'Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad . . . .' ~ Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath
I used to think I was the only oddball in the military, the only malcontent, the only dissident, the only 'bad troop,' as they used to say.
When I stole that car on Halloween of 1968 and scooted for Canada , fresh out of US Air Force basic training, I remember being mad for about a thousand miles. I wasn't going to become a security policeman--as ordered--and patrol fencelines in a foreign land (most SPs went straight to Vietnam) and guard B-52 bombers in Vietnam . I wasn't going off to a war ten thousand miles away to end up dead or maimed on the six o' clock news, while helping wreck some Third World country. No way.
And so I ran away.
And now I realize I had thousand of brothers in arms. I realized, decades later, that every soldier makes a personal stand every day. Every individual, for that matter, makes a stand. Every student, fresh out of high school, who 'lit out for the territories,' as Mark Twain did when he ran away from the Civil War, made a difficult and courageous choice: enlist, get drafted or go to Canada (or get deferments like Limbaugh and Cheney).
Every soldier, airman or sailor who stood his ground, at great risk, and said to his superior, No F*cking Way , gets my respect and support.
Henry David Thoreau, early resistor, wrote: 'Only the defeated and deserters go to the wars, cowards that run away and enlist.' Well, he had a point there. I have to admit I agreed with it after I enlisted. Charley Reese wrote something similar, in a recent column, What People Believe.
'It is an evil paradox that men with the lowest motives can launch wars by appealing to the highest ideals of better men . . . . Unless there is an invader threatening one's home and hearth, it is never in the interest of an individual to go war.'
Once in uniform, most soldiers seem stuck. The whole power of the organization--not to mention all those angry officers--is arrayed against any troop with a sense of decency or pangs of conscience. The power is overwhelming.
Only 18 years of good, parental upbringing and an inner moral code can oppose a juggernaut like the military state. Perhaps for that very reason, Thoreau is rarely taught in high schools today.
But Thoreau--and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Buddha--not to mention that early dissident Jesus, would approve of the TENS of THOUSANDS of American troops who resisted, sat down, refused to follow direct orders, refused to perform immoral, unlawful and just plain evil deeds under the guise of patriotic duty.
Wherever there's a fight, so decent men can live, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beating up some war protester, I'll be there. Wherever a soldier "humping the boonies," refusing to be crushed by the overwhelming corrupt and heartless power of the state, refusing to brutalize foreigners for no good reason, I'll be there.
I support the admirable legacy of US troops to refuse to follow the dictates of the state blindly, like those veterans who marched 40 years ago in New York City . 'At the Second International Day of Protest against the Vietnam war, a large contingent of Veterans For Peace led an anti-war march of 30,000 people down 5th Avenue . Demonstrations also take place in Chicago , Boston , San Francisco and other major cities around the country. Many of these protest marches were led by contingents bearing the signs, 'Veterans and Reservists For Peace.'*
Most of those unknown troops who marched were low-ranking personnel, not retired generals.
At Fort Ord , California : 'Private Kenneth Stolte and PFC Daniel Amick distribute antiwar petition at Ft. Ord, which says in part: 'We protest. We protest the war in Viet nam . . . . Too many of our friends, not to mention the Vietnamese, are being killed for nothing . . . . We are tired of it. We are tired of all the lies about the war. We are uniting and organizing to voice our opposition to this war. If you really want to work for peace and freedom, then join us in our opposition. We are organizing a union in order to express our dissension and grievances.'
What sort of punishment they received--or how severe their court martial--was not reported in the mainstream papers. But opposition to the war continued. Resistance wore many uniforms.
As The New York Times reported, August 4th, 1969, quoting an antiwar GI in Vietnam : 'If you'll look closely, you'll see some beads and a peace symbol under all this ammo. I may look like Pancho Villa on the outside but on the inside I'm nothing but a peacenik . . . . I just work hard at surviving so I can go home and protest all this killing.'*
Again, early in 1970, '80 GIs from Fort Bliss ( Texas ) picket speaking engagement by Gen. Westmoreland.'* At the height of the Vietnam War, this was just one of scores of under-reported protests by troops. Just one example of resistance, by low-ranking troops, many of them ordered to commit war crimes by war criminals.
As I mentioned, these were ACTIVE DUTY troops, not retired, high-ranking generals with secure (hefty) pensions. It requires a helluva lot more courage to face a war machine from the front than behind.
There were thousands, ten of thousands of troops who acted on the urges of their consciences. A million little deeds of decency.
These are the troops I support.
No, I don't think patriotism is blind support of a regime. To me, that is the definition of cowardice. Nor will I support troops with ribbons on my car, (neither of which I own). I will, however, support that sense of justice and courage in any troop that makes the best of a bad situation, a hundred different ways on a thousand different days.
Whenever a soldier refuses to pull the trigger or drop a bomb on people who never did him any wrong, he'll have my support, and the support of millions of other 'unknown' soldiers from every country in the world throughout history, who refused to slay the innocent and instead faced evil squarely and bravely.
*Sir No Sir! - GI Protests 1965 - 1972 (Must Read)