Reader Rant: ‘My tears are for the fallen, not for the recent wars that have nothing to do with our freedoms.’

by on June 1, 2010 · 29 comments

in History, Ocean Beach, Popular, Reader Rant, Veterans


by Anonymous

When I was seventeen in1967, a friend and I got in trouble at school, cutting class to go surfing if I remember right. This was not the first time we had been caught breaking school rules so it was no surprise when we were both called in to the principal’s office.

We were introduced to a couple of army recruiters and given choices. My friend Stein – his mother dead and his father the town drunk – could enlist or go to juvenile hall. I was offered expulsion or military service. I chose expulsion.

Stein, still not eighteen, showed up in Vietnam just in time for the Tet offensive. He was in country for less than two weeks before he was killed.

I would never betray my friend Stein by thanking him for dying in a war that no one has has ever explained to my satisfaction that had anything to do with mine or any other Americans’ freedom, or pursuit of happiness.

I do grieve for the young men and women whose lives are fodder for what we all know are the market forces and political ambitions that motivate modern war. But I will not so blithely dismiss the tragedy of their deaths by rationalizing this horror with empty bromides that have no meaningful connection with reality.

It’s 1971, four years after Stein’s death. And now I carry a gun on the streets of Oakland, California. I have the gun because I do guard duty for the Black Panther Part.

When the Panthers armed themselves to protect their community from police violence I saw and felt for the first time that feeling of willingness to put my life at risk for the sake of the safety and freedom of people I loved, people who I considered to be my brothers and sisters.

I am also spending a lot of time with soldiers. They are all combat veterans from Vietnam who are now joining up with Bay Area revolutionaries and acting as teachers on how to handle weapons and tactics for urban insurrection.

It’s 1998, a lot of years have passed since the end of the Vietnam war and many more young people, most of them like Stein, innocent, have lost their lives in the never ending American military mission to protect my freedom which I am using to drive a cab in San Francisco.

I get a drunk Vietnam vet in my cab and right away he starts in with that ridiculous crap about how we could have won the war if the politicians had some backbone. I am thinking to myself that it must be tough to sustain that wall inside oneself between the lies that helps you feel good and the truths that are too horrible to face, that the war was never about freedom or happiness, that the more Vietnamese that died at hands of Americans, the more determined they were to fight, just as you would if a foreign army had invaded your home town and was doing the same things to your family that you were doing 10,000 miles from your home.

I am weary of this fellow and my first instinct to humor him goes out the window when he starts in on me because I opposed the war. He calls me a peace pussy. That’s it, I rip up his platitudes about the war. I tell him who I hold responsible – Johnson, Nixon, Kissenger. I tell him about the six months jail time I did after being busted at an antiwar rally.

And just as I think that things are going to get really bad, that I am going to have to notify my dispatcher that I need police assistance, he leans his head over the seat – I see his face and I see the tears. He says to me: “Brother, I am glad you didn’t go.”

I am stunned.  After all these years and all the arguments about the war – it’s never been as real as this moment. I told him something I had never got a chance to say to so many of my peers:  “Brother, I am so glad you made it home”.

A little after two in the morning on a San Francisco street two grown men weep in this small moment of stunning truth.

It’s now 2010, I am in Ocean Beach and its Memorial Day. All day long I have been watching the the twenty-somethings give thanks for sunny beach weather and cold beer.

We have been at war in Iraq for eight years and Afghanistan even longer. Too bad more wars don’t add up to more freedom from unemployment, home foreclosures, and bankruptcy .

Me, I think that all these wars did was allow the thieves on Wall Street the freedom to rob the country in broad daylight , get away with it and even get bonuses. I am sure everyone of them is thankful for the American soldiers who made all this possible. And how about those oil execs? They used their freedom from regulatory oversight won with the blood of our young to act recklessly and inflict a serious wound to our mother earth and make billions of dollars in the process. You gotta love that kind of freedom.

Now I know from some of the earlier posts that there are going to be those who want to say to me I should be thankful to my friend Stein and the many others who sacrificed so that i could have the freedom to express my dissent. To them I say “Bullshit, get real!”

If you truly grieve for the fallen then show your outrage at those who put them in harms way for the most cynical ambitions. And I extend this challenge. If you are so sure that there is a demonstrable connection between any American military action post World War Two and our freedom – than prove it. There is only one rule: you have to be concrete, no delusional platitudes, as they have proven to be too deadly.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Dave Sparling June 1, 2010 at 9:30 am

Damn good read, shame whoever wrote it can’t take credit. I would have to include Korea, but for sure the last two Cheney/Rummy CRUSADES top the list a unnecessary human slaughter for money.


avatar Sarah June 1, 2010 at 10:24 am

Thank you, anonymous person.

“If you truly grieve for the fallen then show your outrage at those who put them in harms way for the most cynical ambitions”


avatar annagrace June 1, 2010 at 11:19 am

Powerful. Incisive. And yes, I share your sense of outrage.


avatar Shane Finneran June 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I really enjoyed reading this, too. Thanks to the author.

How ironic was it to see on Memorial Day the news item about the resignation of the German president? The establishment in Germany pushed him out less than two weeks after he made an honest remark about why their country is helping the US occupy Afghanistan:

“A country of our size,” he said, “with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.”


avatar bcsy June 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Many Vietnam Vets were treated horribly by the anti-war crowd. Most never got a thank you. Most never wanted to be there. Most I know don’t and never did have a problem with those who opposed the war. Though I too opposed the Vietnam war, many of the anti-war folks I knew were truly disgusting, selfish individuals. They were so proud of their own minor sacrifice and contrived activism but spit on soldiers coming home. Most of the marines I know enlisted as a result of their sense of duty to country. They trust the Gov. to send them only when necessary. Maybe that is foolish. I think it is important that we support our troops and appreciate their sacrifice even when we disagree with their mission and know our “freedom” isn’t truly at stake.


avatar david June 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm

i am tired of the ” big lies ” that are tossed out from the right as a diversion from real talk. soldiers were not spit on by the masses of anti war protesters. it makes for good pious indignation but it is false story spread by folks like the Cheneys.
here is a reality about those veitnam soldiers . by 1971 the top brass was telling washington that the war was becoming impossible to prosecute because soldiers were refusing to fight. they were going out in the bush and avoiding any confrontation with the vietnamese, choosing instead to find a little shade and light up some potent local weed.
so answer me this, how is it disgusting, selfish and contrived activism to oppose a war that you yourself admit that our freedom wasn’t at stake . you don’t get to claim how much you honor the troops if your so damed ambivalent abut the needless death of 4 million vietnamese and craven expenditure of 55,000 american kids. you said you ” appreciate their sacrifice” even though you next admit it was in vain. i am glad i don’t live in your head.


avatar Frank Gormlie June 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm

bcsy – THE SPIT IS A MYTH – No, many Vietnam vets were NOT “treated horribly by the anti-war crowd”. They were greeting with open arms, treated like brothers and sisters and perceived as victims themselves of the war. It’s an urban myth (BIG LIE) that anti-Vietnam war activists or protesters spit on returning GI’s.

I was in the anti-war movement here in San Diego and never, never heard of any spitting. In fact, at the Oceanside 1969 anti-war protest march, the march was headed up by about 200 to 300 GI’s, marines and sailors themselves – many in uniform.

There were groups like VVAW (Vietnam Vets Against the War) and MDM (Movement for a Democratic Military) here in San Diego, plus groups staffed by activists who counseled active duty personnel with their problems.

So, in summary, THE SPIT IS A MYTH.


avatar Goatskull June 1, 2010 at 8:32 pm

I wish I could fine the link. There was an article on SignOnSanDiego (The ever so wonderful UT) about the current Mayor of Santee saying that when he returned form the war he was greeted by a bunch of protesters not only spitting on him but urinating on him. That had me falling on the floor. Yeah as he was walking through the isles there were men whipping it out and women pulling down there pants in the middle of the airport trying to keep up with him as he was walking and trying to pee on him.

I honor him for serving but he is full of cocky doody with his spitting and urinating story.


avatar Shane Finneran June 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

“The three-term mayor [Randy Voepel] remembers stepping off a plane in San Francisco as a 19-year-old Navy petty officer returning from Vietnam in 1970 and having protesters cuss at him and urinate on his uniform and bag. The police didn’t do anything, he said.”

That story begs for further investigation. Because here’s something from another UT story:

“Jerry Lembcke, a Vietnam veteran turned sociologist, examined the issue in a 1998 book, “The Spitting Image”…”I think the book spawned new stories,” said Lembcke, a professor at Holy Cross College in Worchester, Mass. “And we’ve gone from spit to other kinds of bodily fluids – urine to feces to other things.”

In fact, he found just one contemporary newspaper report of Vietnam veterans braving spittle – in a 1968 edition of The Washington Post. Beyond that, few of these wrenching tales can withstand scrutiny. “When you go looking for some sort of corroboration, it dissolves, it disappears. It’s about a friend of a friend.”


avatar Frank Gormlie June 2, 2010 at 9:40 am

Bump ^ – Perfect Shane, thanks for corroborating the urban myth about spit.


avatar john June 16, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I remember that article by Lembecke, and a number of Vietnam vets came forward and signed their names stating they had been spit on.
Lembecke ultimately fell upon a defense of his point by demanding they produce pictures of the actual event.
So you have people claiming they were spit upon, and people who weren’t there claiming they were not.
Unless you are willing to call the veterans liars, the “I wasn’t there” is a poor form of eyewitness.


avatar Frank Gormlie June 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Ah John, but you see, I was there.


avatar john June 16, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I assume you are being coy.
Unless you are God, you weren’t everywhere at once.
Hey look I wasn’t there to see any of it and I guess you are civil enough not to spit on people. You don’t have to look at much footage to see the anger in people about the war, just because you can’t imagine yourself stooping to that level doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.


avatar Goatskull June 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Vets can lie as much as anyone else. I used to be a recruiter for a couple years so believe me. I still don’t buy the spit thing. You know, if some one were to spit on me I would send a fist flying into their face and I bet so would most. If spitting was such a common thing I think so would retaliation against the spitters and that WOULD HAVE made the news big time during such an unpopular war.


avatar john June 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Here’s one of many arguments where someone supports Lembecke:

And a couple vets come in, give testimony, it happened to them or they saw it happen, and he can’t call them liars-
Yet as Lembecke demands, he wants “hard evidence” in the form of a photograph showing the phlegm flying through the air onto a uniform.
Or a fistfight reported in the newspaper over it. Like you might think you’d get into.
Which is silly, as you just got back from a bloody war, the last thing you are going to do is want to fight an American, besides you’d be hauled up on charges and courts martialed for it.
I wasn’t there to see it happen or not, I am only standing on the fact that the proof that Lembecke and others demand is absurd, and there is no reason for these vets to lie if they say it happened to them.
The way these men were treated is appalling, you know WW2 vets came back and went to the moon and built a great nation becasue they were told they saved the world. A crippling injury was like a badge of honor, people bought you a beer or even elected you to office, like Senator in Kansas.
Vietnam vets were told they went to hell and back for nothing- a mistake, a disabled vet hid in shame and I believe that’s why so many turned to drugs and alcohol and are haunted by PTSD.
If you are told your sacrifice was appreciated, a great accomplishment, that is closure for your mental wounds. You will sleep at night, you grow old and forget the brutalities of war. Remember that word, closure.
I fear Iraq veterans, like Vietnam, will suffer much more PTSD symptoms because unlike WW2, they do not have the closure of knowing the 4 years to hell and back they experienced was worth it and not a day better spent fishing.


avatar Goatskull June 17, 2010 at 11:38 am

I think we agree that the spitting thing is a myth. We’re on the same page for that. I disagree about the fist fight though. I think if an individual were to go through the experience of war only to return and be literally spat on by some college kid, the temper would flare up. As to being hauled off to jail, I doubt it. Under the circumstances a judge would probably cut some slack. That being said, if the spitting thing were real or at least as prevalent as the media made it sound (which you and I agree that it’s not), then we would have heard a lot about returning vets getting into it with the spitters.


avatar john June 17, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Where I will agree with you is that it was an isolated thing, and add that it probably got legs by many others embellishing or passing on hearsay accounts.
It did happen though. Defining it as a “myth” is therefore problematic at best.
We all see things from our own point of view, see how Frank above talks about joining arms as brothers and sisters and I don’t doubt his credibility on it, it’s what he remembers and he’s not a complete tool from what I see here and that’s the way it went down with him.
Others decided it was appropriate to vent frustration with Nixon policies on police, firemen, and ultimately national guardsmen, by assaulting them with rocks, bottles, and attempting to burn down a campus and town in Ohio over four days time. This is all verifiable in the news of the day.
Some choose to portray it as soldiers shooting peaceful protestors exercising their right to disagree with policy.
The truth is in the eye of the beholder. It’s really important to understand saying “they spit on soldiers” doesn’t imply Frank or you or anyone you even ran around with was a spitter, just as those making the claim shouldn’t imply so.
Finally Iraq and Vietnam are beyond comparison simply because this time around there is no draft. People were angry back then as they were sent there against their will.
If we had a necessary conflict today which required a personnel pool necessitating a draft, we should offer an option for people to select Peace Corps type duty, perhaps at less pay or extended time, rather than force them to kill or be killed. In that respect I think the draft during Vietnam was a mistake.
Reluctant conscripts were sent into battle led by young officers, almost all who were offspring of US WW2 officers whose heroism was rewarded with success in civilian life after the big one. This motivates these young officers to take risks, volunteering their units for dangerous missions in the hopes of being decorated for valor- to follow in “dad’s footsteps”.
Not a good thing if you don’t want to be there.
(as John Kerry was actually a JFK protoge’, that was what really went on with him in Vietnam. He was anything but a coward, the swift boat guys got him all wrong. He was courageous but reckless, having to fight his way out of the trouble his desire for decorations got him into. A lot like JFK, indeed.)


avatar JMW June 5, 2010 at 6:53 am

Hi. You’ve hit a couple of pretty good notes in there that no one seems to appreciate.
They are these: Some 40 years after the event, a lady who was taking my fingerprints turned from her work and said, “Thank you.” She didn’t ask and I didn’t tell her that I had hated the experience or that I had, as a result of it, lost faith in the government, but I do recall feeling a great sense of appreciation from hearing her speak those simple words. No one had before.
And this, “Most of the marines I know enlisted as a result of their sense of duty to country. They trust the Gov. to send them only when necessary. Maybe that is foolish.” Foolish? Maybe. Maybe innocent and ignorant. That’s what I was.
This is just a vote for you seeming like good folk. This post doesn’t sound all that “right” to me.


avatar Sarah June 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm

bcsy: I’ll rephrase the key point of this post for you – I don’t think “anonymous” will mind.

“…If you support the troops, show your outrage at those who put them in harms way for the most cynical ambitions.”


avatar Sunshine June 1, 2010 at 7:15 pm

when will we stop exchanging human lives for “goods & greed?”


avatar Brian June 2, 2010 at 3:29 pm

“If you are so sure that there is a demonstrable connection between any American military action post World War Two and our freedom – than prove it.”

Why stop there? We shouldn’t have been involved in WWII… or I.


avatar david June 2, 2010 at 5:33 pm

world war I surely qualifies as the most criminal of wars. millions of lives were destroyed over a colonial contest for resources (mid east oil } and market routes. i read recently that french generals were notified 24 hrs in advance that the armistice ending the war would be signed. eager to establish their positions in the post war hierarchy. many generals ordered their troops into meaning less combat. 10,000 french soldiers lost their lives in that last day of war.
world war II was in many ways a continuation, being also about resources and markets, but with the added arising of fascism and nazism .it is my my own personal belief that the need to resist these ugly and monstrous threats to all humanity made for a just war. don’t misunderstand me, i believe the delayed american invasion of europe until 1944 was a calculated move to let the red army do all the heavy work while millions died in death camps in germany and millions more in russia at the hands of the nazis. in short, the capitalist had plunged the world into war for the reasons of profit, and in doing so they unleashed a german monster that the masses of people rightly recognized had to be stopped.


avatar john June 16, 2010 at 5:53 pm

you are right, though don’t pretend that a stance of “we’re not fighting over stuff, we’re better than that” would ever get you anywhere in the past, present or future.
what it usually does is allow dictators to get stronger, to allow their oppression of those who refuse to fight over stuff to get harder to topple.
you can take the higher road of civility and refuse to fight, but eventually you will have to employ the violent solution.
for the record, I am an independent, liberal on social issues but tend to steer right on foreign policy. my support on US policy since around WW2 or so centers on one pivotal issue:
each of the entities we opposed, be it the communist authoritarian society of the USSR, Hitler’s Nazis, Saddam’s Iraq or others, all had this in common- suppression of journalism and free speech. closed societies with none of our first amendment liberties.
That alone not only makes us right, it means we only usually heard about the bad things we were doing.
A US journalist in the cold war might win a pulitzer for exposing the misdeeds of his government. His USSR counterpart was assured a trip to the gulags for his efforts.
in the end, with war and conflict, there is no “perfect”. there is bad, and less bad.


avatar Shane Finneran June 16, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I prefer the take offered by Major General Smedley Butler, at one time the most decorated Marine in US history, in his classic 1935 book “War is a Racket.” In the book, Butler gives a detailed account of the profiteering that drove US involvement in World War I. Here’s his conclusion:

“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.”


avatar john June 16, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I’m familiar with Smedley Butler and from a certain viewpoint he’s right. However our economy throughout the 20th century, especially the latter half, was dependent upon global ventures and alliances with countries around the world. The implied isolationist stance he suggests would have left us economically stagnant, depleted our natural resources, we’d have experienced a fraction of the growth we did. If you’re thinking, “so what” just think instead of driving a well built car and living in a comfortable house you’d probably be driving a Trabant and living in a one room shack- and in the end the overall mediocrity would have left us vulnerable to attack by whoever won WW2, took our place leading the world, and built up their military and decided we were inviting enough to conquer.
Such a scenario is obviously my positing an alternate reality and can’t be proven. More reality based is that our involvement in conflicts like Iraq is usually tied into alliances we made for favorable trading status in those regions. We park a battleship in a harbor, we got access to commerce others were denied.
Kissinger went to the Saudis in ’73 and trumped the G6 nations, the Royal Family agreed to use their swing vote as top OPEC producers to guarantee indefinately that all OPEC oil be sold pegged to the US dollar. In exchange we offered to protect them from any threat, internal or external. This meant any country that bought OPEC oil had to have dollar assets to do so, a deal which allowed us for the last 37 years to print money out of worthless paper and exchange it internationally for real good and services. This would be threatened as Saddam switches to the Euro in 2000, Iran and Venezuela were itching to join and Chirac was ready to open a petroeuro market in Paris when Iraq’s sanctions ended-explaining his anger over our actions. (most Americans are unaware of the 1973 deal, and think we control 1/2 the world’s wealth because we’re charming or make great movies- no, we’re ruthless and cunning bastards, we told the G6 we wouldn’t do it but did anyway)
Smedley Butler’s plan couldn’t do that.
So I’m agreeing with you philosophically and ethically, but realpolitik means I begrudgingly accept our sins as the way things worked out.


avatar psd June 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Excellent read, Anonymous! Hope to hear more from you, whether with a name or, if you refuse (a habit I acquired whilst employed by one of those megacorporations that regularly perform internet sweeps on their employees), some sort of internet handle…


avatar john June 16, 2010 at 5:33 pm

So how many of you who are declaring you see no point to the Iraq war, also complaining about the BP offshore drilling accident?
I know it’s not popular around here to spew such realities, but WE ALL USE PETROLEUM PRODUCTS and you can’t bash oil companies when they are only providing you and I with necessary resources.
You want to really help a veteran?
Tell them their sacrifice, their suffering, the buddies they saw die before them, that is appreciated by Americans for helping to secure our way of life, and the future of Iraqis who can now share in the revenues of their primary natural resource.
You know, Bush did lie about the WMD.
Blix was going to find no WMD by summer 2003. Saddam had transformed all his programs to dual use commercial chemicals, and had gamed the UN’s inspection regime. It’s in the ISG report.
Blix gives him a clean bill of health, sanctions end.
France, Russia, and China walk in and split the last high pressure light sweet crude wells on earth 3 ways, within a year are pumping out more crude than the Saudis and all the revenues go on the world market in Euros, with the proceeds going to Saddam
Saddam has the largest and most experienced military in the region, only needing new equipment- and the Russians and French were his primary vendors.
Starting to add up?
If I have to explain why this necessitated a war to protect our interests, our way of life, you aren’t really qualified to even start discussing ME policy and this is why the “OMGzers Saddam is going to nuke us!” angle got sold by the MEDIA. Not Bush.
Bush signed into law the joint resolution, not one lie within it.
Never mind we owe the Saudis for almost all the prosperity we’ve experienced since 1973, and Saddam had a hell of a grudge with them since desert storm. A rearmed, emboldened Saddam would be ready to walk into KSA again and allowing that would breach Kissinger’s ’73 agreement with the Royal Family.

so what I’m getting at is people are using their ignorance, their detachment from reality, the argument “I don’t know why we have to be in Iraq” and robbing veterans of a lifetime of gratitude for their sacrifice.

hate me all you like for saying it, but it’s true.

and yes, I’m a veteran. too old for this conflict but I put my money where my mouth was when it was time. even when I was 17, in ’79, I realized all wars are about “stuff”. stop pretending you don’t need it too.


avatar john June 16, 2010 at 5:42 pm

I would add that the ignorance of so many in buying the Democrats in Congress’ claim they were “duped” by Bush manipulating intel, was part of the overall brilliant plan, along with allowing the insurgency to wreak havoc for a few years.
Brilliant? Yep.
Here we are 7 years later. we walked into a country, denied three nations their contracts to expolit its resources, and rearming a brutal dictator bent on regional conquest- helping to stifle China’s economic explosion, and curb the rise of the Euro- and give us primary access to bases to guard over the five nations containing 2/3 of the world’s petroleum-

and we’re playing victims, looking innocent and blaming one idiot president who went home to Texas.

sorry, co president. Cheney was the brains, just unelectable.

all the intel used to go to war was collected under clinton and processed through clinton’s DCI George Tenet, who handed it over to Bush and congress in Sept 02.

It was window dressing. Congress knew that.


avatar Dave Sparling June 16, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Lots of interesting reading. Just want to add what I put of FB after my granddaughters big Winston’s Drunk Poets Society 21st birthday party on Monday June 14th.
Old Hermit Dave The party is over so now back to my day job and
every waking hour job. Read study and write about what is happening in
this crazy world. Never loose hope that the human intelligence level
will someday rise above DUMB ASS in regard to what the Merchant
Bankers have done to the masses since they had JFK murder


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