It is not lost on me that the Robert Mueller hearings are taking place on the anniversary of my father’s death in Vietnam.
I heard an interview with Former FBI director James Comey in which he admitted that he never expected to be fired, and only learned about his firing via news reports. No matter what you think of Comey, nobody should learn they are fired via the television or radio. The only reason anyone would fire another that way is for the sheer public humiliation of it all. Comey said he still feels stunned by the firing – “It’s as if it took place yesterday and many years ago all at once.”
That’s how I feel about my father’s death. It’s as if it took place yesterday and a 53 years ago all at once. I’m sure you have moments in your life like that as well.
My father’s death is particularly painful for me this year. Maybe because the birth of our first granddaughter reminds me once more of all that my father has missed out on. All that Mama is now missing out on. But the other reason it is so painful for me this year is because my father was a man of integrity, who served his country when he was asked to do so. That service cost him his life. That he died while Trump lied his way out of military service, lied his way out of Vietnam, lied his way into the Oval office, well, that wounds me in the most awful of ways.
For decades I have dealt with the night terrors common to anyone who has suffered from post-traumatic disorder. Then I wrote my way out of all that trauma. I had a decade or so when the nightmares lay dormant. I thought they had left me completely.
I was wrong. One doesn’t heal from post-traumatic. One only finds better ways of coping. A rape victim never forgets being raped. A soldier never forgets the moment their buddy died in their arms. A child never forgets the dead parent in an open casket. A parent never forgets the dead child. A Katrina survivor never forgets the life they had before the storm. A Holocaust survivor never forgets the life they had before boarding the trains. A young girl never forgets being molested by Jeffrey Epstein. The wrongfully convicted never forget the years they spent on death row.
The best any of us who have suffered such traumas can ever hope for is that we finds ways to transcend those memories. That despite whatever the trauma we’ve endured, we find ways to do good in the world that has done us wrong. A world that may be doing us wrong even yet.
I will admit that for the past two years, it has felt like the injustices thrust upon me as a nine-year old have come back enforce. I cannot and will not ever be able to wrap my brain or heart around how veterans and Gold Star families I have loved wholeheartedly have sworn an oath of loyalty to Donald Trump, the very man who lied to get out of serving in the very war these once young men fought. I do not look forward to the day when they have to explain to my father and the thousands like him how it is they felt justified in supporting a fascist hopeful.
On my very best days, I am able to convince myself that these people I love are caught up in a cult and one of the markers of being caught up in a cult is that you are completely unable to realize it. If you knew you were in a cult, you’d leave it, right? People don’t purposely join up with cults. Cults are always personality-driven. Some persona comes along that attracts people, for whatever reason, and before you know it, the smartest, kindest, most loving people you’ve ever met are giving away all their money, abandoning spouses and kids and best friends out of devotion to the cult personality. But that’s on my best days.
On my worst days, I simply feel like I’m nine again and abandoned by people who should know better. And perhaps they do, but they don’t care enough about me to change their ways. Instead, they just want me to betray my father and embrace a man who in every way is so much less of a man than my father ever was.
The Mueller hearings are just a terrifying reminder of all that has been lost to me and so many over the years. The fact that Robert Mueller is a decorated Vietnam Veteran who is testifying about the wrongs done to this country by citizens of this country, some of them very high-ranking, on the very anniversary of my father’s death could be poetic, I suppose, if it didn’t just feel like so much betrayal.
And I’m not talking Trump. I’m talking about Congress.
People on both sides of the aisle have made these hearings about an “us” and “them” fight, when it reality it should be about an “us” fight.
Russia is our enemy.
We seem to have lost sight of that, which, of course, works very well in Putin’s favor. His entire goal is to destroy the “United” in the US. And so far, he’s succeeding.
Sadly. Painfully. Tragically.
People I have loved for a long time now see me as their nemesis. And I see them as mine. Family members. Veterans. Gold Star family members. People in the faith community. People who once considered me their favorite writer. Childhood friends, even.
The thing is the Mueller hearings should not be about a fight between Republicans and Democrats.
Remember James Madison?
Ever read this quote of his from the Federalist papers?
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature. If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In forming a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” —James Madison, The Federalist No. 51
If only our better angels did govern us all.
Madison did his best to warn future generations of the problems inherent in being governed not by angels but by cult personas: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” – James Madison, The Federalist No. 47.
Our government, like any government, works best when there is accountability. A system of checks and balances, we like to proclaim, but not really practice.
That was the problem with the war in Vietnam. There was no accountability until people took to the streets and demanded it. It wasn’t until the press showed up on the battlefields, and moms and dads back home got a close up look at the horrors being wrought, did the public demand a withdrawal. Up until then, the public was lied to, over and over again by presidents, by Pentagon officials, by high-ranking military leaders, by corporations with a vested financial interest in war.
If we learned nothing else from the war in Vietnam, we should have learned how much accountability matters. And what it costs us when people in government attempt to cover-up their wrongdoings. Why, oh, Lord, have we not learned this by now? I think of this whenever I stand before that black granite in DC and read my father’s name and the thousands of others.
The American people deserve to know the truth.
That was the chorus repeated over and over again during the Vietnam era.
We deserved to know what lies had gotten us into that ill-fated war, what lies had kept us there and what had driven those who lied to us? What was in it for them?
Truth matters. It always matters. Yet, we simply cannot, and will never have the truth without oversight.
People who are doing wrong things are not inclined to step forward and admit to their wrongdoings. Especially not if it’s going to cost them their jobs or worse, prison time.
We should be united in our call for accountability. We should be united in our call for oversight.
But we are not. We are divided, which really benefits no one except our most strident enemies.
Congress is tasked with legislative oversight. It’s part of their job description.
Doing the right thing should never depend upon doing the popular thing. Doing the right thing is a matter of ethics, values and law.
Dad did the right thing when he answered his country’s call to serve. Trump did the wrong thing. He lied to get out of service. Someone else went in his place. Someone else may have died in his place. Someone else’s father perhaps.
Only the guilty and irresponsible loathe oversight.
Responsible people embrace oversight as a means to building a better life, a better city, a better state, a better nation.
It really is my prayer that Mueller’s hearings will bring out the best in our country. That there will be moments in his testimony that will unite us as a family and a country again. That whoever has sought to divide us, for whatever reasons, will be exposed. So that the lives of the fallen from all past generations will not have been in vain.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold Star daughter and author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (HarperCollins).