My Turn: Recall the words of President Eisenhower

Posted: Monday, April 21, 2003

Many of us increasingly are offended by recent letters telling anyone who is against the war to shut up and support the soldiers who are "fighting for their freedom." Yet this would dishonor the very freedom they are supposed to be fighting for. What soldier wants to be fighting for freedom for a country where everybody is supposed to have their mouths duct-taped shut?

I was not in the service myself, but have many friends who were. Growing up in the '60s it was not unheard of for young men to be offered Vietnam over a stint in jail. Many were drafted. Some joined, and still join, because their fathers and grandfathers and uncles were in the service, and their acceptance as a man by family weighed into the decision. Some join because it is a job (with health care and benefits!). Some just like to shoot guns and use cool equipment, or get an education in a career that is more stable and safer than firefighting, mining, logging, truck driving or crab fishing in Alaska.

Ask almost any soldier, or former soldier, and "fighting for our freedom" usually has or had nothing to do with why they were involved. These soldiers are not fools. They know the issue of "fighting for our freedom" is usually created by politicians who start these wars, many of whom come from a privileged class, such as our fearless leader Bush the Second who spent his last year of military service AWOL.

Usually the phrase "fighting for our freedom" is coupled with "heroically." This "heroism" in performing their duties is something most soldiers are also not fools about. They know there is nothing much "heroic" in launching cruise missiles or daisy cutter bombs, or shooting anything that moves. They just want to get out of there alive. I'm not saying there are no heroic deeds happening, there are. Let's just not debase the term. Soldiers know what true heroism is, and we should, too. Heroism happens in many ways, in every walk of life. Arguably our Peace Corps volunteers are heroes in their own right and "fighting" for our freedom more effectively per dollar spent than with many military solutions.

The third definition of "disarm" in my dictionary reads, "To overcome hostility of; to make friendly." By this definition, they are the ones most surely and effectively disarming parts of the world per dollar spent, but their job is only made harder due to hatred of the U.S. due to perceived military aggression.

"Disarm," "heroic", and "fighting for our freedom" are ideas that have great power and have been used to manipulate the public like so many other words have. Once upon a time we had a department called "the War Department," which served us well, through both world wars. It was truth in advertising. But it was a hard "sell" to keep selling huge amounts of weapons of war to the U.S. public after World War II. So a very nifty trick was performed - a name change - to the Department of Defense. Weapons of "defense" are a much easier sell for the "military-industrial complex," which that old radical general and old-school Republican President Eisenhower warned us about. People will spend almost anything on "defense."

One sure way to balance the budget would be to return to the original good and true name, "the War Department," and we would not get sold on so much "defense," which generally profits the very guys President Eisenhower warned us about, and the ones who still seem to be in charge.

Tony Tengs of Juneau is a businessman and ferry worker.

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