VoteVets had a poignant post on Instagram earlier today. That resonated with me. In the past twenty years since 9/11 we’ve been thanking active duty military and veterans for their service to the country. That’s great and truly appreciated by any veteran that received that thanks. At the same time however it has allowed the general public to perform a perfunctory service that made them feel as though they were part of the war effort.
This hasty quip is part of the feel good culture that at the same time has largely ignored the plight of military service personnel who have been called on to serve multiple tours of duty in the war zones of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere without a shared sacrifice by the folks on the home front.
The transition from conscripted service to the all volunteer military in the United States has created an unfair situation where those who volunteer for military service are forced to serve multiple tours of duty in dangerous environments. During Vietnam most soldiers and marines served a maximum of twelve or thirteen months in combat areas before being rotated stateside or to non-combat areas.
As a veteran whenever I thank another veteran or active duty person for their service I have empathy and connection with what I’m saying. I wonder how many other folks seriously reflect on their greetings.
Last week I wrote about our school reunions and what they meant to me. In that blog I shared about my troubles with mathematics. I was so poor at mathematics in high school and my early college experiences that I would get sick to my stomach prior to mathematics tests or quizzes. I avoided math experiences like the plague. That began to change at Clemson University when I took a statistics course that I really loved. I liked statistics so much that I enrolled in another one in the following semester. Then I left college due to illness and didn’t return until nearly ten years later.
During my hiatus I landed a job as a custodian at public school. One of my astute coworkers remarked one day, “Donald, you have a mathematical mind.” I said, “you’re crazy, I failed algebra, geometry, almost trigonometry and avoided computer science courses. Six or seven years later after earning a bachelors degree and becoming the school district technology director I was taking a course where I used the computer language LOGO to teach geometry to a fifth grade student. The student was doing quite well and I enjoyed my work with him. One day however the video display failed and the student and I were left to negotiate the curriculum sans video. He had difficulty understanding the geometry material presented and I had trouble articulating it too.
Difficulty is often the parent of insight and that day I had an epiphany. I was not “dumb” and neither was my student. I realized that both of us were visual learners. My problem up until then involved being able to see the math. That experience as a graduate student changed everything for me. I no longer feared mathematics and instead became fascinated with how technology could actually improve math instruction. I began teaching students at my home district mathematics using the LOGO programming language and Apple IIe computers .
I used to share that awakening with students when they were discouraged with their own progress. Life and learning are rarely linear. They are instead a series of efforts, mistakes, failures and successes. I learn best by iterating. I went back to my custodian friend and asked him why he told me I had a mathematical mind. He said, “when ever I gave you strings of numbers you could easily add, subtract, multiply and divide them.” He was right. The moral of the story is don’t ever give up nor let others define you. Learning never ends as long as you’re willing to listen.
“War is not the answer,” is a bumper sticker I’ve frequently posted on my car. It’s from the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Never was that slogan nor the bumper sticker more appropriate than now. In the middle of our frantic withdrawal from Afghanistan we were horrified to learn that another terrorist attack had claimed the lives of twelve United States Marines and one United States Navy Hospital Corpsman. These thirteen lives are a postscript to the war on terror which of course has not ended terrorism. War can never end terrorism. War only enriches war profiteers and there are many of those folks in our own United States who are using the tragic deaths of the Marines and Corpsman to call for another invasion of Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly the call for more war is being led by Republican members of the US Congress. These are the same folks who got us in this mess in the first place. It was a Republican president and his administration who initiated this twenty year bloodbath of travail which has only exacerbated the world’s problems. I wish we had invested the trillions of dollars we’ve blown in Afghanistan and Iraq on peaceful purposes. Imagine the goodwill we could have created for the United States and the people of those war torn countries.
More broadly, it is far past time for the United States to acknowledge that peace and real security can never be achieved through military force, and to therefore abandon the failed endless war paradigm completely.
— Read on www.fcnl.org/updates/2021-08/holding-afghanistan-light
The horrific attacks at Kabul Airport must not be used as a pretext for more war. The military industrial complex and its supporters have kept the United States in a wartime footing since 1939. The present war in Afghanistan has depleted our National treasure long enough and has done nothing to end terrorism nor advance the cause of world peace.
Recently I’ve seen folks who are telling others that they have a healthy distrust for authority. It’s the new Facebook frame. The frame goes on to say that they’re vaccinated but they have this distrust of authority. Really? Do these folks really believe that? Many of them are the same folks who have “Blue Lives Matter” banners on their homes. Do they not know that police are authority figures?
I have a healthy respect for authority. We have a stop sign at the end of our street. It’s there for a reason. Our street intersects another and it’s a good idea to stop and look both ways before turning in either direction. We have only one stop light in the village but it’s at an important intersection. I can’t imagine not having a traffic control device there. We’re much safer because of it. The speed limit in the village 30 miles per hour. Many times I drive slower than that because the streets are lined with homes where children live and the kids are darting into the street. Caring for each other is central to society. Do these folks with the healthy distrust of authority not care about the rest of us. Are they so self absorbed that they think only of themselves?
I’ve been reading how many of these folks don’t like mandates and they mistrust the government. I’m grateful we have civil authorities and that we have city, state and federal governments which help protect us from ourselves and care for the common good. I can’t imagine life without running water that comes flowing into our home. We don’t have to dig a well. We have a flush toilet too. I’m glad we don’t have an outhouse and that we have municipal sewer system. Glad that I live on a street that maintained by property taxes that we pay.
I’m glad we have a government who provided us with a vaccine that negates the effects of this pandemic. I’m glad I don’t have to die on a ventilator. I’m glad I got flu vaccine and one for shingles too. I had to pay for the flu vaccine and the shingles shot. The Moderna vaccine was paid for by our federal taxes. The common welfare is important to me so I’ll be obeying the stop signs and traffic devices in my travels and I hope you do too.
Until 1972 the twenty-third day of that month had no special meaning. However on this day in 1972 I left my home in Arcade, New York drove to Buffalo Airport and boarded an American Airlines Boeing 727 and made an all expenses paid trip to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I was anxious and my future was uncertain. One of my seatmates was a sister from a religious order. We talked as we climbed out of Buffalo and made the one hour plus trip to Chicago. I don’t remember what she said, but her mere presence was a comfort to a young man on his way to the US Navy Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes, IL.
After finishing the freshman year of college at State University College at Oswego my parents handed me a letter that contained a letter notifying me that I had been drafted and the need to report for a pre-induction physical. That notice frightened me and I set to work immediately considering my options. Would I abandon my country and flee to Canada? Would I be drafted into the US Army and go to Vietnam? All of this seemed like a death sentence to a nineteen year old. I began to visit recruiters and take some battery tests which determined what skills I had that might be useful to the military. One of those recruiters and tests was at the United States Naval Reserve Center in Jamestown, New York. The test showed an aptitude for details and mathematics. The recruiter, Mr. Leonard Tullar, told me that my test results would qualify my for dental technician, personnelman and hospital corpsman.
I liked the idea of becoming a hospital corpsman. If I was going to war I wanted to go where I’d be helping people to survive. Becoming a hospital corpsman was voluntary because of the inherent danger of possibly being assigned to the US Marines as a field medical technician. I enlisted on June 21, 1972 and deferred going to recruit training until August 23.
That day had arrived and after deplaning in Chicago I followed a group of other young men who were also headed to Great Lakes. We all rode a “green” official US government bus from the airport to Camp Barry. There we were checked in and assigned a numbered square to sit on. Anyone who’s ever served will appreciate “hurry up and wait.’ That’s how we spent most of August 23 until we finally had our first navy chow which was forgettable. It was probably spam or ‘shit on a shingle.’ We got to bed late that night and up very early the next morning. It was the beginning of a great transformation from civilian to military life. I never did go to Vietnam. I graduated from recruit training after serving as our company’s education petty officer. I went on to “A” school and became a hospital corpsman. I served in labor & delivery, newborn nursery, became an ambulance driver, worked for four surgeons as their lead corpsman in the surgical clinic at the Naval Submarine Medical Center in New London, CT.
Every year since then my mind wanders back to Great Lakes and my initiation into the US Navy. I remember the men I went to recruit training with and the men and women I served with. I cannot remember the day I started kindergarten nor the date of my high school graduation but I will never forget August 23 nor Friday October 13 when I carried the American flag at the head of the 13th battalion of the Naval Training Center as we graduated and followed the orders to our new assignments.
I returned to Great Lakes in 2008 to see my nephew graduate from the recruit training command and even fell asleep under a tree near the “grinder” where we marched that day in October 1972. I saw a quote that day that had meaning then and now.
“Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, ‘I served in the United States Navy,'” – John F. Kennedy.
Saturday afternoon and evening I was reunited with people I had not seen in years. The reunion of the Pioneer Central School Class of 1971 was the second of two reunions I have attended this summer. Both reunions were special for different reasons. The first reunion of the summer happened in Olean, New York where I rejoined the Class of 1970 of Archbishop Walsh High School that I attended from 1966-1968. Attending Walsh was a continuation of Catholic education which began in 1957 at a small grammar school that no longer exists. Walsh was 40 miles south of my home and I needed to make a bus trip with forty other youngsters. Participation in extracurricular activities was out of the question for me. The take home bus only came as far north as Franklinville and my father was unwilling to make that trip to fetch me.
In the fall of 1968 I was abruptly removed from Walsh and transferred to Arcade Central School which was right down the street from where I lived. The transfer was traumatic but I was quickly welcomed to the school and unlike the Walsh experience I could participate in extracurricular activities like interscholastic athletics because of our proximity to the school. I tried out for the basketball team in the fall of ’68 and was cut. The coach liked my work ethic and offered me a job as the manager. The tallest member of the team was the manager.
I was taking trigonometry and failing it and almost lost my manager job until I convinced my parents to let me drop the course and retake it later in high school. Trouble with mathematics in high school was anathema for me. I barely passed algebra as a freshman at Walsh. The next year I failed geometry at Walsh and had to attend summer school to pass the course. The decision to drop trigonometry would prove fortuitous and allowed me to slow down a bit and in the process move into the Class of 1971.
Dropping mathematics allowed me to retain my position as manager of the 1969 Arcade Lions varsity basketball team. That team won the Section 5 Class A title vs Spencerport in the then Rochester War Memorial. Our team was honored with a banquet at the Crystal Inn and we all received complementary AM radios from the local Motorola plant with our names engraved on them.
In the fall of 1969 our classes moved to the new school building in Yorkshire. We became the Class of 1971 at Pioneer Central School. There were more new schoolmates to meet. Ironically I was reunited with some of the students I had met at St. Pius X years before. I was able to join the varsity soccer team, Latin club, Key Club, Wind Ensemble. I made the varsity basketball team that year and felt a part of the school class and community that were formed by the merger of Delevan-Machias and Arcade.
Adolescence is a difficult time for everyone. Mine was no exception. It was complicated to an extent by my father whom we later discovered was suffering from depression. Our home was not a happy one in those years so my classes at Pioneer Central and the extra-curricular activities were the beacon that gave me hope.
Some of my classmates were particularly helpful in supporting and encouraging me through those difficult times at home. One of them actually allowed me to live with him and his family for a time. Another frequently listened, offered encouragement and laughed at my jokes. In June of 1971 we walked across the stage to receive our diplomas and then we were gone. A year later I was drafted and enlisted in the United States Navy. When I returned to civilian life three years llater most of my high school peers had moved on with their lives. We lost touch with each other.
My life was tempest-tossed for a period of time and then I found recovery. In time I met a beautiful woman. We fell in love, married and had a couple of lovely children. I stayed away from school reunions until the twentieth in 1991. Since then I’ve attended several. This year was special because of the trauma of the pandemic and the knowledge that we’re all getting older. We learned at the reunion that 180 of us graduated in June 1971 and since then we’ve lost forty classmates. One of them was my friend Gary who gave me a home for part of our senior year. There were about eighty who attended this fiftieth reunion and it was great to see them all and share our journeys. In Greek mythology there is a term for the safe return. It is soteria. Soteria is the spirit of safety, deliverance and preservation from harm. The spirit that united us as teenagers brought us together and delivered us safely for an evening of reunion.
Afghanistan was an unwinnable war as was Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and more. It was a misadventure that was supposedly our answer the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which happened twenty years ago next month. As horrific as those attacks were invading Afghanistan and later Iraq did nothing to end international terrorism. Unfortunately it’s made it worse. Killing your enemies inevitably produces more enemies. In the past twenty years we’ve killed over two-hundred thousand Afghans. We disagree with how those folks run their country. We disagree with how they treat their citizens. The Taliban are a tragic anachronism but bombing and killing them was never a solution.
In the 1980’s when the Russians were foolish enough to try to take over that same country we provided arms and logistics to the same folks who eventually attacked us on September 11, 2001. Afghanistan was blow-back from our misguided efforts to defeat the Russians. The only Americans who have won in Afghanistan were the arms manufacturers who sold the weapons we expended their in our pursuit of the Taliban. We made some friends with some of the people and propped up regimes that were friendly to us but in the end our efforts were for naught. Thousands of American soldiers, sailors, marines and civilian contractors were killed. The emotional toll on those survivors on both sides is incalculable. Trillions of dollars were wasted and no lasting peace was achieved.
In the short run, the Republicans who got us mired in these conflicts in the first place are going to make political hay with Joe Biden. They’re going to insist he’s not acting responsibly and that this is a major strategic error. The truth is that Joe Biden is saving trillions more of our national resources and saving thousands of American military personnel from dying in a war that was never winnable. My hat is off to President Biden because he’s got the balls to say “Enough is enough.”
Afghanistan is one more instance of failed United States foreign policies which highlight the use and abuse of military force to achieve or fail to achieve political objectives. We invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Over 3000 Americans died that day. Since that day we invaded the country and until now 2,448 American soldiers have lost their lives, 3,846 civilian contractors, Afghan national and military police 66,000. Over 20,000 Americans have been wounded in action. The toll of PTSD is much higher and will continue to scar our veterans for years to come. The cost of the war is approximately $6.5 trillion dollars and the healthcare costs of Afghan and Iraq US veterans is projected to cost $2 trillion dollars. Ever since the Bush administration which began this mistaken adventure we’ve been told that all this happened to keep us safe from another attack on American soil.
According to one source over 240,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001. I wish we had all the money that has been wasted in this boondoggle which benefited war profiteers but did next to nothing to keep us safer or to promote peace in the region and throughout the world. As George Carlin once said, “fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” The Republicans are criticizing Joe Biden for ending the debacle but it was they who started this and no one until now had the courage to end it. Bravo President Biden for ending the twenty-year war in Afghanistan which did little or nothing for the lasting peace and stability of the region.
Yesterday I listened to the words of a young woman in Texas who eloquently spoke of the war on women’s bodies being waged by elected officials in Texas and elsewhere who are severely limiting the right of women to choose what is right for them. Her words are more powerful than anything I could write.
The people who sponsor this legislation care little about life though they hide behind the mantle of “pro-life.” God bless Paxton! God bless her message. We need more eloquent young women to step forward.