Like much in this country, this entire phenomenon is the definition of an oxymoron. Or two things existing together that shouldn't exist. The contradicting variables are that the U.S. military is not the hero/heroine in any presence it has anywhere on the planet earth. And, whatever "service" the people who participate within the military engage in, the U.S. government is not at all concerned about the well being of those past and present service people.
My awakening to these realities started long before my political consciousness experienced its first seedlings. My father was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S. Louisiana is in the deep South in the U.S. It was one of the anchor slave states until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Louisiana certainly and proudly enforced racial segregation and oppression from the Hayes Tildon compromise in the 1870s up through the 1960s. It wasn't until I was a late teenager that I was able to encourage my father to disclose even the most basic elements of his youth, but I did sit in the next room as a child and ear hustle when my parents and my grandmother, all from Louisiana, told their stories about the horror and trauma of their youth. I remember one story my father told repeatedly that terrified me as a child. When he was 10, he accidentally brushed up against a European woman in the market place when he reached for an apple. As soon as he brushed her, he retold how he dropped the apple, as he was trained to do, and ran the three miles home to inform the adults of the incident. Upon hearing his account of what happened at the store, the adults immediately mobilized everyone on the block to take up armed shifts at his house. Later that night, the white/night riders did come. These were people known to my kinfolk, despite their faces being hidden by the hoods they wore. One glimpse of pride that still resonates with me is the knowledge that my ancestors had the courage to stand out there, armed themselves, and refuse to turn my father over to these racists, which included so-called law enforcement people. This is a story that practically any African within the U.S. or in the colonial Caribbean and Africa can tell because this is what Jim Crow segregation and colonialism looked like. So, you should understand when I tell you that by the time I was 17, my father finally decided to turn to me and talk about his experience in the U.S. military. You see, my father was drafted into the U.S. army for the Vietnam war. He was forced to go. He opened up because he was worried about the Iran hostage crisis at the time. Worried about the U.S.s growing military influence in Central America and the continued escalation against Cuba and the cold war overall My father finally opened up because he had a message for me. He told me that he would be eternally disappointed in me if I ever considered going into the U.S. military. He told me that he was forced to go and fight for a country that would not even stand by his basic rights as a human being in the state where he grew up. He made it clear to me that the only rights I had were rights that were secured for me by our civil rights movements. If I could get a job I was qualified for. Live where I could afford. And, do anything I could do, it was because of those brave souls who fought against Jim Crow segregation and institutional racism in this society. His point was that his time in Vietnam did nothing to contribute to any rights I had, or anyone else, including the Vietnamese people. I listened to him closely. Partly because as I mentioned, this was pretty much the first time he really said anything of substance to me beyond typical father discipline type stuff or sports talk. Also, I listened because what he said made sense to my growing understanding that as a young African man, I was walking through this society on a much different path than the one I was always taught I would travel on.
After obtaining my Bachelor's Degree a few years later, I tested well on the Law School Admissions Exam and I was tentatively accepted into Bolt Hall Law School at the University of California, Berkeley. I was eliminated from consideration because of my refusal to sign up for selective service eligibility (for a potential draft). The Reagan Administration had made refusal an automatic rejection for any financial aide and/or loans. My family had no money so law school was out. I have never regretted it because I have always wanted to be a front-line activist and organizer for justice, not a legal observer or court room supporter. Those folks are wonderful, but God knows I've fulfilled my activist aspirations, but my father's message made it clear to me that the military was not for us and I'm forever thankful to him for initially opening my eyes in this way.
Beyond my personal experiences, we have to confront this ever expanding lie that the U.S. military represents truth and justice throughout the world. This is the lie that's perpetuated to our children in school, certainly in all professional sports, in the media, and even in church. Over the last couple of decades, the U.S. has sent troops to Vietnam, fighting a war on the wrong side of history. The Vietnamese people were fighting a war for national liberation. A right all people possess and if they decide that socialism is that path for them to achieve that, who the hell is the U.S. to decide for them that this is wrong. In 1983 the U.S. refused Greneda's initial invitation to build their airport, but when that small Caribbean country invited Cuba to build it, the U.S. used an unfortunate internal squabble among Greneda's leadership to invade that country. In 1986, the U.S. defied international opinion by carpet bombing Libya and after two decades of killing hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has done nothing in those countries except breed instability and the type of resentment that has made the emergence of groups like ISIS possible. And illegal military operations and/or support in Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, have further contributed to instability. Now, the most recent military uptick is surrounding the U.S. going to war against North Korea. In this instance, North Korea is portrayed as a rogue country that is completely ill-responsible and unstable. The truth is the U.S. has killed thousands of North Koreans in bombing over the last several decades. The U.S. has continued to threaten North Korea with bomb tests off the Hokkaido Islands in Japan. North Korea, like any logical entity, has the right to protect itself and that's all they are doing. The U.S. again, as always, is on the wrong side of history. The reason why this happens repeatedly is because the reason the U.S. is involved in these military confrontations has never had anything to do with freedom or justice. If this was true, the U.S. would have gotten involved in Afghanistan years ago when conditions under the Taliban were so oppressive towards women that it was illegal for them to go to school. The U.S. would have intervened in Vietnam in the 40s when Japanese colonialism ruthlessly oppressed the Vietnamese. No. The U.S. only gets involved when there is a connection to the economic interests of U.S., Western European, and zionist Israeli corporations and political desires.
And, the thousands of U.S. people who enlist in the military are nothing more than cannon fodder to carry out the objectives of U.S. imperialism. Of course, there is no question that people join the U.S. military because there are limited economic opportunities otherwise for working class populations. A tour in the military comes with the G.I. bill which provides resources to attend school, buy a house, etc. We know options are limited, and we know this narrative is very carefully kept out of the mainstream focus so that most people don't realize they are accomplices to oppression against humanity. Most people want to believe they are doing the right thing. That's just how we are wired. So, its not hard to understand why so many good people, who I know must know better, buy into this corrupt narrative that U.S. military service is to be heralded. We all know anyone can follow unjust orders to contribute to repressing people who don't deserve being repressed. It may be understandable, but its not heroism. And the fact about 25 U.S. service vets kill themselves daily indicates these folks know that. I've spent too much time with former vets, taking them to try and secure benefits the government is trying to deny them, to be confused on this question. This government doesn't give a rat's ass about U.S. veterans. The only reason they trumpet the propaganda is because the ruling classes know that the best way to get the masses of people to support their imperialist agenda is to appeal to our emotional element. Our husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, people friends, family, etc., who "served." Since we of course support our people, by default, we support the imperialist agenda. This is the real reason why the military pays millions to professional sports leagues for these daily and weekly displays of U.S. nationalism where the military is used as the pawn to visualize this dysfunction. This is so institutionalized that most of your families never even think to ask the question why or what this display even has to do with the sporting event you are watching/attending.
My father died in 1999. And every year on this day, I'm thinking of him. I'm not posting any pictures of him in his army uniform. Even if I was confused enough to do that, I couldn't. He didn't have any pictures. He didn't want any. My way of honoring him, and all of you, even those of you who celebrate this day, is by challenging this backward narrative that justifies oppression and continues to contribute to this lie. Sekou Ture said "truth crushed to earth a thousand times will still rise." The truth is the U.S. military is a criminal organization and its wars are crimes against humanity. If you were a member, we need you to come out and tell the truth to the public. You doing that is the best cure for waking people up before we are forced to suffer through the next imperialist war. Kudos to those vets who are doing that work. They need your help. Then you will really qualify to be heroes and heroines.