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A Vietnam Veteran Reflects on Memorial Day

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This post is written by my father, Arnold Stieber who was infantry in the Army stationed in Vietnam from 1970-1971. He is currently the coordinator of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace.
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War -- conflict resolution by violence. Memorial Day -- a day to remember those killed in wars. More than remembering, Memorial Day is reality for me. That reality began in 2003 and was amplified in 2013.

In 2003 my military experience burst into my consciousness after 32 years. Late one night I turned on the TV. The movie Platoon was playing. I had never watched any violent shows nor read anything about war or Viet Nam since I left there and my role as an Army infantryman in March of 1971. The scene was a U.S. patrol entering a village. I saw the dark skinned children with their big dark eyes, skinny bodies and ragged clothes -- and it all came back like a lightening bolt. The sights, the sounds, the smells. Stunned, I turned off the TV and sat in a darkened room.

The next day began a frenzy of activity. Unstructured for the first few months, I consumed a world of information. At 57 years of age with an MBA and an active business career, I was almost totally ignorant of many aspects of life. Information on war, peace, politics, world affairs, religion, organizations, books, magazines, videos, DVDs, radio and TV shows -- and the list grew with each passing day. I needed structure.

I finally formulated two questions: Why war? Why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children?

Why war?

Howard Zinn helped with his book The Peoples History of the United States. Marine Major General Smedley Butler, a two-time Medal of Honor recipient, helped with his booklet, "War is a Racket." Many other authors and people and programs moved me along the path.

My studies revealed that the main causes of war are money and markets. There is always plenty of flag waving and bluster about the "evil ones," but every war I've studied, once you begin peeling back the layers, has the same core.

War is the best business in the world.

High profits, little competition, products rapidly used, and the price is seldom questioned. Weapons are the number one export product of the USA. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the death and destruction industry. Thousands more spend their lives teaching at war colleges and military schools. Other thousands plan wars and "covert actions." Mercenary companies and CIA operations are a major part of U.S. "foreign policy." But the war business depends on conflict. That leads to the second question.

Why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children?

A country cannot have a war, and those in the war business cannot sell their products, unless we the people are willing to sacrifice our children.

How can we be convinced to sacrifice our children?

There are many ways.
The first is to generate fear.
The second is to continually present the military model for conflict resolution -- violence -- as the solution.

Go into any park and you'll probably see a military statue or a canon. Veterans' memorials are everywhere. Parades are lead by weapons carrying veterans and the military. The military carries the flag into sporting events. Many in the military now ware Combat Battle Dress (CBDs) when they are in public. Everyone in the military is now called a "hero." POW-MIA flags fly from post offices and other buildings. Highways are named after wars, war veterans, and generals. Battleships are named after presidents. We have civil war re-enactments. Our language is violent: " I could just kill my kids," "bullet points," and sports announcers inject "kill," "beat," "destroyed" into their descriptions. There are also video games, weapon toys, paintball parks and TV and movie violence. All of these lower the barrier to hurting others. They are an ever-present message that violence -- the military model -- is the solution to conflict.

In 2013 I watched the Chicago Memorial Day parade. Thousands of children of color, dressed in military uniforms, passed by. It stunned me. I've learned that Chicago Public Schools are the most militarized in the nation. Over 10,000 children are learning the military model of taking orders and solving conflicts with violence. The parade, for me, was not about remembering those who died. The main message was convincing the children and their parents that the military model is the "American way."

This year I'll be back at the parade -- holding a sign of peace. Please join me and members of the Chicago chapter of Veterans for Peace. If we can influence just one child or just one parent that the military model is not the answer, that's one child who will not have to suffer the physical or mental pain of legalized death and destruction.

Memorial Day.
Remember the dead, all of them, from all countries, civilians and military.
Dead because of the military model.

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