Labor Advocate Online

Veteranís Day Message
by Bill Onasch, webmaster, kclabor.org

My grandparents called the November 11 holiday "Armistice Day." 11/11/1918 had been the last day of what we now call the First World War. At the time it had been proclaimed "the war to end all wars" by a president who had been narrowly reelected by bragging "he kept us out of war."

That Armistice was greeted by the great American labor leader and four-time Socialist Party presidential candidate, Eugene V Debs, in a cell in the Atlanta penitentiary. He was in that unpleasant venue because the president who kept us out of war--until after election day--ordered Debsí prosecution for making a speech. Debs had condemned both imperialist camps in the war, speaking forcefully against taking America into war on the side of the English king and Russian tsar against the German kaiser and Austrian emperor. For this "crime" Debs remained incarcerated for the balance of the peace loving, friend of labor Woodrow Wilsonís time in office. He was pardoned early in the term of pro-big business Republican Warren Harding.

Holiday nomenclature later had to be edited, replacing "Armistice" with "Veterans" Day, because it turned out that First World War wasnít the end of all wars after all. There was, of course, later an even more enormous Second World War. But American boots have also been on foreign soil in many additional conflicts, large and small, since 1918Ėthe Philippines, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Somalia, Yugoslavia, and, of course, today in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Just as men and women in uniform have been so often used as cannon fodder in these actions, they are also made propaganda fodder on the day thatís supposed to be for them. The government, the media, and big-shots in brass dominated outfits such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, exploit the honor of vets in their praise of wars to advance corporate interests.

Iíve always felt closer to the view expressed by Debs,

"Years ago I declared that there was only one war in which I would enlist and that was the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world. I declared moreover that the working class had no interest in the wars declared and waged by the ruling classes of the various countries upon one another for conquest and spoils."

Males of my generation contributed a lot of vets. If we didnít volunteer we usually had the choice of accepting conscription into the armyĖor going to jail. Personally, I didnít want to go to jail so when I got my draft notice in 1965 I reported as instructed.

However, after looking at my FBI files that had thoroughly documented my active protest of the Vietnam war, the army had second thoughts. They sent me home, ultimately informing me that "my service in the army would not be in the best interests of the United States." While I was prepared to do my duty like the rest of my generation I have to admit they probably had a point. My years of activity in the antiwar movement undoubtedly was a better contribution to the interests of the people of the United States than anything I might have done in uniform.

Iíve heard many stories over the years about how antiwar protesters disrespected GIs, even spitting on them. I never personally saw such behavior nor have I seen any hard evidence of it taking place. While denouncing unjust wars most in the antiwar movement have always cared deeply about our sisters and brothers in uniform--mostly kids from working class and farm families. Those flag-wavers who shout "Support Our Troops!" usually want to send them off to kill or be killed. We always thought the best way to support them was to bring them home.

Returning Vietnam vets did and continue to get a raw dealĖfrom the Establishment, not the antiwar movement. They are far from the only vets to get short-changed. When World War I veterans camped out in Washington during the depression, demanding payment of a promised bonus, they were dispersed by cavalry led by that great hero, Douglass Macarthur. Veterans of Desert Storm got the same stonewalling by the Pentagon and VA over Gulf War Syndrome as Vietnam vets received over Agent Orange.

Selective Service drafts ended in 1973. Today the armed forces are all "volunteer." But these young men and women seldom sign up because they support the objectives of the Bush Doctrine. They join for economic reasons. Many of them find themselves priced out of the chance for a college education. The military promises them great educational opportunitiesĖoften reneged on. Others volunteer for the old-fashioned promise of "three hots and a cot," some security in a Wal-Mart world.

To back up the volunteer armed forces the states have their National Guards. Historically, these "weekend warriors" have primarily been used to help out in their communities during natural disasters. More of them would have been welcome in the aftermath of Katrina and Wilma. But today they are torn away from families and jobs for combat duty in the bloody war in Iraq.

Despite all the hypocrisy we will hear on this day about honoring veterans the fact remains promised benefits for vets are today being shamefully cut backĖabove all in VA health care. VA hospitals are being closed. To add insult to injury congress is about to allocate 300 million dollars of precious VA funds to privatization consultants, with the aim of outsourcing 36,000 jobs.

There are veteranís groups that are advocates for vets and active duty GIs, not shills for the Pentagon. You should check them out, and, if youíre a vet, get involved.

Vietnam Veterans Against The War

Veterans For Peace

Veterans Against The Iraq War

Iraq Veterans Against the War

Military Families Speak Out

Gold Star Families for Peace

Of course the most urgent task on the agenda of this Veterans Day is to work to get our sisters and brothers in Afghanistan and Iraq out of harms way.

Bring the GIs Home Now!

November 10, 2005