Standing in the free speech area during the Saturday “Defenders of Freedom”
parade in Oceanside was a deeply
moving experience. I’ve never really felt both so very unreservedly happy and so poignantly sad at the same time.
As the Marines and sailors marched and drove past, or flew overhead, I
thought of what amazing accomplishments
they had achieved in Iraq through their disciplined valor. Victory is sweet. Homecoming for the warriors is a time
of celebration. I was exuberantly happy.
Yet there I was standing in the free speech area of this parade.
Around me members of groups such as Veterans
for Peace held signs and banners calling for the troops remaining in Iraq to be brought home now. Others said things
like “Bush lied—people died.” My own concerns center on active duty military and veterans’ issues such as rapidly
replacing mold infested housing on Camp Pendleton, ensuring pay equity for disabled retired veterans, and fully
funding the VA hospital system.
After all, when the parade is over and the last of the confetti is swept
away, our military personnel and veterans will
still need our care and our support. And they are not getting it—funding for VA patients for example has decreased
by about $635.00 per patient in recent years. The current Administration and its allies in Congress are clearly much
more interested in cutting taxes for the wealthiest one percent of Americans and for job-destroying multi-national
corporations, than they are in actually honoring our commitment to the welfare and tong-term care of our valiant
defenders of freedom. I used to conduct field investigations for the IRS back in the mid 1980’s--I know how to
read the budgetary numbers—they don’t lie. The story they tell is an appalling one.
The fiscal betrayal of these brave young men and women by this current
Administration, and the signs of the anti-war
contingent, forced me to confront in my mind the unpleasant fact that the Bush Administration overrode the collective
will of our NATO allies—shattering the world’s longest and most successful alliance, of the world community and the
United Nations, gravely weakening all the world’s collective security mechanisms because … well, just why did they do it?
We were told in no uncertain terms that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical,
biological, and nuclear WMD programs,
and that any moment he might strike us. We were also told by the Administration and its Congressional allies that Hussein
maintained a close, cooperative relationship with Al Qeda. Most Americans were led to believe in fact that Hussein was
directly involved in the September 11 attacks on our nation. Many still believe some or all of these propositions.
There is only one problem: ALL of these assertions are false.
The administration took us into the Iraq war, shattered
the world’s institutions of collective security, and squandered all the goodwill that this nation had ever accumulated,
solely on the basis of lies.
Watching the parade pass, I saw in my mind’s eye a tapestry of military
parades across the ages from the victorious
legions of invincible Rome, the two-day long victory march of the triumphant Federal armies through Washington City
in 1865 at the end of the Civil War; the jubilation that followed the victorious endings of the World Wars, and the
parades that followed the end of the first Gulf War—and now this parade was unfolding before me.
These brave troops marching before me were safely back, but they will be
deploying again very soon. Our warriors
whose fiscal welfare is of such little concern to their Commander-in-Chief, had bravely fought and many of their comrades
had died for blatant lies, and they will be doing so again very soon. Relieved that they are here now, I nevertheless felt
a deep sadness that they will be returning to a war zone and may not have adequate housing or medical care upon their return.
Bittersweet melancholy, juxtaposed with great happiness, was the order
of the day for me.
Mike Byron is a member the San Diego Chapter of Veterans for Peace.
He is also President of the democratic Club of Carlsbad-Oceanside.
He teaches Political Science at several local colleges and universities.
He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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