A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.
— Napoleon Bonaparte
It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.
— Zell Miller
Florence, Italy was born in 59 B.C. as a resettlement site for Roman soldiers who had returned from Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul. Soldiers who fought and sacrificed for the state were rewarded.
Today’s soldiers — the rank and file — fighting for American prerogatives abroad are really screwed. Yes, a soldier may get education benefits; may escape an otherwise limited set of life options where he or she may be living; may learn skills in computer science, systems management, and tactics and strategy that provide good job opportunities after retiring from military service.
I was a military dependent growing up. I know all the good stuff that can come from military service, but I know the bad too.
What I also know is that whether one agrees with Zell Miller’s lofty tribute to America’s soldiers or not, Zell Miller and the party he adopted are irresponsibly silent when it comes to addressing the enormous life impacts sustained by soldiers deployed in this war — and collectively, as a nation, we are shrugging our shoulders and ignoring the plight of those who are willing to sacrifice their lives and their own and their family’s financial security for this country.
And as the casualty count climbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the wounded return, or the remains of those killed, nothing happens that substantially lightens the huge burden placed on those on the front line of this conflict.
I keep looking for evidence that George Bush cares — but there is little either symbolically or substantively — that I see this President doing to call on the rest of America to do what needs to be done to make sure that those wounded and maimed in this conflict have a way forward in the years ahead.
This article in today’s New York Times about vulture lenders preying on the financial fragility of soldiers and their families underscores the point.
These shady financial outfits charging hundreds if not thousands of percent annualized interest on loans to strapped military personnel and their families are war profiteers.
James Woolsey and the many public intellectuals who sit on boards of defense firms, or serve as consultants for those trying to make a buck off of this conflict, while also pretending to be objective commentators on the nation’s foreign and defense policies are also war profiteers — “big-time,” as Dick Cheney would say.
Harry Truman, as a Senator and while holding hearings in the same Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building in which our Al Qaeda 2.0 conference was held last Thursday, called war profiteering “treason.”
I have serious problems with the modern military, this war, the Pentagon’s priorities, and the seeming absence of accountability in the sprawling bureaucracy of the Pentagon. With 5% of the world’s population in the United States spending on defense what all other nations in the world combined spend — and Americans still not feeling safe — the security deliverables our military is providing are not good enough.
But the soldiers are victims of this lack of accountability as well — and they deserve more support than they are getting.
Last night, I attended a festive holiday party at the home of former Oklahoma Congressman Dave McCurdy and his wife Pam, who is a well-known child psychiastrist. McCurdy now serves as President of the Electronic Industries Alliance.
Dave McCurdy is another example of a Democrat who knows a lot about selling well in a red state, Oklahoma. McCurdy overcame Tom DeLay’s efforts to prevent the EIA from hiring a Democrat. He’s a great guy — even if he did help empower one of his Oklahoma buddies — James Woolsey — climb the power ladder in Washington.
When McCurdy curtailed his expected run for the presidency in 1992 and was the person who nominated Bill Clinton for President at the Democratic Convention, McCurdy was in line to be appointed Secretary of Defense. Bill Clinton and chief-of-staff Mack McLarty wanted to give the post to McCurdy, but Hillary and George Stephanopolous went to the mat for Les Aspin, who proved to be disastrous in the job.
As a concession prize, Clinton offered McCurdy the directorship of the CIA, which McCurdy rejected — and when polled about who might be good for the job, McCurdy suggested James Woolsey. Unfortunately, Woolsey’s ego couldn’t handle the criticism about post-Aldrich Ames criticism and a President who would never meet with him.
Woolsey’s radicalization began then. Interestingly, I was watching Colin Powell’s September 30, 1993 retirement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on C-Span the other night, and as the cameras scanned the audience assembled eleven years and some months ago, then Clinton administration CIA Director James Woolsey appears. He seemed stiff and tormented, and slightly leaning to his left — as if needing a pal. Who was seated to his left? Dick Cheney.
One very sobering conversation I had at the McCurdy home was with a guy who had recently been up to Walter Reed Medical Center where there are many seriously wounded and maimed soldiers back from combat. This guy said that there are lots of folks — from active duty military as well as weekend warriors from the National Guard — who are going to spend the rest of their lives adjusting to lost limbs, paralysis, and psychological and other physical shocks that are going to constrain their options in the future — and as he said it, “our nation needs to embrace these people not with momentary, feel-good gestures, but over the long haul.”
I think that support of soldiers should not be a partisan issue — but frankly, I don’t see a lot of broad concern for the life circumstances of these people in either party. John McCain gets it — and Hillary Clinton does get a salute from me for getting her colleagues to address the limited health care options for National Guard families whose principal had his or her deployment extended.
So, as I add a list of items that 2008 presidential candidates should consider — a lot of support for soldiers, particularly the families of those killed and wounded.
I have proposed the outlines of a plan called “Stock Options for Soldiers” which I will be rolling out in greater detail in the coming weeks. I know that there are lots of problems with the cosmetics and substance of providing more resources to soldiers from private sector sources.
But if the government is not going to act responsibly, then other options need to be debated.
I’d rather hug soldiers than hug a flawed Pentagon. And so should the next set of presidential candidates.
— Steve Clemons