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The Other Casualties of War


It was a typical Memorial Day weekend around here. There was a ceremony with an honor guard at a local church in my town of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, while nearby Kennett Square hosted a parade. The Brandywine Creek was filled with people tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and picnicking. There were also a slew of war movies on TV.

Most were WW II propaganda flicks. As a kid I loved them. I even liked John Waynes war movies back then. Not anymore, though. Not for a long time.

Im one of the luckiest people going. While in the Air Force I spent three months on Okinawa and then a total of 16 months in Southeast Asia but I was stationed at U-Tapao Airbase in Thailand where we only got hit twice during my two stays there. More than 50,000 of my peers sent to Vietnam never made it home outside of a box.

The worst things I brought back home with me were a case of survivor guilt and the realization that, while my efforts and those of others with whom I was stationed saved some American lives, I share responsibility for the deaths of untold innocent Vietnamese.

I didnt drop the bombs, but I helped the bombers get to where they were going.

The war in Vietnam was something from which we should have learned. I learned that our government lies and keeps truth from the American people. On Okinawa I learned that the Soviet, Chinese, and North Vietnamese governments knew we had an SR-71 reconnaissance plane at Kadena Airbase Okinawans would stand off base and take photos of it taking off but I wasnt allowed to write home and tell my family about it.

During the war, the United States would call a Christmas truce, but bomb the North anyway. The Viet Cong committed atrocities while our side supposedly didnt. Mei Lei blew that myth.

Even our presence in the country was based on lies and deceptions. President Harry Truman told Ho Chi Minh that he would help get the French out of Vietnam and reunify the country if Ho fought the Japanese during WW II. Truman went back on his word. Years earlier, President Woodrow Wilson similarly snubbed Ho, which led the Vietnamese leader to seek help from the Soviet Union. Then came Lyndon Johnson.

The massive U.S. troop build up in Vietnam was based on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. That was the lie that said the North Vietnamese Navy illegally attacked U.S. naval vessels the USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy in international waters in 1964. Not so. Our vessels deliberately instigated hostilities by intruding into North Vietnams territorial waters.

That resolution, though, gave Johnson the authorization to use military force without a declaration of war and led to a total of 360,000 Americans being killed or wounded in Vietnam.

It didnt stop when we lost that war. Remember Bosnia and Somalia? How about Grenada and Panama and any number of other hot spots? Before that, President Truman got us into Korea. Then there was Dubbya.

President George W. Bush committed us to a war in Iraq that was based on more lies: the lie of weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States. Both were bogus claims. Now, President Obama is keeping troops in Iraq, as well as maintaining military forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has us bombing Libya.

The United States maintains an estimated 700 military installations in 130 different countries. We still have bases in Germany and Japan, countries we defeated 66 years ago. Only an empire needs that level of military presence.

Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember our war dead. Presidents must truly love the idea because they keep putting our troops in situations where the numbers of war dead are guaranteed to increase. The war on terror will simply keep that trend going.

We should remember the war dead, but not just the men and women who die. When we remember the fallen, we should remember, too, that truth and liberty are casualties of war.

The Patriot Act, a disgustingly named piece of legislation, has stripped away constitutionally guaranteed rights against unlawful searches and seizures. Phones are tapped and computer files rifled without a warrant signed by a judge and the target isnt even allowed to tell anyone. Travelers are subjected to nude body scans and intimate groping at airports and there are talks of expanding that procedure to train and bus stations. Police in New York City are already using dogs to sniff people entering subway stations.

The withholding of income tax was a temporary war measure during WW II and during WW I, the First Amendment was violated. A Hollywood movie producer was jailed because he made a film about the American Revolution that depicted British troops committing atrocities. The Brits were our allies in 1917 and it was illegal to show them in less than a friendly light.

It is proper to remember those who died in legitimate wars wars of true self-defense but our spate of illegal wars are based on aggression, imperialism and bullying. If we chose defense to offense, we would make fewer enemies and fewer dead who need to be remembered.

The human dead cannot be brought back to life, but liberty can be achieved and, with it, peace. Ultimately, there can be no peace without liberty.

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    Rich Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.