Friday, June 13, 2014

Iraq & Vietnam – Oh, So Similar / The Ignored Veterans / Gay Rights & Mr. Hudson

Again, 40 Years Later – Mr. Gripes, a student of history all his life, is not generally an adherent of the much-tossed-around adage that ‘history repeats itself.’ It’s his belief that every era has its own distinctive characteristics, and, consequently, rather than a repetition, a historical event occupies its own unique space.

But, this week, the headlines emanating from Iraq, to a ‘T’, evoke identical sentiments that Mr. Gripes felt some 40 years ago, or, 1975 to be precise. A little background is in order:

In the years prior to 1975, as the war in Vietnam was winding down, the Nixon-Kissinger Administration insisted, over and over again, Vietnamese troops, well trained and sufficiently armed, would be capable of offering security to the country when the American forces left. In nothing but confident tones, at least publicly, President Nixon, and his sidekick Henry Kissinger, avowed over and over again there was nothing to worry about. South Vietnam would remain safe and secure from its enemy to the north, and would remain a loyal American ally even as we drew down our military commitment.

Suddenly – and it did happen very quickly, just like what’s occurring in Iraq now – we started reading stories of frightened Vietnamese troops giving up the fight, either deserting to the enemy or throwing away their guns and disappearing into the ‘bush.’ American forces, caught off guard by a complete South Vietnam army collapse, immediately began flying out of the areas north of Saigon; desperate South Vietnamese soldiers even attempted to jump on to the planes as they were taking off, with Marines fending them off with rifle butts. The rout had begun.

The North Vietnam troops, in no time, were marching south toward Saigon, as city after city fell to their troops. South Vietnamese troops fled south too, just in front of the enemy. The defeat was total, and the Vietcong, with no opposition, reached Saigon at the end of April, taking over the capital in just one day with no armed resistance.

That situation way back then has an eerie resemblance to what’s going on in Iraq presently : The Iraqi forces, constantly praised by their American counterparts for their ability to provide security for their country when the Americans leave, are instead throwing away their arms, deserting and returning to their villages as civilians – just like in 1975. And, the speed of the Iraqi army collapse evokes exactly the same shock and surprise as the fall of Vietnam 40 years ago.  Already, two large cities have been occupied by the ‘insurgents’, as they are called in the papers. There’s a sense in the air of total defeat. The Taliban and/or Al Queda will win after all. Once again, The United States has been severely damaged by its huge capacity for self-delusion.  

While on the subject of self-delusion, Mr. Gripes is acutely aware that there are plenty of Republicans reading this, who will not like what I’m going to assert: this was and is George Bush’s war. He’s solely responsible for getting us into a war in which there was no national-security interest: there were no Al Queda nor Taliban in Iraq [Hussein would have executed everyone of them] when it was invaded in 2003, and there was no connection between Iraq and 9-11 either. Iraq is on the verge now of becoming the largest and most dangerous ‘breeding grounds’ for our ferocious Al Queda enemies. 

How insane is that: from no Al Queda or Taliban on Iraqi territory before our invasion to a country that will create thousands and thousands of them. And, all of this could have been avoided without a single soldier dying. Bush and Cheney should be tried as war criminals.

There’ll be one huge difference between this war and the Vietnam fight: the blood bath that will ensue after Al Queda wins is going to be epic. The North Vietnamese put their southern enemies in ‘re-education’ camps for a few years, then they were released, and that was it. Al Queda? They’ll execute anybody who had any relationship with the Allies; teachers, soldiers, women, children, families, politicians, businessmen, religious leaders – the killing fields are going to be awful. The blood of all these victims, like Lady McBeth, will not easily be cleansed from the hands of George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. And let’s not forget the souls of the 4,486 American soldiers who died for nothing. 

Class War-Fare – If Mr. Gripes may be a bit flippant for a moment, we’ve been to this rodeo before: I’m talking about the now-upon-us scandal regarding the unconscionable and callous treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans by the Veterans Administration. Remember the revelations about abysmal care of vets at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda during the Bush Administration? Same thing today: seemingly right under the ostensibly vigilant eyes and ears of officials of all stripes, veterans, then and now, are shunned like garbage that’s been left in the sun for a week.

It’s outrageous, to say the least. Sure, the VA appears to be just another entrenched, non-responsive bureaucracy that doesn’t give one sh_t about its constituents: it’s as if these VA flunkies are saying, “Let ‘em wait for treatment for six months; they can just sit on their sofas and bitch all they want to their wives, but I’m not paying attention. I got one hell of a cushy government job, and I’m just countin’ the days before my fully invested pension kicks in-- then I’m out the door. F__k ‘em.’

But, as incompetent and uncaring as the VA acts, Mr. Gripes puts the most blame for this outrage on another unresponsive bunch: elected officials. I’m not only talking about the national politicians, the senators and representatives. I’m talking about all of them, from town, city and municipal officials, all the way up the chain. They must hear complaints all the time about the massive problems veterans are faced with, and yet nothing’s done.  Unashamedly, these guys [and it’s ‘guys’ who are the main culprits; women, I’m sure, would act much more benevolently, faced with this situation] have no compunction about getting in front of crowds come Memorial Day or July 4 and tearfully thank veterans for ‘their service and sacrifice to their country.’ What empty words from the mouths of cretins.

It’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind. That’s the mindset of the officials who have oversight over the treatment of veterans. Once the crowds on patriotic holidays dissipate, it’s back to the business of ignoring the soldiers’ plight.  And, in that vein, what the hell are the Congressional oversight committees for veteran affairs doing? They have just ONE job: make sure the Veterans Administration works as humanely and efficiently as possible for ailing and troubled veterans. That’s all they’re required to do, and they’ve failed again.

You ask yourself, ‘Why? Why the screw-ups? Why the utter disregard for people who endured these stupid, senseless wars?’ At first glance, there appear to be no adequate answers. 

There is, in fact, a very simple explanation, once American class structure is examined.  Active-duty soldiers, and veterans, mostly come from economically disadvantaged circumstances, or, more bluntly, from poor families. The military option is often their only pathway to getting out of their neighborhoods and escaping  impoverishment. So, they join up.

And, as the chasm between the affluent and poor classes widens in this country, the disadvantaged are more and more marginalized: when politicians spend more and more time raising money from the rich, and make decisions based on their contributors’ wishes, the concerns of the struggling poor become less and less of a factor in governance. The government has become a rich man’s playground.

And, the rich vs. poor class battle is the obvious explanation for this morally criminal behavior, as veterans generally come from and return to meager circumstances. They have no political clout anymore, and no influence, because they have no money. 

This week, the Senate passed a bill allowing veterans getting the run-around at VA hospitals the option of using local physicians instead -- by a vote of 98-0. What assistance did those 98 son-of-a-bitch senators offer to these poor vets before? They did nothing, until bad publicity forced them to act. It’s the same old story.

One more crucial factor in this debacle:  the increasingly insular, affluent American citizen doesn’t lift a finger for vets either – an average, upper-class American would say, ‘Sure, it’s messy, it’s a sad situation, but it’s not my problem; someone else deal with it.’ Politicians, understanding precisely the apathy of their voters, and realizing the affluent class is overwhelmingly fixated on their own parochial desires, simply avert their eyes from every one of these desperate, troubled, and barely-making-it vets, wishing they’d all go far, far away. Until the roof caves in.

Rock Hudson  -- Do you recall, readers, the complete shock when you found out that Rock Hudson had died of AIDS? Mr. Gripes could not believe it: Rock Hudson, the actor who slept in the beds of Doris Day and many other beautiful women in the movies, and from all indications straight as an arrow [at least, to me], dying of AIDS? Impossible. 

My goodness, we were so innocent and ignorant back then. Mr. Hudson died in 1985, yet it seems as if his death occurred a thousand years ago. Gay ‘liberation’ from closeted, furtive lives has been gathering momentum ever since, with state and federal laws against homosexual union and marriage being tossed into the trash bin at a quickening pace.

Why so fast? It’s Mr. Gripes’ belief that television, of all things, was the catalyst that really propelled the progress of gay rights on a national scale. Let’s not forget that one of the tightly held tenets of individuals who were against gay rights was the idea that somehow gay people, if they were in close proximity to straight people, might attempt to ‘seduce’ them and convince them to become homosexuals. Gays were ‘different,’ and that scared the hell out of a lot of people.

The MTV reality show, ‘The Real World’ , which originated in 1992, was the first show, I think, in which homosexual participants living in the house did not conceal the fact that they were gay – the homosexual person living among 5 or 6 straight people did not try to ‘play-act’ a heterosexual. If he were gay, everyone was going to know about it. He or she hid nothing. And guess what? Everyone in that house came to accept that person as an equal, to be treated with the same respect – or, just as likely on that show, disrespect -- and with the same dignity as everyone else.  The straights remained straight, and the gays remained gay. And they all got along fine, for the most part.

Watching that show every week pried open a lot of prejudiced eyes: they observed that gay people are essentially no different than straight people – the struggles of life, love and work are the same for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. 

Smoking marijuana will be the next bastion to fall. And, it’s happening very quickly, too. Still, there remain fortresses of ignorance: a professional football player was just banned from playing for one year, forfeiting millions of dollars in salary, because a drug test revealed marijuana traces in his blood. I feel for the guy. In another year, I’ll bet, the draconian penalty for marijuana use in professional athletics will be toast; there’ll be no longer equating marijuana with cocaine or performance-enhancing drugs.

There is other opposition, of course, to legalizing marijuana. One of the more convincing arguments revolves around driving impairment. In that regard, Mr. Gripes recounts an incident in one of Chris Farley’s movies: Mr. Farley had just left a party in which he partook the pleasures of smoking a couple of marijuana ‘bongs’, got stoned up to his eyeballs, and is now driving down a freeway in southern California, going back home. He gets pulled over by a cop.

The state trooper swaggers up to Mr. Farley’s car window, at which point Mr. Farley looks up at the officer, asking him, meekly, “What I’d do?” 

“Young man,” the cop exclaims, “do you have any idea how fast you were driving?”
Mr. Farley, in a whisper, offers, “Fifty-five?”
“Seven!”, the trooper bellows, “seven bleeping miles an hour!”

So, boys, don’t worry: excessive speeding and marijuana do not go well together.

Jim Israel
Mr. Gripes
June 13, 2014