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[Immortal Redneck]Commentary: On Memorial Day, thoughts about the meaning of ‘patriotism’

Update time:2021-06-28 17:30Tag:

  By Dave Gauger

  In reality, war is about maiming, mutilating and murdering human “becomings” — someone’s son or daughter, father or mother, sibling — becoming burnt offerings. But the most tragic victims are orphans left in war’s wake. They never fully heal. Never! Typically, for every combatant killed, two to three non-combatants die (old men, women and children). Of course, in our civilized society the language is sanitized by referring to these unfortunate folks as “collateral damage.”

  Why does our “chosen” nation, with its “chosen” people founded on Christian principles — at least according to legend — make war like giants and peace like pygmies? How is it that we’ve made a graven image of patriotism? Why do so many who profess allegiance to the Prince of Peace rattle their sabers with unbridled enthusiasm?

  Where the hell is the voice of Christ in our churches and politics? Oh, if only the Jews would send us another Amos who challenged the “chosen” people in the Northern Kingdom during the height of their military and economic power! Amos pointed out that ALL people are “chosen.” Of course, he was summarily discarded, thrown back into the desert. How dare Amos disrupt a “superior” culture enjoying precious spoils extracted from exploitation of alienated and disenfranchised members of the human tribe?

  There is not a bomb boom big enough to bludgeon an insurgency into oblivion. An insurgency is a political movement (albeit often distorted) without the resources to maintain traditional military standing. Our brave American colonialists are early examples of an insurgency defeating a mighty world empire. The British complained bitterly about the ”immoral” colonial rebels who would shoot the powerful Redcoats while cowering behind trees and rocks rather than stand upright in full view of their foreign occupiers.

  The passage of time has dulled our historical perspective pertaining to this nation’s rebel roots dating back to the 18th Century. And far too soon we’ve wasted our hard-fought lessons learned in Vietnam, where under-fed, pajama-clad ragtag rebels again whooped the world’s mightiest war machine. General Giap — North Vietnam’s architect of military victory — developed much of his strategy by observing our own resourceful colonial ancestors. In turn, Giap’s model again haunted the United States as applied in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  Once again — this time in the Middle East — we allowed logic to be dulled by our mighty military and dominant economic power. Neither is a priori proof of righteousness accompanied by some sort of favor from the gods. My prayer is that one day institutional religion will rise above its current irrelevancy and muster the courage to be another Amos.

  On this Memorial Day we need to remind ourselves of the inscription on our beloved Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  And on this Memorial Day we need to reject the Redneck version that goes like this: Give me your tired white people, your poor masses of white people yearning to breathe freely.”

  Let’s today recall the wise wisdom of Mark Twain: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

  When young and immortal I served my country for five years as a Navy pilot. My squadron’s deployment to Southeast Asia was cut short by a month because we had too many aviators killed. My squadron mates’ horrible sacrifices taught me that it’s OK for grown men to cry. It’s the weenie, whiny “wannabees” whose manhood is so fragile a few tears can wash it away.

  But encounters with little war orphans in Vietnam really showed me a more horribly ugly side of war. One in particular upended my life. Once after parking the Navy’s flying machine and headed to debriefing, a little child ran up hoping for help. She was no more than 10 years old. I found out her family had been killed. All alone she made a little nest for herself on the edge of the airfield. She lived on handouts from jerks like me.

  That little child knocked me off my high flying “sanitized” perch and rubbed my face in the down and dirty reality of war. No matter how much blood one sees flowing during combat, and no matter how much human flesh one sees mangled and mutilated, you have not seen the true and total reality of war until seen through the sad, lonely eyes of a war orphan. By one count our “adventure” in Vietnam left in its wake 420,000 war orphans. And our strategy was to win the hearts and minds of the people?

  I finally realized that my little friend on the tarmac and I belong to the same tribe. It’s a tribe called humanity — a tribe that should never be separated by man made national boundaries, a tribe that should never be split apart by skin color, ethnicity, language or religion. My little friend on the tarmac truly upended my life. After returning from deployment and completing my contract I re-entered civilization as a peacenik — always astounded by how easy it is for those who have never experienced war to endorse our country’s quick resort to militarism. I’ve learned to be extremely cautious with patriotism, which too often handily morphs into hyper-nationalism and even White supremacy. Too often patriotism dulls our senses and fogs our intellect — convinced that we’re a chosen people, a chosen nation. Claiming to be “chosen” people means we consider all “those others” to be “un-chosen.” I cannot worship a petty little man made god like that! To do so would violate my little friend on the tarmac in Vietnam.

  Dave Gauger is a past president of Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA), and a former newspaper publisher and radio broadcaster in Raymond.

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