Memorial Day Reminiscence in Isolation: For George

I have thought a lot about George lately, one of my ghosts from a past that has been lucky enough to span decades. Luckily, George has never been a triggered recollection, just a benign spectral from my misdirected youth. And at least for now, for this letter to the Wall, just call him George, although his full name and rank are etched in black granite on Panel 26E, Line 48.

I almost never know what prompts my high school version of George to show up. I was listening to some Stones and Creedence last week from a favorite Vietnam era playlist…perfect self-isolation rock. Also Memorial Day is coming up, so who knows? Our lifelines barely crossed, only once as a matter of fact, in the summer of 1965. We were both non-essential workers, stuck in a fast food restaurant, slogging out our last summer at minimum wage before we had to take LBJ’s draft seriously. Neither of us were Fortunate Sons, obviously, both just navigating the grinds of adolescence, topped off by the daily preoccupations and upheavals of a foreshadowed war in Vietnam.

Aside from the shared angst of uncertain futures we had virtually nothing in common. Hometown parents and teachers must have loved George, a reserved, hardworking math-club type, straight A student, from a no-frills, Catholic family. Two years older, my life was his parallel universe in miniature. I was an unbridled college freshman, committed to nothing more than a draft-deferred C+ average, the next weekend, and a military aviation career like my father. Nonetheless, a year at Tech and the suspect worldliness that went with it were street credentials enough for George to look up to me.

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Vietnam vs. Afghanistan – Matched Mayhem, Ceaseless War

Between the fading bugles of Veterans Day weekend and Black Friday, my day-long musings invariably return to Vietnam, but this year there was a new wrinkle to my abstractions. You see, my granddaughter, Kaya, turns 14 next week and she has never lived in a time when her country wasn’t waging an unrelenting interventionist war somewhere. Not for one moment, and I couldn’t let it go.

So, what does that have to do with Vietnam? Well, as I grew up and unavoidably served in combat, I never thought "my war" was ever going to end. Never. It was always the mainspring of my very existence, and that of my contemporaries. It was also a monster with an insatiable appetite that devoured friends, relationships, plans and dreams, and no one could – or would – kill it, not a diplomat, not an elected Congress or President, no one.

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Garrison Shannon, Hidden in Plane Sight

Several US invasions ago, beginning with Afghanistan in 2001, transport aircraft chartered by the US military have shuttled almost 3 million troops through Shannon Airport. My youngest son and his gun truck company made the stopover trips through County Clare to the carnage in the Middle East twice, in 2003 and 2004; even disembarking for the terminal lounge in full battle dress while their aircraft was being refueled. There was never an attempt by the soldiers to hide this unwitting disregard for Irish neutrality. To my son’s knowledge there was never a search of the planes and his troops were armed to the teeth, in violation not only of the Irish constitution but also the Hague Convention restricting the movement of troops or munitions by neutral countries.

While not exactly hidden in plain sight to the anti-war movement this US-Hibernian troop movement received very little global attention until peace and human rights activists with Western Ireland’s Shannonwatch pushed back, monitoring, posting and publishing all US military movement and, yes, rendition flights and overflights into and over Shannon. While unchecked power tends to remain absolutely unchecked, opposition to this ongoing illegal military alliance is heating up. Dublin’s MEP Clare Daly has always been among its more vocal opponents. Responding to a regional poll denoting a growing resistance, she remarked, "A country with a policy of positive neutrality would not facilitate the massive, devastating displacement of tens of millions of people through wars whose only purpose is to keep the gears of the military-industrial complex oiled."

On June 6, former mayor of Galway and TD Catherine Connolly, after standing in solidarity with Shannon Airport activists, voiced her frustration in an interview, "We’re facilitating the murder and slaughter of innocent people…and Shannon, unfortunately, is an absolute integral part of that. On any given night there are more military aircraft or more civilian aircraft carrying military than there are ordinary flights. We’ve set up Shannon now to depend on our collusion with wars abroad."

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A Time To Break the Silence on Military Spending

Fifty years ago next month Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us in his first public antiwar speech Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence that any nation that continues year after year "to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Arguably that led to his assassination exactly one year later. Since the height of the American War in Vietnam, conditions have worsened exponentially, with military spending escalating unchecked. Each new bloated Pentagon appropriation has become the new normal.

Barely a week after his inauguration, President Trump’s executive order, as promised, obliterated the limits on Pentagon spending, setting in motion a military buildup to end all military buildups. As if on cue the House of Representatives voted this month to boost funding for more bullets and bombs, as well as some of the most deadly airborne killing machines in the US arsenal. Some weren’t even on the Pentagon’s wish list, 11 and 12 more F-35 and F/A-18 fighters, respectively. The new $578 billion stopgap bill keeps the U.S. military operating through September and sets the stage for even more increases to the Pentagon black hole of expenditures, as if budget caps were merely inconvenient workarounds.

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