Opening Old Wounds

Those of us who graduated from college in 1969, as the curtain came down on the cultural/political/sexual/musical revolution that changed America and the world forever – if it did – are in our late sixties now. Almost all of us moved on, led a full life, more or less, and retired from that final career in a series of careers that probably had little if anything to do with peace and love and flower power and changing the world. All of that was a long time ago. It ended when everyone went home from Woodstock and took a long hot shower, to wash the mud off, and Richard Nixon settled down in the White House. Even the Vietnam War ended, eventually. Where have all the flowers gone? Disco and polyester leisure suits followed, and then grandchildren.

We let it all go, perhaps because we had won enough. No one now thinks that war in Vietnam was a fine idea. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 corrected a few racial problems, even if, last year, the Supreme Court ruled that significant parts of the Voting Rights Act were now invalid, because things had changed. They suggested a rewrite, as if this Congress would ever do that. Republicans want us to go back to 1962 or so, as black folks and other minorities keep voting for the wrong people – not them. Now there are all the new state-level rules that will make it hard for them ever to vote again – not poll taxes and absurd literacy tests – that would be illegal. Making obtaining the necessary new voter-ID cards an expensive and time-consuming process isn’t illegal – lots of stuff is expensive and time-consuming. Restricting the hours available to vote and not replacing broken voting machines, in certain districts, isn’t illegal either. Times are tough. States don’t have a whole lot of money. This is a prudent use of limited state funds, so they can fix potholes and all the rest. The net effect of all this is to undo what was done in the sixties.

That was a setback, but abortion is legal and no one has a problem with “the pill” any longer – except the Republicans, who do what they can to make it next to impossible to find a clinic that provides either. That also would undo what was won in the sixties, but that was won already. There’s no going back. And although Republicans hated the first bill Obama signed, in the first month of his first term, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – all about women being able to do something about receiving the same pay for the same work as men – they couldn’t argue women shouldn’t be paid the same as men for the same work – not after the sixties. They had to talk about how this new act would hurt businesses and make trial lawyers rich. They couldn’t argue with the concept. The little woman hadn’t stayed home, and happily dusted the furniture and then made dinner for her man, since the days of June Cleaver, and that was the fifties. These guys should give it a rest. The rest of us have moved on. The arguments are over. They were over a long time ago.

They won’t let go. The latest dust-up, and kind of silly on the face of it, had to do with an HBO Veterans Day concert, the Concert for Valor in Washington, and it went well:

Military veterans and active-duty service members packed Washington’s National Mall on Tuesday night for a free concert featuring Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna and Eminem, among other performers.

The first-of-its-kind Concert for Valor, spearheaded by Starbucks president Howard Schultz, was intended to raise awareness for issues affecting veterans. Hundreds of thousands of people were in attendance, making it one of the biggest events of the year on the Mall.

While tickets were free, organizers hoped to direct fans to ways they can volunteer or donate money to causes helping war veterans. Some in the audience said the gesture had symbolic importance.

“This is the first time since I’ve been back that I’ve felt honored to be back home, and I’m 65 years old,” said Bobby Monk, a disabled Vietnam Veteran from Washington who wore a gray Army T-shirt. “They treated us like criminals when we came back home. They didn’t give us a parade.”

That should have put an end to the sixties, and it was a big deal:

The concert was televised live by HBO, which was making its signal available to non-subscribers. Online streaming was also available. HBO chief executive Richard Plepler said it was possible that the concert could become an annual event.

Schultz, the co-author of a book about veterans, said he hoped the event would help more Americans recognize the importance of welcoming post-9/11 veterans back to civilian life.

“Veterans Day comes once a year. Unfortunately, at times, it’s turned into an annual weekend sale,” Schultz said. “That’s not what it’s about.”

The crowd was large, and well-behaved, and everyone was happy, except the sixties aren’t over, and there was this at the Weekly Standard:

Who would have thought that that Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, and Zac Brown, accomplished musicians all, would be so, well, tone-deaf? But how else to explain their choice of song – Creedence Clearwater’s famously anti-war anthem “Fortunate Son” – at the ostensibly pro-military “Concert for Valor” this evening on the National Mall?

The song, not to put too fine a point on it, is an anti-war screed, taking shots at “the red white and blue.” It was a particularly terrible choice given that Fortunate Son is, moreover, an anti-draft song, and this concert was largely organized to honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Talking Points Memo takes it from there:

The Boss has been in the Fox News crosshairs all day, too. On Fox Business Network, Stuart Varney questioned why Springsteen, “an outspoken leftist,” would play politics with the troops.

“So much for HBO’s ‘Concert for Valor,'” Clayton Morris said at the outset of this morning’s “Fox & Friends.”

On Fox’s “Outnumbered,” co-host Andrea Tantaros professed to be a fan of both Springsteen and Grohl, but wondered why they didn’t just go with a different song.

“It’s amazing to me that nobody – think of all the people that are involved in a concert like this – nobody had the brains to stop and say, ‘You guys might want to pick a different song,'” Tantaros said.

The song they picked was this:

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
They’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
They point the cannon at you

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves
But when the tax men come to the door
Lord, the house look a like a rummage sale

Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
They send you down to war
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
They only answer, more, more, more…

And the chorus:

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no Senator’s son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one

“Fortunate Son” was written by John Fogerty, who was drafted in 1965, and ThinkProgress covers its origins:

Fogerty was drafted when he was 20 years old, in 1965, and came home from active duty two years later. In his own words, he was inspired to write “Fortunate Son” because “I did not support the policy or the war… If you asked anyone in the army at that time why we were going to Vietnam to fight, no one could answer… Probably the real answer was keeping the war machine going, and business. To sacrifice a young man’s life with no real purpose, taking these young men from their mothers and families, was wrong. I was the guy who was living this life… I had very strong feelings about all of this… To me, those soldiers were my brothers. I understood them because I was also drafted into the army just like them. The protest was against the policy, not the soldiers…”

“I had been thinking about all this turmoil… It had been on my mind for some time how sons of certain senators escaped the draft. It was very upsetting to me, as a young man of draft age. In political conventions, many times, states will use the phrase “favorite son,” as they recognize their leader to make a nomination. The songwriter in me thought about this, and I changed the name to ‘Fortunate Son,’ a phrase to describe what we have all witnessed in our time… When the troops came home, Nixon turned his back on the soldiers. As my feelings about this got stronger and stronger, I knew I had to write about it.” Fogerty wrote the music first “without even knowing what the lyrics were.” Later, he went to his bedroom with a pen and paper and wrote the lyrics in twenty minutes. “It was very personal to me.”

Bob Collins states the obvious:

It’s written from the perspective of the young person sent to fight a questionable war by politicians who often isolated their own sons from it. That’s history. It’s not a criticism of the people who went to Vietnam. It’s a criticism of the ones who didn’t.

That’s also partly why the United States dispensed with the military draft, which has led to an ongoing debate – particularly among the military – over whether it’s easier now to forget America’s servicepeople because we’ve isolated ourselves from the wars we wage, convincing ourselves that throwing a little ribbon magnet on the car qualifies as “supporting our troops.”

That would make the song entirely appropriate. Not one of Mitt Romney’s sons enlisted:

There are 58,286 names on a granite wall in Washington. They’re not there to honor the policies that put them there. They’re there to honor the people who were swept up and sent to Vietnam.

By now, we should have been able to understand the distinction.

Conservatives misunderstood what was being presented here. The troops are good men (and women). The veterans are good men (and women). It’s the policy, stupid! If the policy is so damned good, where are your children? That’s a fair question.

This was, however, a minor matter, although it could hurt Chris Christie’s chances of getting the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, to run against Hillary Clinton. Christie is a big Bruce Springsteen fan. He loves the guy. Will he now?

Who cares? The issue always will be policy. Wars produce veterans, who did the right thing. That deserves respect, but were they asked to do the right thing? That’s our problem, not theirs, and now we have a fine mess on our hands, as Andrew Sullivan explains:

The US fought two long, brutal wars in its response to the atrocity of September 11, 2001. We lost both of them – revealing the biggest military machine in the history of the planet as essentially useless in advancing American objectives through war and occupation. Attempts to quash Islamist extremism through democracy were complete failures. The Taliban still has enormous sway in Afghanistan and the only way to prevent the entire Potemkin democracy from imploding is a permanent US troop presence. In Iraq, we are now confronting the very same Sunni insurgency the invasion created in 2003 – just even more murderous. The Jihadism there has only become more extreme under a democratic veneer. And in all this, the U.S. didn’t just lose the wars; it lost the moral high-ground as well. The president himself unleashed brutal torture across all theaters of war – effectively ending any moral authority the US has in international human rights.

As with Bruce Springsteen, no one wants to hear such things, so they don’t hear them, which makes things worse:

These are difficult truths to handle. They reveal that so many brave men and women died for nothing. And so we have to construct myths or bury facts to ensure that we maintain face. But these myths and amnesia have a consequence: they only serve to encourage Washington to make exactly the same mistakes again. To protect its own self-regard, Washington’s elite is prepared to send young Americans to fight in a war they cannot win and indeed have already lost. You see the blinding myopia elsewhere: Washington’s refusal to release the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture merely proves that it cannot face the fact that some of the elite are war criminals… and that these horrific war crimes have changed America’s role in the world.

What infuriated me about the decision to re-start the Iraq War last August – by a president explicitly elected not to do any such thing – was its arrogance, its smugness, and its contempt for what this country, and especially its armed forces, went through for so many long years of quagmire and failure. Obama and his aides revealed that their commitment to realism and not to intervene in Syria could be up-ended on a dime – and a war initiated without any debate in Congress, let alone a war authorization. They actually believed they had the right to re-start the Iraq War – glibly tell us it’s no big deal – tell us about it afterwards, and then ramp up the numbers of combat forces on the ground to early Vietnam levels.

Sullivan is not a happy camper, and not happy with Obama’s UN ambassador:

Just listen to Jon Stewart calling Samantha Power’s smug bluff last night…

It was one of Stewart’s best interviews in a long while. One telling moment comes when Stewart asks Power why, if the threat from ISIS is “existential”, the regional powers most threatened by it cannot take it on themselves. She had no answer – because there is none. The US is intervening – despite clear evidence that it can do no real good – simply to make sure that ISIS doesn’t actually take over the country and thereby make president Obama look bad. But the IS was never likely to take over Kurdistan or the Shiite areas of Iraq, without an almighty struggle. And our elevating ISIS into a global brand has only intensified its recruitment and appeal. We responded, in other words, in the worst way possible and for the worst reasons possible: without the force to alter the underlying dynamic, without a breakthrough in multi-sectarian governance in Baghdad, without the regional powers taking the lead, without any exit plan, and all to protect the president from being blamed for “losing Iraq” – even though “Iraq” was lost almost as soon as it was occupied in 2003.

My point is this: how can you behave this way after what so many service-members endured for so long? How can you simply re-start a war you were elected to end and for which you have no feasible means to achieve victory?

And this is where he goes full-Springsteen:

To go back in and try to do again with no combat troops what we could not do with 100,000 is a definition of madness brought on by pride. It is to restart the entire war all over again. It makes no sense – except as political cover. I was chatting recently with an officer who served two tours of duty in Iraq, based in Mosul. I asked him how he felt about ISIS taking over a city he had risked his life to save. And I can’t forget his response (I paraphrase): “Anyone who was over there knew right then that as soon as we left, all this shit would happen again. I’m not surprised. The grunts on the ground knew this, and saw this, but the military leadership can’t admit their own failure and the troops cannot speak out because it’s seen as an insult to those who died. And so we keep making the same fucking mistakes over and over again.”

It’s the sixties all over again:

At what point will we listen to those men and women willing to tell the ugly, painful truth about our recent past – and follow the logical conclusion? When will Washington actually admit its catastrophic errors and crimes of the last decade – and try to reform its own compulsive-interventionist habits to reflect reality rather than myth? Not yet, it appears, not yet. Washington cannot bear very much reality.

That’s odd. On April 22, 1971, John Kerry became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress about the war – he spoke for nearly two hours to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presenting the conclusions of the Winter Soldier Investigation and then discussing the big policy issues. He had his three Purple Hearts and his other medals, but now he had long hair and told them this war was stupid. There was no point in continuing, although ending the thing would be difficult. How do you ask someone to be that last man to die for a mistake? That was his question.

Then he did the unthinkable. The day after this testimony he was part of that demonstration with thousands of other veterans – they threw their medals and ribbons over a fence at the front steps of the Capitol building. It was dramatic. Each veteran gave his name, hometown, branch of service and a statement – no one was hiding anything. Kerry’s statement was this – “I’m not doing this for any violent reasons, but for peace and justice, and to try and make this country wake up once and for all.”

Now John Kerry is Obama’s secretary of state. He certainly forgot the sixties, or he switched sides but one thing leads to another. All our soldiers – and sailors and airmen and Marines too – are heroes now. We all say that. There’s no question about that. We have an all-volunteer military after all, and these folks had the guts to join up to protect and save us and fight and die for us. At least that’s the idea. They may have had other motives of all sorts, but that doesn’t matter. Thank you for your service. The words open and close every public conversation with anyone in the military, and we should thank them.

It’s just that this is not what the antiwar activists of long ago imagined. They imagined reluctant heroes, or at least humble heroes, the ones that Springsteen was singing about. The conservatives were outraged. It was a night the sixties came back to haunt us, even those of us who moved on long ago.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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