Not Everyone Deserves Our Honor

 

“The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon future generations.”

 

I remember.

My Lai.

Lt. Calley.

Watergate.

Selma.

Integration.

Kent State.

And the silence of being a Gold Star family during the Vietnam era. I have written thousands of words on this very subject matter. A child processes death differently than adults do, so the silence that followed my father’s death felt ever so much like shame.

Too young to cognitively grasp the powers behind the war protests, I understood only one thing – the war made people very angry. Angry enough to get shot down in America. Angry enough to fight back against the police in riot gear, who were clubbing them, dousing them with chemicals, yanking and shoving them by the dozens into the backs of police rigs. The war in Vietnam made people angry enough that they were willing to wage their own war on US soil to get it stopped.

“Disobedience,” Thoreau once wrote, “is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

I didn’t understand Thoreau’s insights when I was young. I have a grasp on them now as I look around at my country and find myself in the juxtaposition between the protests of my youth and the enslaved mentality of modern day America.

The pendulum swings, they say. Never toward the middle.

During my youth, it was common to disrespect the soldier. The military was looked upon with disdain, especially after the photos of the slaughter at My Lai were made public. Those babies. Their mamas. Those crippled old men. Those hunch-backed women. Dead in ditches. Slaughtered by US soldiers.

Is it any wonder the public took to the streets demanding a stop to the war?

Of course, it wasn’t primarily because of My Lai that they protested. It was due to the draft. Half the names on the Vietnam Wall died during 1967 & 1968. There was just too much bloodshed. The cost to families too high. The benefit? Who could say?

That generation was right to protest. They were right to put an end to that misguided war. They were right to stop the bloodshed.

Those who took to the streets in protest, they were American heroes, too.

Nobody ever hardly says that, but it is true. Without their willingness to rise up in disobedience, there would have been much more bloodshed. The war would have dragged on even longer. More lives would have been needlessly lost.

But for all the good they did, they got one thing wrong. In their quest for peace, they vilified the US soldier. They blamed the soldier for the wrongs of their Congressional leaders. Their presidents. Instead of spitting on Johnson, they spit on the soldiers returning to Forts Bragg, Bliss, Benning. They failed to ferret out the responsible parties. Instead, they attacked the easy prey – the kid from Charleston who celebrated his 21st birthday in-country with a swallow of rice whiskey followed by a firefight that cost him his leg.

So it is all these decades later, with other misguided wars still being waged, that the sins of the fathers have fallen to the future generations.

No longer do we vilify soldiers, those in the military. Instead, we glorify them, crown them with a deity underserved and equally as wrong as when past generations cursed them, spat on them, called them “Baby-killers.”

The pendulum always swings to the extreme.

Liberty is jeopardized when a people, attempting to atone for past sins, become enslaved to new ones.

We always think in this or that. Win or lose. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Against the soldier. For the soldier. Traitor. Patriot. Conservative. Liberal.

We keep failing to ferret out the truth of any given situation.

Not all soldiers are good people. The military as a whole might be full of honor but individually, there are too many who act reprehensibly. They rape. They threaten. They murder without regard. They beat their wives. Their kids. They climb into the coffins of their dead peers to take selfies. They make human pyramids out of POWs stripped naked. They celebrate the deaths of other humans by pissing on their dead bodies and taking photos of that, too. They are arrogant and misogynistic, racist and homophobic. They think anyone who is not white like them, Christian like them, American like them, are less than them.

And yet, they receive the same standing ovations, the same frenzied applause, the same “Thank you for your service”, the same “Welcome Home”, as the Major from Nebraska who did everything her country asked of her and more.

She treated POWs with dignity.  She abhorred war and its kill count. She was stern but humane. She maintained a respect for all human life, even that of the Afghans and Iraqis she fought against. She deserves all the honor afforded her, yet, she knows that such honors are cheapened when they are lavished upon the undeserving.

Why should the soldier who raped her be afforded the applause of the people back home?

Why should a soldier who pissed on the graves of the dead be given full military honors at Arlington?

Don’t Americans know? Can’t they see? Have they never read Thoreau?

All that liberty fought for is being wasted upon Americans willing to be enslaved to another president demanding blind allegiance and using the military as a tool to extract such loyalties.

Patriotism is demeaned, diminished when it is bestowed upon those who least deserve it, even if they carry the title of soldier or president.

To award honor and allegiance to those who don’t deserve it is every bit as wrong as denying it to those who do.

Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold Star daughter and author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (HarperCollins).

 

 

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

3 Comments

Sandy McGrew

about 3 months ago

Thank you for your insight.

Reply

AFRoger

about 3 months ago

Nearly 20 years ago, I produced and directed a two-hour drama I had written and dedicated to two Army soldiers and one Marine: a cousin, a classmate, and a best friend in adult life, two of them KIA. After four of the six performances, I complained to a friend that attendance was rather disappointing. He replied, "People don't want to think. They want to be entertained." He was right. I should have known better. Nevertheless, the adult daughter of one actor (a Vet) did give me a little boost. She said, "I saw the play for the second time last night. And I thought about it all day." The play was not a political statement but the culmination of two decades' worth of wrestling with that war and my best efforts to tell a painful but hopeful human being story. I think you are right about the polarities of the pendulum. We are terribly conflicted people ["everybody wants peace, but we also want what we cannot have without war"] who cling to simplicity amid complexity. How ironic is that final photo! Chapter 6 of Joe Bageant's book Deer Hunting With Jesus is titled The Ballad of Lynddie England. He's from and lives in her corner of Appalachia. Book is perhaps a better read today than when published a decade ago. A good friend who was in Iraq at the time and who delivered truckloads of Iraqis to Abu Ghraib found the greatest threat to his own life not from IED's and snipers but from fellow soldiers who simply wanted to scrap all the rules of engagement and kill as many Iraqis as they could find. To them, he and his fellows who struggled to stay sane and moral in the heat and the danger were little better than traitors and terrorists themselves. Not something we ever hear about as we sport "Support Our Troops" stickers and glorify the flag without understanding what 'freedom' really is and what it requires. It requires us to think, not be entertained. It is NOT the freedom to not think and not care.

Reply

Jane Kirkpatrick

about 3 months ago

As always your words are filled with wisdom. Thank you. Vietnam nam vets hold a special place in my heart.

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