From a Texas Air Force vet

Via The Poor Man, a retired soldier’s eloquent and very sobering take on the election, written to family and friends. Worth a read (Porters and Tompkins, especially you).

Friends and relatives,

In only five days, most of us (minus those of us who have already voted early) will be going to the polls to vote for our next president and various state and local candidates. Not trying to sound overly dramatic, I believe this is the most important election in my lifetime. I want to make sure my choice is correct and that I leave a better country, state, county and city for my children and grandchildren, plus all the others who will be affected by my vote. Normally in the past, I have not revealed my choice for national office, not even to close family members, nor have I campaigned for a specific candidate. This election in 2004, however, has spurred me to action. As well as the importance of any election, I believe this one election offers a choice between a foreboding or a bright future, between promises of a one-party country and a true democracy, between mean-spirited actions and inclusive concern. I cannot sit by and not speak my mind. I don’t pretend to try and sway undecideds to my way of thinking, not convert those who disagree. Nor do I want to pander to those who agree with me. I simply want to put down on paper my thoughts in as candid a manner as possible.

By now many of you have received the email from S—- which included a letter I had received from a former Air Force General, Tony Verrengia whom I had known when I was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was commenting on an article by Texas political commentator, Molly Ivins, regarding what she sees as a disturbing trend toward fascism in the Republican Party, not necessarily wanted by moderate Republicans. My letter may strike some of those same notes, but I felt like I had to explain why I am voting for John Kerry this year. As you read on, I hope you will understand why I had to.

S—- and I have lived in Texas for over 21 years – first as a military family bouncing between Wichita Falls and San Antonio, and then as employees in the private sector of the Texas economy. Many of you do not understand all the ins and outs of Texas politics – be they from a Democratic or Republican Party perspective. The one thing I did understand, and I gathered a lot of information from S—- when she worked for an analytical think-tank in Austin called The Center for Public Policy Priorities, was the wretched state of affairs in this state when then Governor George W. Bush ran for election for president in 2000. He left this state (and it still is, thanks to his successor, Rick Perry) close to last in most measurable categories of excellence, but at the top in the less desirable categories such as the percentage of children without health insurance. Unfortunately, nothing is going to change in Texas, because our present governor started out the last legislative session with the proclamation, “No new taxes!” So, with the downturn in the economy and corporations getting huge tax breaks to attract them to this state, there will not be enough money in the State budget to correct the problems that affect us all. Of course, statements like “No new taxes” will play to the masses – people who don’t want to or can’t understand that the lack of money in the state treasury will affect them much more than the wealthy who could care less.

It was for these reasons that in 2000, whenever someone would realize I was from Texas, they would say, “So you’re from Texas; you must be voting for George Bush.” I would emphatically respond, “No, and that’s because I AM from Texas.” I realize that there are many people from Texas who have voted and will vote for George W. Bush. I don’t believe they have carefully examined George W. Bush’s record these past 3-1/2 years and are unwilling to educate themselves as to the character problems displayed by our current president. A lot of these people are what I called, single-issue voters. They base their vote on one single issue without looking at the bigger picture.

I served my country as an Air Force officer for more than 27 years. Back in early 2003, before we went to war in Iraq, I was at the demonstrations here in Austin carrying signs that said “No, to war in Iraq.” I did not feel threatened by Hussein and his minions, nor did I believe the rhetoric coming out of the White House, State Department and the Pentagon. I, like John Kerry, fought in Viet Nam, but I was hardly down at the grass roots levels as was Bush’s Democratic challenger. Yes, we lost several pilots from my squadron during my year in Southeast Asia, but these were deaths that seemed more distant than someone being shot in front of your eyes. Yet, as the years went by, I, too, realized that our rationale for going to war in Viet Nam was seriously flawed, and I saw the same reckless decisions as we headed into war with Iraq.

While I volunteered for my duty in Viet Nam, I must say that W’s “escape” from war duties by jumping ahead of other applicants for the Texas ANG in Houston was deplorable. Yet, it’s not the only example I know of. During my 20th class reunion at my high school in Washington DC in 1981, I discovered that many of my classmates got deferments by enrolling in college and getting married. These were mostly the well-to-do classmates who are now mostly Republicans. They could have been just like the Neo-conservatives (Neocons) in this present administration who purport to understand all about war and have no qualms about sending us and our young men and women into war, but who never actually were in the military or fought in a war themselves. I guess I was a bit naïve to assume that all my classmates would have done their patriotic duty. In fact, I applaud those who demonstrated against the war and who risked jail or who left the country more than I do those who relied on legal technicalities to escape service to their country. One group followed their conscience, while the other just “chickened out.” And I didn’t consider moving to Canada as deserting, because the alternative was being thrown in jail here in the States.

I remember returning from Viet Nam in May of 1969 to Seattle-Tacoma Airport to a rousing welcome by…no one. I guess I didn’t realize it at the time – just how unpopular the war was – until I witnessed just how the troops returning from the first Gulf War were greeted. It was even later, as I mentioned above, that I realized that our rationale for being in Viet Nam, and the loss of American and Vietnamese lives was not worth it to accomplish our muddled goals. John Kerry understood much earlier than I did how folly our goals were when he lobbied against the war after his return. Of course, George W. Bush could not have cared less. He wasn’t within arms distance of a combat unit and thumbed his nose at Air Force and Air National Guard regulations requiring that he perform his duty with the Guard. If you’re pampered enough to get into the Guard unit in the first place, then you really have no reason to fear any repercussions about failure to perform your duty in the Guard. He understood that all too well.

Now fast forward from Viet Nam to the present era. I was against GW Bush in the 2000 elections mainly because of what he had done in and to Texas. Like a friend and candidate for a Texas House District seat here in Austin, Kelly White, I used to consider myself independent as a voter. But in recent years, and especially since I have read about the character and career of one George W. Bush, I have become more stridently a Democrat. As I sat and listened to friends and colleagues discuss why they favor the Republican Party, I began to realize that I was not a part of that group. In fact, I wasn’t even close to them. Rightly or wrongly, I began to see Republicans as a repudiation of all the good attributes that were instilled in me by my mother since I was a child. I began this journey, I believe, when Ronald Reagan became president. I saw through his plan to privatize all that was being done in the public sector. He was going to rely upon private businesses to solve the unemployment problems and many other social ills that had befallen our country. I was incredulous. I remember heated debates in class at the Air Force Academy about whether the private sector would act for the general good or for what was good for them and their shareholders. The answer to me was obvious – but it took 8 years of Reaganomics to show the unbelievers that the private sector was corporately selfish when it came to helping the general population. It demonstrated that there is a definite need for the federal government in the protection of the general population.

The present administration and its Neo-conservative politics have gone way beyond that approach to governance. It has catered to special interests in a way that no other administration has ever dared to do…and all under the guise of “family values.” “If you’re not with us; you must be the enemy.” That’s exactly the approach this administration took to those who dared question what happened before and after September 11, 2001. Like most Americans, I supported the president’s decision to go after Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan. And like many in this country, I strongly opposed the decision to invade Iraq. My arguments at the time – this is for oil and to bail out the senior Bush’s decision not to go into Iraq – were a bit simplistic, but not far from the truth. I have read reports, analyses and books in recent months and discovered, to my surprise, that many moderate conservatives and MANY former military officers hold views similar to mine or even more insightful as to the danger of the neo-conservative strategy for domestic and international dominance. It’s not a coincidence that all these threads intertwine, nor is it a coincidence that so many people have written about the basic flaws within this administration, more than have written about any other administration in our history. It’s actually scary. If you have any questions as to how and why, just READ. There are plenty of sources that bring to light all these ties.

That’s just a small piece of the evil puzzle. I use that word, “evil” with hesitation. It’s not a word I use lightly, but after seeing what this administration has forced onto the people of the world, it’s the only one that fits. Sure, radical Islam is often to be feared as being dangerous to us, but I equate what the Bush Administration is doing to us, citizens of the United States, with a technique we learned when we were on a survival trek at the Air Force Academy. Each group of 10 cadets was given a live domestic rabbit for food (broth, smoked meat, etc). After the hunter in our element cut the rabbit’s throat and let it bleed all over the place, our element leader/instructor suggested an approach that was a bit more humane and a lot less messy. He told us that the best way was to pet the rabbit running your hand down its head, over its ears and down its back to get it to relax. Once it was relaxed, you would then deliver a swift karate-type strike to the back of its neck which would kill it swiftly and with a lot less mess. That’s what I see this administration attempting to do – pacify those of us who are unbelievers (be it with tax cuts or promises of better this or that) until we become relaxed and unawares. Then comes the karate chop – the one-party system envisioned by Karl Rove. Then Big Brother really will exist.

I know that our family is very concerned about life issues. I would like to recommend a truly holistic, world view of life issues. I know that I stand on firm ground from the perspective of two respected Catholics, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. I would suggest that life issues go well beyond the single issue of abortion. As our pastor here in Austin stated in a letter to the parish two weeks ago, abortion is just “one of many” issues in the pro-life arena. Others include quality education, health care (both physical and mental health care), being against the death penalty, and (here’s Pope JP II) being against pre-emptive wars. Also on this list are trade and foreign policies that knowingly harm other societies; constructing more prisons today than schools, rehabilitation programs and mental health facilities; refusing to look at the imbalance in racial makeup in our prison systems; asking why and then formulating city, state and national policy around the issues of racial profiling, and economic inequity (a BIG one for Mother Teresa); domestic and foreign trade and environmental policies that compromise the physical and mental health of children that are not our own; a foreign policy that obliterates whole groups of women, children and elderly to prove a point; treating prisoners in ANY system over which we have authority in an inhumane, sadistic and cruel way – behind our backs and without our consent; and demonizing one religion over another. None of these practices presently part of our body politic is pro-life. That’s one reason I have a difficult time when they play and sing “God Bless America” at sports contests. To many in our American society, that is providing fuel to the belief that whatever we do is good – even torturing prisoners ala Rush Limbaugh, because God is on our side. Is God really on our side if we are that barbaric? It’s the “Crusades” mentality. That mind set is patently wrong. There are other issues I have not addressed here, but the final one that is creating a threat that my grandchildren – and their children will live with for decades – is definitely not pro life. I do not want my grandchildren to fear, or worse, hate a Muslim child because of 9/11. But that is the horrible probability we have created by occupying the Middle East and insisting that we, not they, know what is best for them. Is that, too, because God is on our side? To me that is the scariest part of the Neo-conservative movement in this country – that faith, even when it is misplaced and misguided is justification for whatever we want to do, including to our own citizens.

My biggest fear is the increased polarization of this country under the present regime. It has reached heights that I never believed it would. I can foresee the day when we run the risk of a coup or civil war (again) in this country because so many people are being disenfranchised or marginalized (what else would be the reaction to Karl Rove’s one-party society). People don’t understand why terrorists are willing to strap bombs to their bodies and blow up innocent civilians or even our soldiers. It’s because they have no hope. That’s their way of speaking out – the only way they know how. I can see the day that segments of our society feel themselves so cut off that they, too, must resort to insurrection to make their plight known. Make no mistake; there will be no complicated ideology behind such actions, only hopelessness.

This last picture – that of civil war in this country – is the main reason we must have regime change NOW. Unlike our inane local newspaper in Austin, I would vote for anyone other than Bush. He and his people are a danger to America – a fascist menace to paraphrase my good friend BG Verrengia. I care about our country. I love its inhabitants. I cherish its history. I relish its friendships. That’s why I will, must vote for John Kerry on Election Day 2004.

October 2004

One thought on “From a Texas Air Force vet”

  1. I suggest using the word ‘retired’ rather than ‘old’ in your heading. I happen to know this ‘old soldier’ and I don’t consider him old at all.

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