The Slumbering Giant Of American Democracy

The coming out against the war in Vietnam by WWII veterans - veterans who had the cachet of having won their war, a popular war - was a positive influence in the 60s-generation of soldiers', argues author - GALLO/GETTY

San Pedro, CA – Last week, I wrote about the significant overlap between neo-conservatism and neoliberalism as failing ideologies of the faltering American empire – and I wrote about veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who gave back their medals to NATO, just like an earlier generation of Vietnam War veterans had done at the White House in May, 1971.

Now, as then, I wrote, the anti-war veterans have the support of most Americans – roughly two-thirds now want America to withdraw from Afghanistan, the same as wanted out of Vietnam in 1971. And yet, the elite media not only ignores both groups, it actively divides them – both against one another and against themselves.

The veterans returning their medals to NATO were generally blunt and to the point. “I did two tours in Iraq,” Sgt Maggie Martin told the crowd. “No amount of medals, ribbons or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by these wars. We don’t want this garbage. We want our human rights. We want our right to heal.”

“I am deeply sorry for the destruction that we have caused in those countries and around the globe,” said Jason Hurd, who spent 10 years as an Army combat medic. “I am proud to stand on this stage with my fellow veterans and my Afghan sisters. These were lies. I’m giving them back.”

These were just two of the dozens and dozens of veterans who returned their medals that day. A number of others cited Private Bradley Manning, imprisoned and awaiting trial for allegedly “aiding the enemy” by passing on classified material later published by the whistleblower website, WikiLeaks. The celebrated Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg has also spoken out on Manning’s behalf.

“Bradley Manning is acting in the interest of the United States and against the interest of our enemy al-Qaeda,” Ellsberg said last year. “There’s a campaign here against whistleblowing that’s actually unprecedented in legal terms.” From Ellsberg’s perspective, there is no basic difference between what he did in releasing the Pentagon Papers – which made him a hero to a generation of Americans – and what Bradley Manning is accused of, releasing a treasure trove of embarrassing and illuminating classified cables via Wikileaks – which could end up keeping him in prison for the rest of his life. The difference in the two men’s treatment reflects how much elite assumptions and opinion have changed in 40 years, particularly within the Democratic Party.

Anti-war veterans

But elite ideas have tremendous trickle-down influence as well – a point that emerged with particular clarity when I spoke about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning their medals with Vietnam veteran Jerry Lembcke. He is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, a book that first debunks the myth that anti-war protesters typically spit on veterans returning from the Vietnam War, and then goes on to explore the multiple reasons why that myth has such enduring power. Lembcke is as tightly attuned as anyone to the psychological and sociological labyrinths of how Vietnam’s legacy continues echoing through our politics today. In our conversation, Lembcke highlighted two contrasting dynamics in terms of how much more sophisticated resisting veterans were today, the other in terms of how much more handicapped they are.

Read the whole story: AlJazeera