Written by Katherine Acosta
Before the parades begin, the flag-waving commences, and the fireworks explode this 4th of July, I want to recognize a large contingent of patriots who help to protect us from terrorism and defend what freedom and democracy we still enjoy. I am speaking of those who decline to enlist or take commissions in our armed forces. My heartfelt thanks go out to all of you from small towns with few employment opportunities, to those who cannot go to college without incurring frightening levels of debt, those who completed college only to enter a bleak jobs market, to the unemployed and under-employed who nevertheless reject military service as a way out of economic troubles. Thank you for not “serving.”
Thank you for not adding to the 100,000 plus civilian body count in Iraq, a country that never attacked us, had nothing to do with the September 11th tragedy, and harbored no “weapons of mass destruction.” Thank you for not contributing to the post-war oppression of Iraqi women, who, before we “liberated” them, enjoyed more rights and greater access to education than women of any country in that region. Thank you for not adding to the misery of these besieged people, who before we came crashing violently into their land, had reliable sources of clean water and electricity.
Thank you for not participating in the daily bloodshed perpetrated against civilians in our name through the bombing of Yemen, drone attacks in Pakistan, and the decades long war in Afghanistan (counting the years we funded the mujahideen against the former Soviet Union.) Thank you for not bombing rebels in Libya along with their oppressors.
Thank you for not contributing to the blowback we call “terrorism;” that is, the creation of terrorists in response to our warmongering and imperialism throughout the world. Nothing will do more to protect us from terrorism than refraining from the oppressive and brutal activities that inspire it.
Thank you for not participating, directly or indirectly, in the torture of other human beings. Thank you for not joining organizations (i.e., our armed forces) that flout the Geneva conventions. Adhering to these rules protects our own troops as much as it does “enemy combatants.” Thank you for not aiding and abetting “extraordinary rendition” – our ghastly euphemism for the practice of farming out the torture of those we capture to other countries.
Thank you for not aiding the incarceration of prisoners of war, scooped up on random battlefields, some combatants, some unlucky bystanders, who will never be given a trial and either convicted or proven innocent. The justification and normalization of indefinite detention for foreigners will eventually be used against Americans. The reflective patriot understands this.
Thank you for not becoming what General Smedley Butler called “gangsters for capitalism” in his 1935 book, War Is A Racket. He wrote:
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
Thanks to those of you who did not provide “service” to oil companies during the invasion of Iraq by rushing first to secure the oil fields. Thank you for not enabling the exploitation of Iraq’s oil for the benefit of multinational corporations, the destruction of Afghanistan in pursuit of strategic positions along gas pipeline routes, and the illegal war on Libya, which happens to have the largest oil reserves in Africa.
Thank you for thinking critically about our government’s stated goals and objectives. Critical thinking is crucial for a viable democracy. By resisting the propaganda and questioning our government’s policies, you protect our democracy more than those who blindly follow orders.
Thanks also to all of you who did enlist, for whatever reason – belief in “the cause,” economic hardship, a desire to protect your country – yet retained your critical thinking skills, and ultimately chose not to re-enlist.
No reasonable person would hold individual troops responsible for the worldwide carnage perpetrated by our government. Obviously, those with their hands on the levers of power ought to be held fully accountable. I would point out, however, that in a democracy, each individual bears some degree, however small, of responsibility for the actions of his country.
So on this 4th of July, I ask all Americans, service members and civilians alike, to honor our democratic traditions by doing a little critical thinking about our various wars and our respective roles in them – even if that role is merely apathy. [Disclosure: I am married to a 24-year veteran of the Air Force, who retired in 1999]. General Butler spent his retirement years critiquing his 33-year career as a Marine and the role of the military in advancing corporate and financial interests (then as now dressed up in the garb of liberation and freedom) through his writing and more than 1200 speeches in 700 cities. Surely we can find a few minutes to follow this patriot’s example.
On this July 4th, I salute Veterans for Peace, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War, Winter Soldiers, and all other veterans who speak out about these wars. And I am deeply grateful to those who have few employment options, yet still choose not to join the military. Thank you for not “serving.”
About the Author
Katherine M. Acosta is a freelance writer in Madison, Wisconsin. She holds a PhD in Sociology and is currently working on a script about life in a “post peak” world. She can be contacted at UndisciplinedPhD dot gmail dot com.