431. The Other Veterans

This is an update of a post I wrote for Veteran’s Day 2015. Not many were reading yet, so I could simply repost, but a lot of things have changed since then. The new writing is indented.

I am an American; I vote. During my nearly thirty year career as a school teacher, I always went to the polls early and wore my ”I have voted, have you?” sticker throughout the day. Children would ask me, “Who did you vote for?” I never told them. Sometimes they would ask me, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” I never told them.

Teachers have a responsibility to be involved and have political opinions, because they are citizens. But they also have a responsibility to avoid shoving those opinions down the throats of their captive audience.

You are not a captive audience. You get both barrels.

I am one of the other veterans, the ones who went, did their job, and moved on. I don’t march in parades. I love America, but I still have a love/hate relationship with the flag. It stands for aspirations toward universal freedom, and when I think of it like that, I love it. But it also stands for the darkest of horrors.

For twenty-seven years, I had to endure the flag salute five days a week in my classroom. Understand, there were days when I said it with my whole heart. There were also days when I could only remember the dead on both sides in that useless war in Viet Nam; on those days, I said the words through clenched teeth.

But I said them. I could have refused. I might have been fired, or I might have won my case on first amendment grounds. Either way, the children I was there to teach would have had their education disrupted. It was my problem, not theirs, so I gritted my teeth and said the words.

Even the words “under God”, notwithstanding that I stopped believing in God when I was fifteen. But every time I said them, I thought of the children who have to pray five times a day facing Mecca.

NFL players, I get it. I support your right to protest. I agree that the situation you are protesting is unacceptable. Nevertheless, I think you are making a mistake. The people who see you kneeling can’t get past the flag. You are alienating the people you need to convince.

My draft number was 41.

Heinlein said slavery is not made more appealing by calling it Selective Service. I agree, mostly; however conscription levels the field. Without conscription, the white and the rich would not have protested so loudly as they (we) did, and the Viet Nam war would have gone on much longer.

When I got to boot camp, I was surrounded by whites, blacks and variations. There were only two who stood out — me, and one other guy. I was 24, mature, married, and with enough life experience to resist brainwashing. The others were all malleable, except for one recruit. I’ll tell you his story on Monday.

During my last year in college I signed up for a term in the Peace Corps. Then Nixon did away with the Peace Corps deferment. The Marines were drafting, so I joined the Navy.

I wasn’t trying to avoid death; I was young enough to foolishly assume I wouldn’t get killed. I just didn’t want to shoot anyone who was defending his homeland.

Four years later I was a civilian again, the Viet Nam war was over, and the general opinion had shifted. Most Americans had come to believe that the war was a mistake.

Thirty years later Bush Two sent troops in to find weapons of mass destruction that never existed, as if we had learned nothing.

I am a veteran; I believe in defending my country against real enemies. But I’m also a retired teacher. When I see starry eyed children who can’t wait for their chance to plunge into battle –- well, pardon my lack of enthusiasm.

There will be three more veterans’ posts next week.

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