I am a veteran of the United States Army and I am shocked that I am proud to proclaim that. It's a contradiction that I've spent many years trying to resolve. I did not want to be drafted--dreaded it--did everything I could to prevent it from happening--but when it happened, I served. This happened in November of 1969, just after I completed my college degree requirements in August. The U.S. was still reeling from the 1968 Tet Offensive and the siege of Khe Sanh. Like every sane human being, I was totally opposed to the war in Southeast Asia. Marine volunteers were few, so the government was actually sending draftees to the Marines. On the day I was drafted, the guy in front of me in line and the guy in back of me were drafted into the Marines. I was in the middle and went Army. I was not sent to Vietnam. I did not hear a shot fired in anger. While friends of mine were being killed in Indochina, I was farther north in South Korea, anchoring the nightly news for AFKN TV. I was living in Seoul, learning volumes about a totally different culture and maturing as a young man far from home. I complained every day about my forced incarceration in military culture as I profited enormously from absorbing experiences I never would have found on my own. I had the cushiest job in the Army and bitched about it every day because I was not free and my peers were off advancing their careers at the broadcast stations and networks where I longed to be. And yet I am proud to have served. Why? I still have no answer.
I hate jingoism. I want to vomit when Major League Baseball commands fans to stand and listen to God Bless America. Who the hell had this idea to raise an Irving Berlin Tin Pan Alley song to semi-religious status following 9/11? Woody Guthrie was so pissed off at God Bless America that he wrote This Land Is Your Land as a response. Why doesn't Major League Baseball have the fans sing THAT one instead of the Kate Smith treacle. Give me Woody over Irving any day. But I am proud to be a vet.
I feel the same way about the Pledge of Allegiance. We pledge allegiance to a FLAG -- a piece of cloth? NO! That's just wrong. Government employees from the president to the Army private pledge allegiance to the Constititution. Bingo!!! That's where it's at. We are a nation of laws and rights, not of men, and silly jingoistic songs and flags. The Constitution is what makes us different from all other nations . Why don't people get this? Screw the flags and the songs. The Constitution embodies our freedoms and that's where our loyalty should abide. America has no king. America has the Constitution.
So why am I proud to be a veteran of a military I didn't want to be a part of? I just don't know. I only know that my back gets up when I hear the chicken hawks beating their breasts with love of country -- happy to send much younger innocents off to die when they themselves did not serve in the military. It's a long list that includes George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Wolfowitz and so many others that led this nation into a phony war in Iraq that cost so many American lives.
I salute my fellow veterans on the Bob Edwards Show staff. Executive Producer Steve Lickteig served in the United State Marine Corps and editorial assistant Shelley Franklin is an army veteran who was deployed in the first Iraq War where she was literally ordered to guard a pile of shit. We who have been in the military understand that this is not a made-up story, but totally plausible.
So still I am proud to have served, though I am totally anti-war and believe that the current war in Iraq is an abomination that should lead to prosecutions of those who got us into it.
Lacking a draft, the only people who know anything about the military today are the people serving in it and their relatives. That's too bad. There can be no successful prosecution of war by a populace with no stake in it.
I hate our current wars, and maybe I feel emboldened to say that because I once wore the uniform. Maybe that's why I'm proud to have served -- because it gives me a right to say that the chicken hawks are wrong. When Rush Limbaugh and his wealthy friends go off to face the enemy and return with their stories -- I will listen. Until then, I will remember that I served -- very, very reluctantly -- and they didn't. But I did my duty. I hated doing it and realized many years later that it made me a better person. I hate acknowledging that. Sigh. I may never resolve this.
Happy Veterans Day!
Former Sp5 Robert A. Edwards