Memorial Day: Recalling and Caring for Our Constant Brave


How shall we recall and care for these, our constant brave: the individuals who have volunteered, trained, and sacrificed so much in the name of America and its military?

First, let’s remember the solemn oath they have taken when inducted into the armed services. Here’s the Army enlistment oath:

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I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Millions of courageous men and women have taken this oath. When they did, they should have received the right to demand an oath in return from us, the American people: to support and protect them from elected officials who have allowed the flagrant expansion of a military-industrial complex which Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about.

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Eisenhower saw the dangers of money and power turning America’s military missions into greedy, aggressive, endless war for the sake of the profit of a few, rather than the protection of many. On leaving the presidency in 1961, this greatest of World War II’s heroes, a Republican, said publicly:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Are we “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry?”

Would an alert and knowledgeable citizenry allow a homeless population of over 600,000 to exist in the U.S., with one-third of them consisting of our military veterans?

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Would we allow 18 U.S. veterans, men and women, to daily commit suicide, primarily due to psychiatric drugs? (ABC News)

Would we allow our dedicated warriors to be sent into an aggressive invasion based on a lie, and which our political leaders knew would turn into a quagmire?

Listen to Dick Cheney’s explaining in 1984 why George H. W. Bush refused to invade Iraq’s capitol of Baghdad, which would put our military irrationally in harm’s way:

It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families — it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.

Cheney didn’t get it right the second time on Iraq, when the U.S. invaded, resulting in the death of over 4,400 U.S. forces (as of Feb. 13) and nearly 32,000 wounded. Add to that over 16,600 Iraqi military and police, 26,000 Iraqi “insurgents” and over 66,000 civilian deaths.

All this, because George W. Bush lied to his electorate and the world about Weapons of Mass Destruction existing in Iraq. And Colin Powell carried that lie to the United Nations. Powell’s former chief of staff, U.S. Army Col. (ret.) Lawrence B. Wilkerson-who helped prepare Powell for his U.N. speech-said Powell wasn’t aware of the falsehoods in his presentation, but it was a “hoax.” Wilkerson told PBS in 2006:

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I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council. How do you think that makes me feel? Thirty-one years in the United States Army and I more or less end my career with that kind of a blot on my record? That’s not a very comforting thing…

…we turned to the National Intelligence estimate as part of the recommendation of George Tenent and my agreement with. But even that turned out to be, in its substantive parts–that is stockpiles of chemicals, biologicals and production capability that was hot and so forth, and an active nuclear program. The three most essential parts of that presentation turned out to be absolutely false.

The Afghanistan invasion-prompted by 9/11, which appeared to be set up by the Bush administration (see Peculiar Progressive column “The Afghanistan Plan: A Pipeline, an Invasion, a Pipeline, and an “Exodus”)-followed by America’s Iraqi aggression both cost the U.S. over one trillion dollars. According to the Congressional Research Service report from March 29, 2011:

…based on DOD, State Department/USAID, and Department of Veterans Administration budget submissions, the cumulative total appropriated from the 9/11 for those war operations, diplomatic operations, and medical care for Iraq and Afghan war veterans is $1.283 trillion including:

$806 billion for Iraq;
$444 billion for Afghanistan;
$29 billion for enhanced security; and
$6 billion unallocated

While the decade-long quagmires have bled our brave military and our taxpayers, Cheney’s folks seem to have profited from the invasions. Before becoming vice-president, he was serving as CEO of Halliburton. That corporation and its subsidiaries, while Cheney was vice president, pulled in billions from work in Iraq and Afghanistan. While it’s difficult to get a total figure, sources list Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) getting $16 billion in contracts from 2004-06 alone. Politifact cites KBR government work for Iraq reconstruction from 2001-10 of $31 billion. Cheney was vice president from 2001-2008. Halliburton broke ties with KBR in 2007.

Halliburton, of course, wasn’t the only corporate profiteer benefiting from the efforts of our American brave. In the sources listed at this column’s end, you can find links to the top 20 and top 100 defense contractors.

Eisenhower pointed out in his farewell address that the military-industrial complex was something new in the ’50s. America’s founding fathers opposed a standing army, and the U.S. basically didn’t have one until World War II when the Nazi onslaught required it. America’s brave met that onslaught and defeated it.

In the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders, the Army’s prosecutors including Benjamin Ferencz, told the court that the defendants’ chief crime was “aggressive war” which led to all other offenses they committed. Sixty years later, in the summer of 2006, Ferencz claimed that George W. Bush should be charged with the same crime:

The United Nations charter has a provision which was agreed to by the United States, formulated by the United States, in fact, after World War II. It says that from now on, no nation can use armed force without the permission of the U.N. Security Council. They can use force in connection with self-defense, but a country can’t use force in anticipation of self-defense. Regarding Iraq, the last Security Council resolution essentially said, ‘Look, send the weapons inspectors out to Iraq, have them come back and tell us what they’ve found — then we’ll figure out what we’re going to do.’ The U.S. was impatient, and decided to invade Iraq — which was all pre-arranged of course. So, the United States went to war, in violation of the charter.

But, of course, Congress refused to impeach Bush or Cheney, and reluctantly and rarely has prosecuted contractors. Only our brave warriors and their families are expected to suffer patriotically, with death, physical wounds, and psychological trauma. As are the civilian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Dog Tags” symbol by Simon Child, from The Noun Project collection.

And the truth is, our military brave will suffer patriotically. They have dedicated and trained themselves to do so. Some do it without questioning. A few have challenged our government on its endless, aggressive war, and paid the consequences under military law.

This conniving by the military-industrial complex isn’t new. Our experience with the Vietnam quagmire surely should have taught us. Our young soldiers and sailors and airmen and women may not be old enough to remember it. But members of Congress are certainly aware of its history, as is the American taxpayer.

Now the White House is making war taunts toward Pakistan, Syria, and heavily toward Iran. Powell’s Col. Wilkerson, in the documentary “The Israel Lobby,” predicted that, if the U.S. attacks Iran, the American military will see a major exodus of veteran officers who oppose aggressive war.

How can we stop the military-industrial complex from embroiling us in future fiascos like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq? We need to remove any president and Congress that continues the profiteering practice, and replace them. And we need to get Congress and the White House to truly regulate and break up the mammoth conglomerates that have taken control of government.

It will require the American voters to get organized, get educated and get active. It will take work to become the “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” Eisenhower encouraged us to become. As citizens, at a minimum, we owe our brave military forces and veterans that much.

The Army enlistment oath:

Eisenhower’s full farewell address:
Eisenhower Farewell Address (Full)

Details of the military-industrial complex:

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Homeless American veterans:

The New York Times articles on homeless:

Veterans’ suicides:

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Military women’s suicides:

Cheney on Iraq in ’94:
Invading Baghdad would create quagmire

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson interview about “hoax”:

Total cost of Iraq and Afghanistan invasions:


Top defense contractors:

Nazi prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz on Iraq: