Patriot Games, by John Ostrander
You may have seen this via e-mail. It’s getting passed around a lot.
At this point, a photo follows with Marines escorting a flag draped coffin to a grave and is followed by a prayer for the dead that I remember from my Roman Catholic days.
This is lump-in-the-throat, tear-in-the-eye agit-prop. Normally, I wouldn’t care – but they’re using veterans, whom I think should be honored, to try and make points for the Right, and that gets me riled.
First of all, if the anonymous author was really concerned about how Vets are treated and respected, maybe he or she would start with the current administration which mouths platitudes as it cuts benefits for the Vet and provides substandard medical care until caught at it.
Second, Anonymous Author just plain has it wrong. In point of fact, it is not the veteran who gives us freedom of religion, of expression, of assembly, of the press and so on. Those are part of the Constitutionthat, in turn, recognizes the key statements of the Declaration of Independence – that we were allcreated equal, and imbued with certain rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights weren’t given to us by the State, or by its rulers, or by its soldiers. They are natural to us and, in our society, the government derives its right to govern from the fact that We, the People, in order to establish a more perfect Union, banded together to give the State that power.
Those rights are meant to be defended by the military but they do not derive from them. The military under our Constitution is intended to be subordinate to civilian rule. That’s not true in many other countries in the world; witness Myanmar, currently in the news. The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces in this country is the President – a civilian elected by national vote; a politician. The military does not set policy; We, the People set that through our proxies, such as the President. We should therefore be very careful whom we choose to be those proxies.
Traditionally, the Armed Forces were mostly comprised of Citizen Soldiers as opposed to a Professional Soldiers. Having a large standing U.S. military force is a relatively recent invention in our history. On the eve of World War 2, we still had only a small group of Armed Forces; that conflict was fought by those who came from every walk of life. In theory, the military comes from all walks of life when the need arises and, when its done, returns to civilian life. The soldier and the veteran are not separate from us; they are part of us. They should be honored for that role they play in our society – as should everyone else who has a specific and difficult role to play.
Finally, there’s not only what Anonymous Author is saying but what she/he is implying. In the guise of honoring the Vet, A.A. is also grinding a few axes – some of which are very old and very dull. “It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.” Someone is still pretty pissed about the Sixties, methinks. Nowadays, the campus organizer is far more likely to be for the Republicans or Big Corporations than the Students for a Democratic Society.
“It is the VETERAN, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.” Watergate still really rankles, doesn’t it, A.A.? Damn you, Woodward and Bernstein! Probably not a fan of The Daily Show, either, I bet.
“It is the VETERAN who salutes the Flag. It is the VETERAN who serves under the Flag.” Veterans like John Kerry who returned their medals? Veterans like John Kovic (remember the movie Born On the Fourth of July?) who organized and protested against the Viet Nam War? The source for the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib was military and would thus then become a vet. We including him/her? Many of us, civilian and veteran alike, salute the flag, and many serve under the flag although there are many ways to serve.
The message I hear underlying this little e-mail is “Who is a PATRIOT?” and it defines a patriot as a veteran and, to my ear, NOT the others mentioned. The “campus organizer” – especially those who question authority and challenge the government – is a patriot. The reporter who digs and exposes government waste, hypocrisy, and/or corruption is a patriot. The lawyer who demands that the government prove its case against the defendant or demands that the rights we say includes all reallydoes include all is a patriot. The poet, like Bob Dylan, who uses language to express what others need to say and cannot, who opens our eyes and ears and minds — in fact any artist that does that — is a patriot. John McCain is not more of a patriot than Barrack Obama because he is a veteran and a former POW.
You don’t need to strap on a gun to defend our rights. You simply need to work towards a “More Perfect Union” as the Preamble to the Constitution puts it. That Union is not perfect; it will never be perfect. Patriots all, we’re called to get it one step closer.
Memorial Day is coming up – a day to honor and remember all those who have died serving their country in military service. I have family, I have friends, who are Vets and I recognize the sacrifice that they have made, living and dead, and I honor that. However, I’ll also honor all the patriots from all sides of the political spectrum who have worked to make this a better country. You don’t honor one side by disrespecting the other.
Writer John Ostrander is an American Patriot. His column appears on ComicMix each Thursday.