petraeuscopyEvery Veterans Day gets me thinking about four of my late uncles who served in World War II, two of them in combat in North Africa, Italy, and Burma. When I was kid during the war, and still today, they were and are my “heroes,” although I never use the term in front of them because I know they would have laughed me out of the room. They would never have seen themselves in that way, and would have been embarrassed if anyone referred to them as such. In fact, one heard the word “hero” hardly at all in those days. My uncles received decorations and citations, but never mentioned them.*

I can’t help contrasting them with our recently self-disgraced general Petraeus. Both of my uncles saw enough combat for a dozen general Petraeus’s (his sole combat experience appears to be as commander of the tank battalion heading into an already clobbered Baghdad). This is not about the general porking his attractive biographer; there will be plenty enough speculation on that ranging from did it have anything to do with Benghazi to this woman really knows how to boost sales for her book. No, it’s about how the general likes to parade around in a uniform so decorated and emblazoned with military ribbons and medals that he resembles a send-up of one of those South American dictators in full faux battle regalia. The fact of the matter is (and you can check this on the Internet) most of these decorations are sort of for kind of “being there.” Among them are three merit ribbons and medals from Poland, one from the Netherlands, others from the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Romania, etc. You really have to be in the playing soldier to dress up in that frou-frou every day. Nevertheless, Gen. P is trotted out, even in disgrace, as some sort of military genius, when in fact his so-called surge, in Iraq was a success more for its employment of bribery than ballistics, and he had the sense of least to get himself out of the Afghan situation were apparently even bribery doesn’t work.**

Before this digresses too much further I need to connect it to the intent of my title. During and since the Bush wars, which we know were essentially set up with the phoniness of a public relations campaign, and with the assistance of “embedded journalists” and an intimidated media, militarism and the United States has been conducted something like a circus sideshow. The tragus himself receive the equivalent of a 21 gun salute and soaring orations for his putative military “genius,” even by the president, barely a couple of days after his reelection. Perhaps the general who knew how to play the game well enough, will himself end up being not only exploited by the nation that “thanks him (effusively) for his service” on Veterans Day, but for any other handy political purpose.

Exploitation takes many forms. A few days before Veterans Day my local public TV station aired a live piece interviewing two “wounded warriors” who were representatives of an organization to raise funds for soldiers disabled in the Iraq and Afghan wars. It was almost coincident with a phone solicitation that I received from the “Wounded Warriors” organization for a contribution. It was not because of the cold call that I turned them down, and it was not because I felt at my local public TV station was succumbing to the “embedded journalists” phenomenon that I did not make a contribution. Nor was it that, ironically, neither of the disabled veterans on the program received their disabilities from combat situations (one was from a vehicle accident, and the female soldier was disabled in a forklift accident in a supply center). Both deserve to have their injuries properly attended to, and to be duly compensated for their future employment limitations, but “wounded warriors” is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, is this not what we have a government for? Is this not what I am paying taxes for? Is this not something that the politicians who supported these military adventures are responsible for? Why do we need these “wounded warriors” programs (there are others) when we have a Veterans Administration supported by our tax dollars that is supposed to take care of such matters? These are questions I put to the phone solicitation person who did not have satisfactory responses.

So along comes another Veterans Day (and I am not saying we should not have such a day to remember those who have served and do it with honor and respect), this one conveniently on a Sunday on which there are several National Football League games that serve as stages for the unfurling of flags that covered the entire playing field, the trotting out of various service members and camo suits, flyovers, and displaying of the literal “wounded warriors” characteristically demonstrating the horrific physical toll of this 21st C form of insurgent warfare—the blown away limbs and disfigured heads and faces—that reeks of a three ring circus of exploitation of these service people, by the NFL, by the media, and by the military services.

This form of exploitation is not a particularly new phenomenon by the US government. Coincident with Veterans Day is the typical spate of military films that are shown on television around that date. I happen to have see the excellently done series The Pacific, in which a segment is devoted to the exploitation of Medal of Honor recipient John Basilone, who was used to pump up war bond effort on the radio, and Flags of Our Fathers, which addresses the same issue of public relations exploiting of military heroics.

My uncles that served in World War II are, like many of their contemporaries, gone now. I have no chance to seek their opinion on what has become of the annual day to honor them. I only know that I honor them in my memory as I am sure others do for their family members who served. One must be especially thoughtful of those who were killed or wounded. But I think that many Americans must be appreciating and uncomfortable distinction: that those who, for whatever reason, must serve in wars of choice, that are placed in the position of often being “targets” of local resistance, and who return maimed and disabled, might be more victims thanheroes. It is painful to admit that, but hauling out “wounded warriors” at the circus events that have come to characterize too much of the venerable Veterans Day might only be enabling further wars that end up exploiting those who deserve a better “thanks” for their service.,
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© 2012, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 11.12.2012)

*I should not neglect a mention of an uncle who died before I got to know him; my uncle V. Vitelli, served in World War I in the “Lost 77th Battalion”. It sustained 10,194 casualties 1,486 killed and 8,708 wounded. The division returned to the U.S. in April 1919 and was deactivated that month.
**Petraeus strongly supported the use of commanders’ discretionary funds for public works, telling Coalition Provisional Authority director L. Paul Bremer “Money is ammunition” during the director’s first visit to Mosul. Bremer, you will recall, was George W. Bush’s provisional governor in Iraq who “misplaced” $8 billion in cash that had been flown in on shipping pallets.

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