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Archive for the ‘Citizen Soldiers’ Category

I am encouraged by the nominations of Vietnam veterans Chuck Hagel and John Kerry to the top cabinet posts of Defense Secretary and Secretary of State. It feels like a long overdue acknowledgment and recognition of the experiences of our generation. Perhaps it will reflect and reinforce the deep skepticism toward war many of us learned from serving in the military during that time.

Our country is usually safer and less prone to sanctify military action when our decision-makers have experienced the suffering and horrors of war. Spare us the arm-chair warriors (‘chicken hawks’ the veterans derisively call them) sacrificing soldier lives for geopolitical fantasies.

When I saw the photos published in last week’s New York Times of Hagel and Kerry in their class A uniforms, so young and uncertain, I could see myself many years ago. Like Hagel, I was an enlisted man, never rising above the rank of Spec 4, the same as Hagel’s rank in the photo.

Hagel and Kerry were on the front lines of battle and were wounded in combat. I was stationed safely back in the States playing in the army band. But we were part of the same turbulent, perplexing experience of serving in an unpopular and unjust war.

Vietnam shaped our lives profoundly. As he was medevaced out of the country, Hagel vowed “to do everything I can to avoid needless, senseless war.” Kerry returned to civilian life to become a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, testifying in 1971 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

I spoke out against the war as an active duty soldier, part of the GI peace movement that spread through the military in those years. I spent my time when not on duty circulating petitions and organizing protests among fellow soldiers. When military commanders punished us for being ‘troublemakers,’ we filed a law suit in federal court to defend our First Amendment rights.

The Vietnam experience drove me to spend my life trying to prevent war and now to researching and teaching ways of building peace and resolving conflicts nonviolently.

I hope Hagel and Kerry will bring more realistic, less militaristic perspectives to U.S. military and foreign policy. Perhaps our nation can finally learn the lessons of Vietnam (and also of Iraq and Afghanistan), to avoid the temptation of war and focus on building peace through international cooperation.

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Budget Baloney

Many are rightly criticizing the Romney-Ryan budget plan, which would slash funds for needed social programs while providing additional tax cuts for the super-rich. Less attention has focused on the candidates’ proposals for military spending, which are equally distorted. The Ryan budget plan would reduce spending on veteran’s benefits, while providing additional funds for weapons and military programs that even military leaders believe are unnecessary.

According to a recent message from Veterans for Common Sense, Rep. Ryan’s 2013 budget plan would cut $11 billion from benefit programs for veterans. It would replace current veteran’s health programs with a voucher system, as Ryan has proposed for Social Security. Costs for veterans would increase.

A recent analysis from the National Priorities Project shows that over the next decade the Ryan plan would cut $1.28 trillion from discretionary non-defense programs such as education, the environment and the social safety net, while adding almost $600 billion in additional military spending. This is more than Pentagon leaders advocate.  When the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before Congress that they support the Obama administration’s modest reductions in projected military budget increases, Ryan publicly questioned their veracity, drawing a rebuke from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Romney and Ryan claim to be concerned about reducing budget deficits, but their proposals would significantly increase the budget deficit. They vow to support veterans but propose slashing their health programs. They say they want to shrink the size of government, but they propose increasing the budget of the largest and most wasteful government bureaucracy, the Pentagon, disregarding even military assessments of appropriate spending levels.

Thanks to Veterans for Common Sense and National Priorities Project for helping to expose this hypocrisy.

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