Today’s news offers a plethora of opportunities for American veterans to scare the living hell out of themselves. There is not much good news and lots of bad news. Now here is the rub. Why are we silent? There is an awful lot to think about today.
With almost 23 million veterans alive in the USA right now, a figure which is roughly 8% of the American electorate in any given community, we are the swing vote; THE swing vote. Just bear that in mind as you read. And yes, I do believe that on certain issues we can vote as a bloc.
That is not on all issues, probably not even on most issues, but on some issues we can certainly muster a huge number of votes and congressional emails across the political spectrum of our various beliefs. We can make our will known as a group. We rarely do that, but we can do that. Just remember that as you read.
First I will do the daily news roundup that I hope is of interest to informed veterans and then I want to touch on how veterans have influenced events in a big way in the past. It will be a sort of primer to show how powerful you really are as veterans. You are perhaps the most powerful group of voters in the country…I promise…I will prove it to you. But first, lets start with the ‘daily scare’.
Lets start here. The New York Times reports today that the Admirals and Generals at the top of the American high command pecking order are meeting in Germany to discuss troop levels in Afghanistan. Now here is my question; why?
We have civilian control of the military in this federal republic. Like it or not, generals and admirals do not make those kinds of decisions. Not even a little bit. That is not their place.
They do not meet in special meetings overseas to discuss the political ramifications of troop levels anywhere, anyplace, anytime. That is not their job. Those are not their decisions. I resent this and I fear it. Those flag rank officers are in place strictly to do exactly as they are damned well told by their civilian superiors. Period.
Those decisions are made by the electorate as they direct the fat, middle aged, bald headed and gray haired career beauracrats who are in turn directed by the aggressive, sometimes clueless but always "committed" political wonks that the political action committees, Big Money Interests and finally, the Joe Citizen back home votes into office.
This is a lousy system filled with all sorts of holes and opportunities for abuse. Our system of government often stinks, is weak and inefficient and is not always reflective of our national core values. We all know that. It stinks in many ways. But, it is our system. it is the way our democracy works. It is how our form of government proceeds.
I do not like generals and admirals meeting overseas to discuss the politcal ramifications of a report by a battlefield general to the Secretary of Defense that has not even been delivered yet. This is dangerous.
This is the kind of thing totalitarian armies and navies do when they are trying to protect their positions within the government pecking order. These men have no business in the political arena. They have overstepped their bounds greatly. This is in fact something that free peoples do not tolerate. Generals and admirals need to stay out of politics in Western democracies. If they want to be politicians, let them take off their uniforms and put on a suit and tie and run for office. Otherwise they need to sit at home and wait for the political hacks to give them their orders. That is how our system operates, whether they like it or not.
Next we have Iran acting up.
Here is an article discussing how we discovered that Iran had a secret facility in place for making weapons grade plutonium that they had not previously declared to world regulatory bodies as they were required to do. Here is an article outlining the U.S. and world reaction to Iran’s deception. Here is an article in which Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, not a friend of ours by any means, is claiming that Iran is helping Venezuela look for uranium, supposedly so that his country can have nuclear weapons also.
And now, here is what I want to lay out for you today. The power of war veterans in shaping world affairs.
Human history has been chock full of examples of veterans simply taking over a situation and forcing their will on the government. Examples go back thousands of years.
Alexander the Great was almost certainly killed by his war veteran generals for refusing to reign in his apetite for conquest and simply moving forward into territory after territory. Simply put, there was no rest for the weary. Battlefield deaths apparently meant little to Alexander of Macedonia.
Finally, it is assumed by most historians, his generals had enough of his lust for conquest. They were tired because they had conquered most of the known world and this young conqueror wanted to move on and conquer whatever else he could find. The generals wanted to go home apparently. So they poisoned him it is generally believed. His empire was split between the generals and it fell within a relatively short span of time. War veterans made the difference here.
The Roman Empire under Julius Caeser is a fine example of a general simply marching into Rome. He simply did this by "crossing the Rubicon" River and taking over the government. That is exactly what he did. His troops helped him take over the government by force. All the caesers after him had the problem of keeping the troops in line, in effect, they had to pay off the army, to keep themselves in power. Roman war veterans seized the real power behind the Emporers simply by virtue of the fact that they could and would dispose of them if their policies hurt the army or the veterans.
The Roman Legions were what made Rome so feared, not her economy.
The Russian Revolution that ushered in Communism under the Bolsheviks was largely the result of disgruntled battlefield veterans from the defeated Czarist armies of WWI joining forces with Lenin’s idealogues and forcing the Czar to step down. These veterans provided the muscle for the takeover of government.
Hitler survived an assasination attempt by Baron Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his mid rank Wermacht officer allies in 1944. The colonel had lost use of his arm and an eye in North Afrika while serving with the Afrika Corps and soon came to realize that Hitler was insane while he recuperated from his wounds. Although still on active duty, von Stauffenberg and many of his co-conspirators would today be considered disabled veterans by modern definitions of those terms. His attempt on Hitler’s life was the beginning of the end of Hitler’s control over government.
There are thousands of examples like these both big and small. In many American wars, troops simply refused orders en masse because the orders were given by political hacks with officer commissions and little or no thought to enlisted lives were part of the decision making process.
In Viet Nam there were a couple of incidents which made the media that highlighted groups of American non commissioned officers who refused to carry out orders by a rear echelon commander because they were politicaly sensitive orders that would cost American lives for no real strategic reason. To a lesser extent this has apparently happened several times in the wars in western Asia that we are now fighting. Rumors have come out of Iraq and Afghanistan of soldiers, particularly National Guardsmen, who have questioned their superiors’ abilities to fully understand the implications of their orders on the soldiers who must carry them out. Stories are rampant of soldiers refusing to comply with battlefield orders.
Soldiers particularly dislike being killed for political advantage. Who can blame them?
Veterans in the U.S. influenced many elections, particularly after the Civil War. The Grand Army of the Republic, a sort of early version of the American Legion, was a power to contend with in all major American elections up to and including the Spanish American War in 1898. The famous "Bonus Army" march on Washington D.C. in 1932 by WWI veterans is still spoken of in hushed tones of reverence by veterans’ advocates in this country. Senator John Kerry’s Viet Nam Veterans Against the War had tremendous impact on veterans’ views of the government. Veterans are a tremendous political influence if they wish to be.
Veterans have a place in America’s political spectrum. That is proper. Active duty soldiers and sailors do not have a place in political discourse. That is our way.
So coming full circle, I do not like high command American officers meeting overseas to discuss the political ramifications of a general’s report to the Secretary of Defense. No matter what they tell you, that is what they are doing. I see this as quite dangerous.
CWO3 Tom Barnes, USCG (Ret.)