We are constantly being told that American soldiers who serve in wars thousands of miles away on the other side of the world are “fighting for our freedoms.” Without exception, however, there is no evidence that any force we fight can actually attack US territory. So how on earth does that make sense? The truth is, American soldiers fight for one reason: to prop up unpopular dictatorships overseas.
Monday was Memorial Day, when Americans are supposed to remember military veterans, particularly those who made sacrifices — lives, limbs, sanity — fighting our wars.
As usual, rhetoric was abundant. People hung flags. Some placed flowers on military graves. There were parades, including one in which a reporter got hit by a drone. President Obama added an oddly pacifist twist to his annual speech, noting that it was “the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war.”
Excuse me while I puke.
Talk is nice, but veterans need action. Disgusting but true: when it comes to actual help —spending enough money to make sure they can live with dignity — talk is all the U.S. has to offer.
It isn’t just last year’s scandal at the Veterans Administration, which made vets wait for ages to see a doctor, then faked the books to make itself look responsive — and where a whopping three employees lost their jobs as a result. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that more than 57,000 homeless veterans, some just poor, others suffering from mental illness, sleep on the street on any given night.
The Pentagon can easily afford to solve these problems. But vets aren’t a spending priority. New wars are. For example, we’re fighting a $40 billion-a-year air campaign against ISIS, although the Islamic State can’t attack the U.S. $40 billion is enough to buy every homeless veteran a $700,000 house.
What you might not know is that this isn’t new.
The U.S. has consistently and ruthlessly screwed vets since the beginning. At this point, army recruiters should thank the heavens that American schools don’t teach history; if they did, no one would enlist.
During the Revolutionary War, officers had been promised a pension and half pay for life. After the British were defeated in 1783, however, Congress reneged on its pledge and issued checks for five years pay, period. “If officers felt cheated, enlisted men felt absolutely betrayed…the common soldier got a pat on the back and a shove out the door,” wrote the historian Andrew C. Lannen. “Some soldiers were given land warrants, but it took many years before they became redeemable. “Impoverished veterans in dire need of cash sold them for pennies on the dollar to investors who could afford to wait several years to collect at full value.”
For more than half a century after beating the British, veterans of the War of 1812 got nothing. Finally, as part of a payout to vets of the Mexican War of 1846-1848 — who themselves were made to wait 23 years — the 1812 vets received service pensions in 1871. By then, many had died of their injuries or old age.
Union troops won the Civil War, but that didn’t stop the government from cheating them out of their benefits too. By the end of 1862, the military was only making good on 7% of claims filed by widows and orphans of the fallen. At least 360,000 Union soldiers were killed, leaving close to a million survivors. But 20 years after the war, the pension office only acknowledged receiving 46,000 applications — less than 5% of those eligible.
Though fading from historical memory, the “Bonus Army” was perhaps the most famous example of the American government’s poor treatment of its war heroes.
Repeating the Revolutionary War policy of “I will gladly pay you a thousand Tuesdays from now for your cannon-fodder corpse today,” Congress awarded veterans of World War I service certificates redeemable for pay plus interest — in 1945, more than two decades later. The Great Depression prompted impoverished vets to form a proto-Occupy movement, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.
In 1932, 43,000 Bonus Army members, their families and supporters camped out in Washington to demand that Congress issue immediate payment in cash. Two generals who’d later become notorious hardasses during World War II, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, led troops to clear out the camps, shooting, burning and injuring hundreds of vets, whom MacArthur smeared as “communists.” Eighteen years after the end of World War I, in 1936, Congress overrode FDR’s veto and paid out the Bonus.
Even those who served in the so-called “good war” got cheated. “According to a VA estimate, only one in seven of the survivors of the nation’s deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who likely could qualify for the pension actually get the monthly checks,” reported The Charlotte Observer in 2005. These nearly two million survivors include those whose spouses and parents served in World War II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.
Remember this the next time you hear some politician or their media allies claim to “support our troops.”
Support? They don’t even pay them enough to let them sleep inside.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
As Iraq spirals into sectarian civil war, one of the recurring stories on American media outlets is the mixed feelings of the American veterans who served in the invasion and subsequent occupation. While it’s understandable that they are wondering whether their sacrifices were worth it (hint: no way), shouldn’t we be giving at least equal time to the Iraqis who are living through the consequences of our war there?
What if we devoted a proportional number of financial and other resources to threats other than terrorism?
NOTE: My apologies to people who commented on this cartoon post. Due to a glitch in WordPress, I was forced to delete this post and put it back up. Regrettably, in the process, your comments were lost. I always make every effort to avoid this sort of thing, and I am sorry.
An Armed, Disposable and Dangerous System
What’s shocking is that it doesn’t happen more often.
When a heartless system refuses to listen or help, when it crushes and grinds down millions of people day after day, year after year, everywhere, it’s illogical and unreasonable to assume that all its victims will pick themselves up, dust themselves off and reinvent themselves. (Job retraining! Start a business! Win the Lotto!) Some people will crack. Others will explode.
Consider the case of the ex-Los Angeles police officer and Iraq War vet who triggered a massive manhunt after he allegedly shot three people in retaliation for his dismissal in 2008. Based on media accounts so far, Christopher Dorner had reason to be angry. After he reported a partner for assaulting a homeless man, a review board concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the other cop. Fair enough. Maybe the partner was innocent. But then they went too far, firing the officer who brought the charge for filing a false report.
Officer Dorner had already taken a chance by stepping forward, risking ostracism and the chance to advance in his career. Firing him – even if he was wrong in this case – is heinous.
Anyone familiar with the behavior of white cops in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and who has seen the LAPD in action has to admit that the accusation – kicking a bum – is well within the realm of plausibility. Anyone who has ever faced off against an arresting officer in court knows that cops lie. And anyone who has filed a complaint against the police and their behavior soon learns that the chances of obtaining redress, much less justice, range from slim to none. (Disclosure: I’ve experienced all three.)
Ruling against Dorner in 2010, a Superior Court judge noted that administrative review panels – in this case, the LAPD itself – enjoy a “presumption of correctness” under state law. Which makes suing pointless.
“I have exhausted all available means at obtaining my name back,” Dorner wrote on Facebook. “I have attempted all legal court efforts within appeals at the Superior Courts and California Appellate courts. This is my last resort. The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now lead to deadly consequences.”
Los Angeles police officials spun the wanted ex-cop’s Facebook manifesto, which described the force as brutal, corrupt and racist – “The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse” – as out of date, a relic of the 1990s, before the scandal-ridden “old LAPD” got reformed (by good people like them). Unfortunately for their we’re-nice-guys-now messaging, their trigger-happy ground troops were rocking it old-school in their hunt for their former colleague, twice opening fire with assault rifles on vehicles they thought fit the description of the truck driven by the suspect before bothering to take a look at three people inside two cars, none of whom look anything like him yet wound up in the hospital anyway.
To his credit, or at least that of the Police Department’s publicity office, Chief Charlie Beck announced that the LAPD would re-examine Dorner’s dismissal.
How exactly is this going to work? If it turns out the guy was right, and that he never should’ve been let go, does he get his job back while he’s serving three life terms? Confusing. But it sounds good. That’s what matters.
Needless to say, a shooting spree is an inappropriate response to injustice. Still, the case of the cop gone rogue is a parable for our time. Authority is unaccountable. Individuals are powerless. Checks and balances, however well they worked in the past, have evaporated. It’s a system doomed to fail.
Fired or laid off? Chances are, you’re an “at will” employee. That means that, no matter how hard you work and how good you are your job, your boss can fire you. There’s nothing you can do about it. Even if you have the money to sue – and if you have that much money, you probably didn’t need the job in the first place – no honest lawyer will take your case. Employers have all the power. Is it any wonder that wages are stagnant or falling? Who would be stupid enough to dare to ask for a raise?
What happens to people like Officer Dorner, who lose everything? The American system – the government, political leaders, gatekeepers in the media – has no answer.
We live in a disposable society. We are disposable. When our skill set or education or personality or serendipity no longer fits the demands of the marketplace, when we suffer an injury to our bodies or our minds that reduces us to uselessness under the cold capitalist calculus of value-added cost-benefit profit-loss, we get turned out. No income, no home. No status, no life. What should you do? Where should you go? Nobody cares, not even about our so-called national heroes, our sainted troops whom the yellow stickers on our SUVs pledged to support. Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. Tens of thousands are homeless.
Note to the architects of the American political system: if you’re going to build your economy on the blood and crushed bones of powerless citizens, it’s not the smartest idea to pair disposability of the individual with a cult of militarism that sends millions to war. Every now and then, as in the case of fired officer Christopher Dorner, the victims of your brutalist slave-labor approach to labor-management relations turn out to be heavily armed, highly trained, out to kill – with nothing left to lose.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Antiwarriors Are Citizens Without a Party
Antiwar sentiment is the majority opinion when it comes to the prospect of future conflicts. Of the two countries the U.S. is currently most likely to attack militarily, nearly seven out of ten people are against invading Syria; even polls that ask leading questions (“do you favor a military strike to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?”) find public opinion running opposed to attacking Iran, by 52% to 41%.
Not only are most Americans against wars present and future, we want to slash defense spending in general. According to a National Journal poll, 60% want to cut the Pentagon budget. Thirty-five percent don’t.
Eleven years after America lost the Twin Towers and then its collective mind, something remarkable has happened. We’ve come to our senses.
We’re a nation of pacifists.
So how is a pacifist—in other words, an average American—supposed to vote this fall? Obviously not Republican: Romney says he’ll cut every department except Defense. He wants to spend more on weapons, is open to fighting against Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely, and is so ignorant that he doesn’t know that the people of Afghanistan are called Afghans.
But with all the veteran and war messaging that went on at last week’s national convention, Democrats look like a mirror image of the GOP: jingoistic, militaristic, and gung-ho for war. Between pogo-dancing on Osama bin Laden’s corpse, the airing of a mawkish “Honoring the Sacred Trust with Our Veterans” video that spread the debunked right-wing myth that returning Vietnam vets got disrespected, the First Lady donning a Dubya-inspired “support our troops” T-shirt, and Democrats’ petty attack on Mitt Romney for omitting to name-check vets in his nomination acceptance address, it felt like the 2002-03 build-up to the invasion of Iraq—except, this time, the president speaks fluent English.
It’s official: the Dems are a war party.
Why the new bellicose tone? In part it’s an attempt to counter the old canard that Democrats are weak on defense, a charge that Republicans used to their electoral advantage throughout the Cold War. As the probably doped Lance Armstrong advised, turn your biggest weakness into your strongest strength. (The Machiavellian Karl Rove, who attacked John Kerry’s war record of all things, put it the other way around: turn their biggest strength into their biggest weakness.) It’s also a reflection of the triumph of Democratic Leadership Council-inspired conservatives, who have cowed, purged and marginalized liberals and pacifists from the party.
Militarism may be unpopular, but it still rules the ruling class. The military-industrial complex enjoys more direct political and economic influence among government officials than ever. The post-9/11 Cult of the Noble Soldier, coupled with the myth of a beleaguered U.S. defending the world from barbarians in an epic clash of civilizations, merely recasts old-fashioned fascist militarism—and it’s just as effective at confusing leftie opponents and putting them off-balance.
Truth be told, the Democrats’ new hawkish tone is catching up with their party’s hawkish history. Ronald Reagan gets credit for the defense build-up of the 1980s that supposedly bankrupted the Soviet Union, but it was Jimmy Carter who started it in 1978. No one remembers now, but “wimpy” Carter also gave us draft registration (in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan). Mr. Habitat for Humanity sent arms to the Afghan mujahedeen (some of whom formed Al Qaeda) and provoked the Iran hostage crisis by admitting the recently deposed Shah to the U.S. Bill Clinton launched an optional war of choice against Serbia based on sketchy justifications, and waged an incessant aerial bombing campaign against Iraq that went on so long that the media got bored and stopped covering it, and U.S. pilots ran out of targets.
President Obama may not have been popular with the SEAL team he sent to assassinate bin Laden, but thousands of Pakistanis, Afghans, Yemenis and Somalis victimized by the reign of terror unleashed by his unprecedented, expanded program of drone plane bombings can attest to his credentials as a happy warrior. “Barack Obama,” Aaron David Miller, Middle East policy adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote recently, “has become George W. Bush on steroids.”
Democrats have always been pro-war. They’d might as well shout it from the rooftops.
Most Americans are against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cult of militarism and the untouchable status of Pentagon spending on weapons. Yet there is no political home for people who oppose our current wars, or war in general.
Where is a pacifist to go?
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL
This week, you can read my column, or watch it!
Strip-Searching is Legal and Democracy is Dead
The text of Justice Kennedy’s majority is cold and bureaucratic. “Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” he writes for the five right-wingers in the majority of the Supreme Court.
There’s no looking back now. The United States is officially a police state.
Here are the basics, as reported by The New York Times: “The case decided Monday, Florence v. County of Burlington, No. 10-945, arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant for Mr. Florence’s arrest based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.) Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in Burlington and Essex Counties, and he was strip-searched in each. There is some dispute about the details, but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.”
“Turn around,” Florence later recalled his jailers ordering him. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”
A court motivated by fairness would have declared this conduct unconstitutional. Fair-minded people would have ordered the New Jersey municipality to empty its bank accounts and turn them over to the man it humiliated. Everyone involved—the police, county officials—ought to have been fired and charged with torture.
Not this court, the U.S. Supreme Court led by John Roberts. Besotted by the sick logic of paranoia and preemption that has poisoned us since 9/11, it ruled that what happened to Albert Florence was perfectly OK. The cops’ conduct was legal.
Now “officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor.”
If you get arrested at an antiwar protest, the police can strip-search you. If you’re pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, as was the plaintiff in this case. For setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Humiliation is the law of the land.
The Court heard examples of people who were strip-searched “after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.” They considered amicus briefs by nuns and other “women who were strip-searched during periods of lactation or menstruation.”
Body-cavity searches are now legal for anyone arrested for any crime, no matter how minor. As of April 2, 2012, finger-rape is the law of the land.
Think it won’t happen to you? 14 million Americans are arrested annually. One in three Americans under age 23 has been arrested. It happened to me a couple of years ago, for a suspended drivers license. Except that it wasn’t really suspended. I was lucky. My cops weren’t perverts. They didn’t want a lookie-loo at my private parts.
How did we get here? Preemptive logic.
Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He hates the United States. What if he has weapons of mass destruction? What if he used them against us, or gave them to terrorists who would? Can’t take that chance.
We don’t need evidence in order to justify bombing and invading Iraq. We have fear and the logic of preemption.
The logic of preemption flails, targeting anyone and everyone. A single plane passenger sets his shoes on fire. He never came close to causing real damage, but now everyone has to take off their shoes before boarding a plane. Infants. Old people. Veterans whose limbs got blown off in Iraq. Everyone.
Can’t take chances. What if your toddler is a member of Al Kidda?
The logic of preemption is indiscriminate. What if terrorists are stupid enough to use phones and emails to plot their dastardly schemes? We’d want to know, right? In the old days before 9/11, officials who suspected a person of criminal conduct went to a judge to obtain a wiretapping warrant.
Now we’re paranoid. And the government is power-hungry. So government officials and their media lapdogs are exploiting our fear and paranoia, openly admitting that they listen to everyone‘s phone calls and read everyone‘s emails. Can’t take chances. Gotta cover all the bases.
What about the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures? Quaint relics of a time before the police state. Like the Geneva Conventions.
Here comes Justice Kennedy, amping up the perverse logic of preemption. Responding to the nasty cases of the finger-raped nun and the humiliated women on their period, Kennedy pointed out that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was pulled over for driving without a license plate. “One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” he wrote, continuing with the observation that San Francisco cops “have discovered contraband hidden in body cavities of people arrested for trespassing, public nuisance and shoplifting.”
No doubt about it: If you search every car and frisk every pedestrian and break down the door of every house and apartment in America, you will find lots of people up to no good. You will discover meth labs and bombs and maybe even terrorists plotting to blow up things. But who is the bigger danger: a drug dealer, a terrorist, or a terrorist government?
This summer will be ugly. Cops will arrest thousands of protesters who belong to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is fighting corruption and greed and trying to improve our lives. Now that police have the right to strip and molest demonstrators, you can count on horrible abuses. Cops always go too far.
Note to people about to be arrested: pop a laxative before they slip on the flexicuffs.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in a country that respects rights and freedoms more than the paranoid madness of preemption. In the old America where I grew up, we lived with the possibility that some individuals were evil. Now we face the absolute certainty that every policeman is a fully licensed finger-rapist.
(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)