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Putting Veterans Day into perspective

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On Veterans Day, I reiterate that I believe the United States needs an effective military. However, I also believe that the military-industrial-government complex is dangerously overgrown; the United States has been too trigger-happy with the military and that effective diplomacy needs to be given more opportunity; and violence begets violence. Even though I am not a full pacifist, Gandhi and many other pacifists’ messages are important to take to heart and are often very powerful and effective. I also believe that the United States military has been the source of too many severe abuses, atrocities, and imperialist expansion whether originating from the lower ranks, the highest echelons, or somewhere in between; and that the United States government repeatedly has used war — and by now terrorism, as well — as an excuse to stymie civil liberties.

Using effective diplomacy and hemming in military excess is not impossible. Although I take it that America’s military, military budget, and nuclear arsenal continued growing under his watch, Jimmy Carter "was thankful that although my profession was that of a military man – commander in chief of the armed forces, prepared to defend my nation with maximum force if I had to – I was able to go through my entire term in office without firing a bullet, dropping a bomb or launching a missile." (Esquire, January 2005). Many Americans at the time preferred the cowboy mentality of Ronald Reagan, who defeated Carter in an Electoral College landslide. Carter’s full quote is: "The hostage crisis lasted almost a year. Most of my political advisers were urging me to launch an attack against Iran. I could have, in effect, destroyed Iran with one strike. And it would have been politically popular to do so. But in the process, I would have also killed thousands of innocent Iranians. And it would have undoubtedly resulted in the execution of our hostages… My family tied me back to the human element in the most important international, diplomatic and military decisions I had to make. And in the end, I was thankful that although my profession was that of a military man – commander in chief of the armed forces, prepared to defend my nation with maximum force if I had to – I was able to go through my entire term in office without firing a bullet, dropping a bomb or launching a missile."Plenty of members of the military see few other economic opportunities other than the military, including with ROTC coverage of tuition, preferences in hiring veterans for federal civilian employment, and opportunities to work with military contractors after leaving the military. The military is a huge business on the governmental and non-governmental sides, and in the civilian and non-civilian sides. How much healthier would our economy be if the military and criminal justice budgets were substantially shrunk?

I have defended many current and former military people in civilian criminal court, and will continue to do so. I have also represented numerous peace activists, and will continue doing so. We all are connected. Our nation is too militaristic. That tide must be reversed.

In short, Veterans Day should not be a day blindly to glorify the military, military service, nor soldiers. Instead, it should be a time to humanize soldiers and those they have harmed; to understand the psychological and physical wounds so many of them have inflicted, suffered and continue to suffer; and to recognize the sacrifices they have made, while maintaining a realistic and critical assessment of American militarism; recognizing the serious tradeoffs involved in using and threatening military force; and recognizing that soldiers are humans including those who will commit horrid atrocities and others who will try to stop the atrocities.

One cannot expect to avoid military atrocities when putting guns and other weapons in the hands of a huge number of soldiers, with a huge percentage having had very limited critical life experiences, no experience abroad, and little knowledge and understanding of world affairs. Similarly, one cannot expect to avoid repeated police misconduct when putting guns, tasers, handcuffs and the power of arrest over a huge number of people, many of whom also have limited critical life experience. The military and police are very undemocratic institutions.

The United States honors soldiers with two federal holidays, which are Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Fortunately, we also have one federal holiday honoring a nonviolent activist, Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., both were assassinated as they pursued justice through nonviolence. Further on the peace action front, refusing to be drafted into the military and to register for future military drafts are not automatically cowardly acts rather than courageous stands against militarism and abuse by the military, sometimes at the risk of being shunned by their own families and communities for doing so. The person who influences me most with the peaceful path is my friend and peace mentor Jun Yasuda.

When soldiers refuse to follow inhumane orders from military superiors, and urge military superiors and colleagues to refrain from excessively and unnecessarily violent actions, they are taking steps that all military personnel must take, but which most apparently do not.

The military is a necessary evil that causes death, maiming, and destruction — during warfare and other combat — without due process of law. My total opposition to the death penalty very much informs my strong preference for diplomacy before military action as a last resort, and to erring on the side of restraining military actions.

We all are connected, not just humans with humans, but humans with all other beings. Once not-so-distant-cousins started shooting dead and maiming their cousins during the American Civil War, that perhaps spelled a culture in the American military and among American soldiers to more easily dehumanize the "enemy" in order to be more willing to kill opposing soldiers, and to see battles and wars as conflicts between good and evil, rather than in shades of gray, and rather than questioning the real motives of the government officials ordering warfare (thus the antiwar slogan "No war for oil" that started with Gulf War I).