Anecdotal Evidence .

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What It Means To Serve, continued

Let me address a few questions that have arisen in response to the day before yesterday’s post on this subject.

1) I most certainly did not mean to suggest that I support George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. If I wrote it that way, I apologize. For the record, I am convinced that the war in Iraq was fundamentally flawed from day one, and since then it has been tragically flawed in execution. What’s more, I hate the idea that the President, his Secretaries of State, Defense, and Justice, and members of their staffs, lied from the beginning and have consistently continued to lie, to their employers, the American people, and to the rest of the world, about the war, its justification, its purposes, its execution, and its progress. I hate the fact that most of those in the Administration and in the Congress, who schemed and continue to scheme the country and the world into this war have never served a day in uniform and, for the most part, their sons or daughters are not serving in uniform, that in effect they are asking others to do what they and theirs have never been willing to do. I hate the fact that in the face of so many self-evident errors of judgment, errors of judgment that have brought about the death and dismemberment of thousands of men, women, and children, not to mention animals and landscapes, no one has accepted responsibility and apologized, and, what's worse, those few failures they have acknowledged, they have blamed on others. I hate the fact that the troops from Iraq who return home in coffins, on stretchers, and on crutches, troops who are being sent into harm’s way in our name, are purposely and deviously hidden from our view, not as a gesture of respect but in a continued effort to hide from us the disastrous reality of the war.

In a word, I hate everything about George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.

Except the men and women who are fighting it, and their families, who are enduring it.

2) I was once asked by someone who knew of my current perspective and of my prior service as an officer in the US Navy, whether or not I would be willing now to serve in the military as I had in my youth, to fight in a war. My response then, and my response now to any who may wonder, is simply this: Every day of our lives, each of us must decide for ourselves what we value, and having done so, we must recognize that whatever it is, it comes at a price, and we must acknowledge and embrace that price, and be willing to pay it with enthusiasm. Otherwise, it seems to me that our valuing the thing is empty and ineffectual.

I say we must ask this question of ourselves every day because every day every one of us grows and changes, and our values change accordingly. Thus, the things I value now are very different than the things I valued as a youth, and likewise, their cost to me is different. But there remains a cost nonetheless, and there needs to remain a willingness to pay that cost, otherwise I will never really have the thing, and it will never really be mine.

3) Specifically as regards the draft and its relationship to the war in Iraq, I am convinced that if the draft existed today, the Congress of the United States would never have agreed to George W. Bush’s feloniously flawed argument for going to war, in which case the war might never have occurred. And even if it had occurred, the nation would have long since been up to its ears in protests, particularly among the nation’s youth. I spent the last two winters on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono, where I do not remember seeing or hearing any evidence of the war in Iraq. And yet, during two years of the Vietnam era, I was at Columbia University in New York City, and there was nowhere on that campus where the war was not evident, and vehemently so! I do not doubt for a single moment that the difference is the draft. Again, as I wrote in the original post, a healthy democracy requires an actively participating citizenry, and participation requires motivation. Let's face it, being "only human", we are unlikely to get involved unless and until we can see that there's something in it for us. That is why I believe it is so important that each generation in a democracy be reminded that the rights and privileges enjoyed by us all, have a price.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What It Means To Serve

Consider this. A few weeks ago, while campaigning successfully for re-election to Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat, Mike Michaud was asked by a reporter from Maine Public Television where he stood on the flag burning issue. “It’s my flag!” he responded with vehemence, insisting that no one had better burn an American flag in his presence! Clearly, the candidate wanted there to be no doubt about the depth and the fervor of his patriotism. Given that, I was surprised to learn that, according to his biography at the official congressional website, Mike Michaud has never served in the military.

And this. In a town not far from where I live in rural Maine, there is a used car dealership that flies above its sales lot the largest American flag I have seen anywhere in the world. It is, quite literally, gigantic. Two years ago, the owner of this dealership ran for a state office. His campaign website was decorated top to bottom, edge to edge, with American flags and patriotic slogans. But when I called his campaign office to inquire, I was told that the candidate had never served a day in the military.

And again. A couple of years ago, I attended a school board meeting in our small town in which the performance of the faculty was being considered. During the discussion, I asked the board how many of the teachers at our school are veterans of military service. None of the half dozen board members knew for sure, but they agreed the number was probably zero.

These situations are symptoms of a condition in America that I believe is extremely troubling. And to a large extent, I believe it is a result of our having abolished the draft in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam.

This generation of America’s youth knows that it will never be called upon to defend and protect the rights and privileges associated with being an American citizen. And the trouble with that is that it degrades the quality and health of the nation’s democracy. Unless every generation of a democracy knows that it will be called upon to be involved, actively involved, one way or another, in the nation’s life, they will not understand the true value of the rights and privileges they enjoy, they will come to take them for granted, and the democracy will eventually sicken, and, God forbid, die.

Thus, I am convinced that America should reinstate the draft, and that this time, the loopholes and deferments and exceptions which were too generously available to the rich and advantaged during the Vietnam era, should not be repeated. I do not particularly care whether a reinstated draft would require that all Americans serve a tour of duty in the military, although I think a strong argument can be made for that, but I do care that the youth of each generation of Americans be required to serve the country in some way.

I have read that the nation’s generals prefer the all-volunteer military, presumably because they believe that it is more highly motivated, more easily disciplined, and more likely to perform in a more professional manner.

But this issue is too important to be left to the generals, for it is not just about the military; it is about the health of the nation, the health of the democracy, and that must take precedence over every other consideration. Because if our democracy sickens, what difference will it make how motivated or disciplined or professional is our military.

Consider the war in Iraq. The other day, speaking on television about Iraq, someone observed, “the country is not at war, the Pentagon is at war”. And it’s true. The lives of most Americans have not been affected by the war in Iraq, and are not likely to be affected. Every day, every single day, American men and women are dying and being maimed in Iraq, and yet who among us takes any notice? Without the draft, none of us has to be involved, no one in our family and no one among our friends, has to be involved, so why should we take notice? We are told this is a war that involves the very survival of civilization, and yet nothing is asked of us.
That cannot be healthy for us as individuals or for us as a nation.

I have just finished reading "Flags of Our Fathers" by James Bradley. It is the compelling, even riveting, story of the six Marines who raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II. But more than that, it is a powerful story about the Americans who fought throughout the Pacific and across Europe during World War II. These are the Americans who have recently been labeled “The Greatest Generation”, and rightly so, considering the bravery, the commitment, the determination, with which they responded in such great numbers to their nation’s, our nation’s, call. But surely too among “The Greatest Generation” must be included those Americans who served at home, on farms and in factories, to produce the food, the guns, the ships, the stuff those in uniform needed in order to prevail; and also those who participated simply by purchasing War Bonds, lending the nation the money it needed to pay for the war. Back then, the country was at war, not just the military, and the country responded to the call. There is none of that today. And it stinks.

In his book, James Bradley describes the fighting on Iwo Jima as fierce and ferocious. Indeed, this is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read about war. With good reason, Bradley calls those who fought there “heroes”. But he writes that his father, who was among those there, did not consider himself or the others to be heroes. Rather, “They were boys of common virtue. Called to duty. Brothers and sons. Friends and neighbors. And fathers. It’s as simple as that”.

As simple as that.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Modest Proposal

Now that the midterm congressional elections are behind us, I suppose it is time to focus on the 2008 presidential election and the issues which are or will become associated with it.
Just so, I read the other day that Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, himself a healthy runner for the Republican nomination, took the occasion of the Thanksgiving holiday season to remind Americans that among the important issues facing us – issues like the continuing death and destruction in Iraq, the millions of Americans with inadequate health care, the astronomical national debt, the precarious imbalance in the environment, and so on – is the pressing need for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. I suppose that, like Romney, other presidential aspirants have already spoken out on this issue, but I am sure that, in any case, all of them will have far more to say about it in the hours, days, weeks, and months ahead.

Clearly, gay marriage is an issue that is going to generate a lot of heat over the next two years, and so it behooves all of us to think about it carefully. Speaking for myself, I have already given this question generous thought, and I am moved now to offer this modest proposal.

It seems to me that, whether or not it makes sense to amend the constitution so as to ban marriage among gays, what the nation needs to do first is adopt an amendment banning divorce. If you will think about it, I am confident you will agree that a constitutional amendment against divorce makes a lot more sense than a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and what's more, it is far more likely to be successful because it meets, even trumps, all the arguments for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Consider this. One of the principal, and surely most often articulated, arguments offered in support of the anti-gay marriage amendment is that gay marriage is an abomination before God. Now, I claim no authority to speak about what is or is not an abomination to God, but fortunately we have among us religious experts, priests and preachers and pastors, men and women with unquestioned theological credentials, who are qualified to do so, and, drawing support from the Bible and other sacred sources, they all seem to agree that scripture argues against gay marriage.

That being so, I am certain that these men and women of the cloth will recognize and agree quicker and better than any of us, that scriptural statements on the subject of homosexuality generally and gay marriage specifically, are nowhere near as clear, authoritative, or conclusive as the scriptural injunctions against divorce, the most powerful of which resides squarely in the Gospels, where, asked for his opinion about divorce, Jesus replies unequivocally, "What God has joined let no man put asunder". That one statement alone, and there are numerous others extolling the sanctity of marriage elsewhere in the Bible and in virtually all sacred texts of virtually all religious traditions, packs more punch than all the biblical arguments against marriage between homosexuals. At least, so it seems to me, and if so, here we have a clear-as-crystal scriptural basis on which can rest a campaign for a constitutional amendment banning divorce.

Another frequently heard argument for a ban on gay marriage is that gay marriage threatens the fabric of society. Simply put, the argument is that families are the glue that holds society together, and who can argue that? Without families, without mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, we are just a crowd of strangers. And, let's face it, union between a man and a woman is what makes families possible; that is an unmistakable, irreversible biological fact of life. Thus, America is about dad and mom and the kids all living together under one roof, eating together at the kitchen table, playing together in the living room. What a majestic image that is, an image that evokes love and pride in country.

But here's the thing. That image, wondrous as it is, unmistakably offers a far more compelling argument for a constitutional amendment banning divorce than for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. After all, there is no force on the planet that threatens the American family more surely than divorce. It is the very nature of divorce, the unavoidable effect and consequence of divorce, that it unglues the family. To unglue the family is the purpose of divorce. So, if we want a constitutional amendment protecting families in America, an amendment banning divorce is where we should start.

A question related tangentially to this issue is its potentially discriminatory nature. A Google search finds that the census numbers concerning gays in America are fuzzy, ranging from 1% to 10%, but however measured, they are a small minority. Therefore, almost by definition, any legislation which targets them alone is going to be discriminatory, and after the polarization of American society we have all experienced in recent years, clearly now is not the time to inject additional divisiveness. But happily, an amendment banning divorce avoids that problem altogether. The same Google search reveals that fifty percent of marriages in America end in divorce, and that divorced Americans are a quarter or more of the population. Thus, amending the constitution to ban divorce has no significant minority implications.

Similarly, gay marriage is essentially an incidental phenomenon, affecting only those individuals who are party to it. The effects of divorce, on the other hand, are felt not only by those immediately involved, but potentially by numerous other sectors of our society, including the school system, health and human services facilities, the criminal justice system, and so on.

Further, divorce in America today has none of the stigma that homosexuality does. As a child, I remember my parents used to whisper about a friend or neighbor who was getting divorced; divorce was not a subject for open discussion in polite society. All of that has gone, and there is now no shame or reluctance of any kind associated with revealing oneself as being divorced or the product of divorce, no "coming out of the bedroom", as it were. In today's jargon, there are no "political correctness" aspects to this issue. Therefore, the national political discussion that will inevitably and properly surround consideration of such an amendment in the Congress and among the several States will not bring with it any of the discomfort that would accompany such an exercise concerning a ban on gay marriage.

There are numerous other reasons why a constitutional ban on divorce makes far more sense than a constitutional ban on gay marriage, not the least convincing of them concerns the children of divorce – their health, their welfare, their education, their long term adaptability, the costs they represent to society, and so on. But I hope it is sufficient here for me simply to offer the proposal, in all modesty, and to allow wiser minds than mine to flesh it out.

A final postscript: Consider that a constitutional ban on divorce dovetails nicely with the current campaign to reduce litigation in the United States. While I have been unable to find any figures to support this statement, it seems to me self-evident that a lot of the litigation in this country must be related to divorce issues. Eliminating divorce eliminates those cases.