Lies About the War and Lies About Ourselves by Daniel N. White

by Daniel N. White
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
February 19, 2010

My younger brother the attorney has a friend from high school I know reasonably well who is also an attorney–he’s worked in the biggest state’s AG’s office doing appellate criminal for a quarter century now, and is at the top of the legal food chain there. Let’s call my brother’s friend Bill. Bill has an adult son I met for the first real time two and a half years ago during their last visit to Austin. Bill’s son had been getting in trouble in his home town and the final straw was his stealing a senior police officer’s bicycle and riding around him in circles taunting him. That part might be sort of funny but the other stuff he was up to wasn’t, and the law had been gunning for him, so even with a daddy who had no small amount of legal clout he was in serious trouble and the judge was giving him the choice of the military or prison. The boy took the military, and the Army was giving what sounded to him and his folks the best deal–two year enlistment, but you’d be going to Iraq for one of those years. Boy took the deal; his parents signed off on it.

Bill’s son was on his way to Iraq that last visit to Austin then and nobody was happy with that state of affairs. I talked to him for a good bit and maybe I said something useful to him about getting through it safe and sound. Mostly he made it through by himself, mostly by doing well on the aptitude tests the Army gave him that got him a rear echelon mostly clerical job. Gets out of the Army, probably the better for it with the adolescent punk knocked out of him, with a more serious attitude about life to him too. Starts college, does well his first semester, and then gets his stop-loss orders in the mail and is now I hear in Afghanistan for another year.

I just don’t understand it. Neither Bill nor his wife are idiot reactionaries, they mostly always vote Democrat and they don’t listen to Rush or Fox or their ilk. Socioculturally I’d say that they are dope-and-chablis Republicans, who vote Democrat part out of habit equally with their distaste for the fundy right. Neither of them support the wars, both acknowledge their futility, yet they have sent their only son off to them, twice, both times preventably. The first time was the choice of two years in the Army with a guarantee to Iraq over four years in the Air Force or Navy. Maybe they just couldn’t persuade their son as to the wisdom of that choice–real possible, the boy is over 18 after all. But the second time, after the stop-loss notice? No excuse there. According to The Center for Conscience and Law, which has been doing GI-rights law for over 20 years now, (Their number is 202-483-2220) Uncle isn’t prosecuting anybody who ignores a stop-loss order.* If you get a stop-loss recall to active duty, you ignore it and Uncle just goes away after a round of nastygrams. This information on stop-loss prosecutions is readily available on the attorney grapevine to any attorney who knows how to use it; inconceivable Bill doesn’t. And if you aren’t an attorney, all you have to do is call the GI Rights Hotline (at 1-877-447-4487), which has only been around since 1968, and you’ll get the inside scoop quick like. What is the excuse? What is the reason?

The first thing this shows is how badly the habit–I wouldn’t call something that stupid a sense–of obedience to authority is ingrained in professional white America these days. The son, the mom and dad, and the grandparents could have any squawked and dug in their heels and none of them did. They didn’t like it happening, but the idea of not going, of telling Uncle to stick it must just never have occurred to them. Why of course you can’t break the law you know. Just have to go along and do it you know that’s just how it always is you know. Habits of obedience, and attitudes of resignation. Probably the strongest habits and attitudes your average middle-class American has. The hell of it is that these habits and attitudes here, irrefutably, trump love of your own flesh and blood, your children. And that’s wrong. Sick, too, really.

Second thing this shows is how false the arguments about the war going on because we don’t have a draft are. Commentators have been saying that for years now, seems to be a generally accepted explanation among educated white people why the wars continue. The wars would stop if we drafted affluent white kids from the suburbs, they all say, with the clearly inferred subtext that they and their suburban white baby-boom and Gen X’ers who’ve made it into suburban affluence colleagues would step up and get active and stop the war if it was their kids going off to these wars. But because we’re sending the socioeconomic marginalized kids from the US’ economic disaster zones off to Iraq and Afghanistan, well, the government can get away with the wars.

These statements have bothered me for as long as I’ve been hearing them. First thing is that we here in the US had the draft every year from 1940 until 1973 (with one year off in ’48) and our having the draft didn’t affect our going to all the wars we fought across the globe during those years or our prosecution of those wars once we started them. People making the draft argument are arguing against history, which is a tough argument to win against. Second thing is an underlying tone of superiority and condescension here from the people making it towards a lot of other Americans. What is being said is that if only the right people (us) got involved, (as opposed to the wrong{?}people?, them{?}) why things would be different. The classism here is odious and obvious. Third thing is the notion that a draft would motivate suburban parents to get politically active like the draft did in Vietnam. The historical facts are that a majority of the people out in the streets during Vietnam were the young, not their parents. Nobody making the argument about the draft is calling for youth revolt in the streets which if history repeated itself logically enough is what would happen; instead they are expecting some nebulous sort of suburban parents all of a sudden making the system work right for once you know instead. Good luck there, GI. Fourth thing is that duh, we do have a draft; it is the US Army’s stop-loss program. Tens of thousands drafted already, folks, don’t kid yourselves otherwise. Fifth thing is the unasked question about just why the wars themselves, with their death, destruction, staggering economic wastage, and permanent blackening of the US’ good name and reputation, alone isn’t enough to get the right white people politically active and off their asses to do something. Sounds like what is being said is that the only thing that would get (the right) Americans going is a death threat to their progeny. Doesn’t say much for them and their involvement in the American democratic system, does it? And then there is Bill’s son’s case, and what it shows.

Bill the skilled and able lawyer and his Treasury Department investigator wife had their son drafted, drafted after he’d already done his turn, drafted out of college, and sent off to a war they don’t agree with and they didn’t do shit to stop it happening. The wars would continue with a draft same as they have been because most all American parents, and hell their kids too, would roll over like Bill et famille did. They’d roll over and accept their lot same as the socioeconomically disenfranchised families and their kids do, for fundamentally the same reasons of obedience and resignation. Obedience, resignation, and their fundamental powerlessness against and insignificance to the United States Government, no matter where they live or what they do for a living or how highly they think of themselves. All of what the commentators who say that the draft would change things are saying, is in essence, is another round of baby-boomer white college-educated doofus self-congratulation about what a great bunch they are, what an able and connected and committed bunch they are, how they would and could stop the war if only they–white middle class or better suburbanites–got involved. What a bunch of solopcistic bullshit.

The obedience and resignation sickness infects middle class and better suburban white Americans deep enough to where the draft could be turned on tomorrow, and take their sons (and hell daughters, too) off to our shameful wars and they wouldn’t do anything. That’s the underlying truth of things in this country now, and I’m willing to bet that if you managed to look deep enough past all the layers of self-delusion most white Americans cover themselves in you’d find most would acknowledge that, too. What I can’t say is whether or not they have enough decency left in themselves to be ashamed of their impotence and cowardice and their lies to and about themselves and their lack of moral commitment and even the lack of any much enough love for their children to put themselves and their lifestyles at risk to protect them. Much less for anyone else’s, in this world. And do they even have any that much love for themselves, to be like this? I don’t think so.

Lets start with some honesty. If we want to do anything about stopping the wars, and preventing ones in the future, lets start with some honesty about ourselves and our society. Lets stop kidding ourselves about who we are and what we really believe in. Lets see ourselves in an honest way for who we are and what we believe in, and if we don’t like it, then we need to change it, change ourselves goddammit, it is that simple. And if we are all happy with ourselves the way we really are, that our biggest love is that of obedience to authority and happiness comes from resignation to your impotence** well hell then it’s time for us to face up to it and embrace it and be honest that that is both who we are and what we want the rest of the world to be like too and that’s why we are dropping bombs on them, so there. And that the rest of the world thinks different, well then we’ll just drop some more bombs on them, that’ll settle it.

And everyone who thinks different, and who wants to be a part of a different better America in a better happier world–well a good place to start is to get the word out about stop-loss and keep our young men and women from going back to those two god-damned wars.

*IMPORTANT CLARIFYING POINT HERE! I’m referring to a recall to active duty stop-loss order, one where you are already out of uniform and get recalled to active duty. What Uncle is tending to do more of lately is to issue GI’s a stop-loss order just before their enlistment runs out and they get discharged. Ignoring a stop-loss order as a civilian is safe. Ignoring a stop-loss order while you are in uniform is a certain ticket to a court-martial and prison and a BCD. (Bad Conduct Discharge)

**Matt Taibbi, in his (excellent and well worth reading) The Great Derangement, points out that the Pat Hagee fundamentalist megachurch’s (which is a fairly typical specimen of the species) leading tenets are resignation to your lot in life and obedience to authority. There is nothing in their doctrine about working towards a better world in fulfillment of Jesus’ orders to, and in fact I doubt any of them even imagine a world in the future that did a better job of doing that than we do now.

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