May 7, 2021 is a special day for me. It’s my 90th birthday, and, with a lot of help from others along the way, I’ve made it this far, still standing on my two feet. And, after three years of surgeries, radiations and infusions, my cancer doctors say I’m doing good enough to take a six months break in treatment, which gives me an opportunity to concentrate on some important projects.
It’s also special because my book, Democracy of Dollars, is being released during my birthday week by my publisher, Indies United Publishing House, and is available in electronic form, paperback and hardback. We’ll gift the royalties to Our Children’s Trust. We’ve priced the ebook on Amazon and elsewhere at $3.95 so that it’s economic enough for students to afford a copy. We’re also providing copies of the book to Stetson College of Law for its gifting to contributors who support its Center for Environmental Justice, now in formation.
All that’s good, personal stuff. But there’s more. There is also an important history about May 7 that is worth sharing.
World War II ended in Europe on May 7, 1945 when German emissaries met with General Dwight Eisenhower at his schoolhouse headquarters in Reims, France. On this day, Germany surrendered unconditionally. Thus, the ‘first leg” of the war to end all wars was completed.
May 7, 1945 was also a special day for me. It was my 14th birthday. And in Superior, Wisconsin, far from the quieted guns of the European battlefields we too joined in the celebration. Optimism and hope returned to the earth. Patriotism and pride filled our hearts.
But the war to end all wars did not end the wars; in fact, over the years, there has hardly been a pause. In 1954 I and many of my college classmates were ushered into uniform for a “mini“ police action with North Korea. A few years later, there was Vietnam. Historian Geoffrey Perret was right when, in 1989, he wrote we are A Country Made By War.
In those earlier times, it was Congress that declared war; now the battles and the death of our young are merely funded by Congress, rarely through forbidden tax increases, usually through increases in our national debt. Undeclared wars have become working tools of our Presidents, Republican and Democrat. I wrote about Congress giving up its war powers to our President in Democracy of Dollars. WWII was the last American war where Congress exercised its right to declare war. Since then there have been over 130 undeclared American Wars, from Korea to Afghanistan. When Congress tried to reassert itself by passing a law in 2020 to limit presidential war power authority, our President vetoed the law. Why? Was it pressure from the military-industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned us about when his term as President was up? Or is Congress incapable of speaking for the American people?
Of course, we don’t call them wars today. They are “military operations:” Operation Eagle Claw, Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Nimble Archer, Operation Earnest Will, Operation Prime Chance, Operation Praying Mantis, Operation Just Cause, Operation Provide Comfort, etc. You get the picture. Wikipedia has the list: “Timeline of United States military operations.” It’s up-to-date through 2020.
In those earlier times, during World War II and the “Korean operation,” the army was not a volunteer army, there was the draft and mandatory service was required of all able-bodied young men. Going to college at a “land-grant school” meant taking mandatory ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) courses like I took at the University of Wisconsin.
Mandatory service brought with it patriotism – the understanding, though painful and frightening, that we are all involved. Our country, our lives, were at stake. I remember my instructor at Wisconsin soberly informing our ROTC class that the average life expectancy off a Second Lieutenant in combat was expressed not in days or weeks but in seconds. We all had an interest in getting it right. That’s Patriotism: setting aside our differences and working together to solve our problems. And when we didn’t think war was right, as many did after Korea and during Vietnam, it brought out the war protesters among us. That, too, was an expression of patriotism – working together in a democratic way to solve our problems.
A military draft also fit the idea of the framers of the Constitution; the militia was to be a militia of citizens who picked up their arms to defend our country when it was threatened. Pick up guns when the country was threatened; then put them down and go back to the plows. Like Cincinnatus in ancient Rome. Like Washington did after our Revolutionary War. The idea was wired in the minds of our founders. That’s why men could keep guns; they were in our country’s militia. A different mindset than today’s NRA propagandized minds, which has resulted in more guns in America than there are people.
And during World War II, those too old or too young or too unhealthy to go to war pitched in and sacrificed. There were no new cars built every year. Car production stopped. Tanks rolled off the assembly lines. $25 war bonds to pay for the war were financed by thousands of payroll deductions – from wages that on a good week probably were $15 dollars. That’s what my mother earned. Top income tax brackets jumped to 95%. There were ration stamps for food and gas. Automobile speed limits topped out at 35 miles an hour. None of that made anyone particularly happy, but we sucked it up – we all pitched in with pride. Patriotism. Our country wasn’t about “me,” it was about “we” and we meant all of us pitching in together for a result that was good for all of us.
When the switch went from wars to “military operations” Patriotism became the first casualty.
Today, we have a volunteer army. We fight the “military operations” without any sacrifice at all except from the “volunteers.“ No mandatory military service. No food rationing. No gas rationing. No hiccup in buying all the electronic toys that have become a necessity. We don’t finance the “military operations“ by higher taxes, or by war bonds that we each buy with pride. Or by any other sacrifice. In fact, the Tea Party Patriots was born a few years ago as a revolt to the idea of the government even thinking of asking us to sacrifice anything or do anything on a “we” not a “me” basis. The idea, which is now the mantra for Republican conservatism, is get off my back and cut my taxes. And with that revolt, Patriotism became the real casualty. Yet we spend more money on “defense” than the next 14 countries combined. Yes, no country touches our spending for guns and war, our ownership of guns, and our full prisons. But 25 or so countries beat us badly in education and health care, and our student loans today exceed all the other credit card debt of our country by a wide margin.
So, in our thoughts and daily lives, war has become more distant, separated from what’s “important” to us. And for too many of us, the Libertarian “me” genes have replaced the Patriotic “we” genes.
The carnage of war is easier ignored by those of us who don’t volunteer for service. We bomb impersonally from drones. We express little concern about the death of the civilians that get in the way of our “precision” bombs and rockets. After all, in military operations there’s going to be some “collateral damage.”
“Collateral damage.” Collateral damage is a word frame. A propaganda picture inserted into our minds. It’s not so bad. It’s not us. Its “collateral,” someplace and someone else. Too bad. Sorry.
We are desensitized to the collateral damage news. The word frames we picture in our minds – volunteer fighters, drone bombs, deaths on foreign shores – separate us from the personal cost of combat, from the emotions, fears, and experience of war.
We don’t buy war bonds, we let the Chinese and other nations buy our bonds and finance our “military operations” and unrestricted life style, a life style whose “footprint” would take the resources of three globes if all people on earth were able to keep up with our use and abuse of the earth’s resources. And with that lack of investment of ourselves disappears the true test of Patriotism – getting involved, pitching in to make a difference.
The Pentagon budget, the budget for today’s peacetime war machine, starts at a measly $740 billion. Over the past several decades, we cut out safety inspections and environmental protection, both essential for our food and water; we gutted our nation’s infrastructure; and we cut out appropriate investments in education for our children’s job preparation. Unlike other democracies that provide essentially free education, we bind too many of our children to lifelong debt for their education. But Congress keeps insisting we build tanks and other weapons we can no longer use and the Pentagon has said it doesn’t want. We’re driven by propaganda intent on scaring us, not on factual reality.
Although those in Congress we have elected to speak for us no longer listen to us, polls indicate that Americans, the silent Americans, would like the Defense Budget reduced so we can deal with COVID-19, education and healthcare. But the silent Americans have been silenced, ironically, not by satisfaction but by disgust, by frustration, by lack of good leadership. There’s some indication that we may be in for a positive change following the 2020 election. Only time will tell.
Of course, the well-oiled war machine “creates jobs.” We employee people financed by federal debt to build weapons we do not need. We employ private contractors – security personnel they are called – to help us fight our undeclared wars. I’m told that the annual “taxpayer cost” of this civilian army force is $450,000 for each security person. Many of us see the “contractors” not as accountable or necessary security forces but hired guns of “war-profiteers,” employees of major political contributors whose companies are now licensed to kill and who promote their efforts by making unlimited political contributions. Go back into history: private armies. Were private armies not the way of the medieval kings? Are we repeating the sins of the Middle Ages, when the kings and knights and lords, then the financial “elite,” ruled?
But, we had a revolt a few elections ago. The Tea Party Patriots touched a sensitive vein within many of us and sprang to action. Initially, Naomi Wolf, author of a challenging book, End of America, wrote that the Tea Party movement could be a worthy step in the regeneration of Patriotism in America.
But is it?
The Tea Party movement adopted “Objectivism,” the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Objectivism is about the idea that selfishness is good. The Tea Party brought Ayn Rand’s Book, Atlas Shrugged, to movie theaters in 2011. In Atlas Shrugged, the elite, decided to stop working, retreat to a valley, and rebuild when our country collapsed from the press of those who lived from “entitlements.“ Objectivism materialized in the early 1960’s, long before we knew much about how our brains are wired, and now we know we are also wired for community, cooperation, and compassion and not merely for Social Darwinism, the theme of Objectivism, taught today at the University of Texas.
In a follow-up Wolf article, God Crashes the Tea Party, hard on the Tea Party, she wrote:
“Likewise, the Tea Party, which showed no interest in racist language or iconography at its outset, increasingly injects such demagoguery into its messages. The movement’s libertarian message is now regularly subverted by anti-Muslim paranoia and contradicted by activism supporting such initiatives as the mass round-up, without due process, of undocumented immigrants in Arizona.”
Followers of Objectivism have warned us to no longer follow the moral codes of the past as “Our Moral Code is Out of Date.” Unfortunately, the Objectivism clan never updated its philosophy to reflect what we now know about the importance of cooperation and our “we” genes, and the dangers of living as if “me” genes are all that matters. Christian Science Monitor‘s article, “How is elitist Ayn Rand a tea party hero? The contradiction should concern America,” is a worthy read. As a movement, the Tea Party has quieted down, but, as we pointed out above, its view of right and wrong grips the GOP and its followers. The article concludes:
“Tea partiers praise Ayn Rand’s ‘pure capitalism.’ But they ignore her oligarchic, elitist views, ideals that are fundamentally anti-American and deeply at odds with the tea party’s own cause.”
Cutting essential services is not Patriotism.
Cutting taxes for those who benefit most from our American Way at the same time income disparity with the middle and poorer classes deepens, restricting their ability to pay their fair share, is not Patriotism.
Suppressing the rights of people to vote, and gerrymandering voting districts, is not Patriotism.
Operating our government as if only our political party represents political truth is not Patriotism.
Skewing our courts in favor of either political party is not Patriotism.
As I write in Democracy of Dollars, we have become an oligarchy – a government of a few for the benefit of a few – on our way to pure authoritarianism, with a deadly erosion of our democracy.
In Get Up, Stand Up Bruce Levine writes:
“Elitism—be it rule by kings or corporations—is the opposite of genuine democracy. It is in the interest of those at the top of society to convince people below them that (1) democracy is merely about the right to vote; and (2) corporations and the wealthy elite are so powerful, any thought that “regular people” can achieve real power is naive. In genuine democracy and in real-deal populism, people not only believe that they have a right to self-government; they also have the individual strength and group cohesion necessary to take actions to eliminate top-down controls over their lives.”
Yes, May 7, 2021 is my 90th birthday. Finally, I have finally accepted the truism that democracy is not a spectator sport. When we get up and stand up, Patriotism will be reborn. Today’s troubles must become our disguised opportunity. That’s what my book Democracy of Dollars is all about. Democracy of Dollars closes with a discussion of President Biden’s February 2021 talk at the Munich Security Conference:
“We’re at an inflection point…. New crises demand our attention. And we cannot focus only on competition among countries that threaten to divide the world, or only on global challenges that threaten to sink us together if we fail to cooperate. We must do both.… We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of the world. We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that, given all the challenges we face — from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic — that autocracy is the best way forward, they argue, and those who understand that democracy is essential — essential to meeting those challenges.… We must demonstrate that democracies can still deliver for our people in this changed world. That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission…. Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.”
It’s in the renewal, strengthening, and defense of democracy where you and I come in. It’s up to us. That’s what May 7 is really all about.