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Stateside: Veterans Day, 2009

Stateside with Rosalea Barker

Veterans Day, 2009

On the bus on the way home from the movie I went to this afternoon, I asked the person sitting next to me if there was an LP by Boston among all the records I could see in his shopping bag, and which he had been trying to unsuccessfully sell to a second-hand store. If you haven’t seen The Men Who Stare at Goats, you won’t get the joke; if you have, rest easy, soldier! He didn’t, so I guess I’m not a Jedi journalist after all.

But I certainly hope there are some JJ’s out there willing to report the facts about what happened at Fort Hood last week. It seems barely credible to me that someone who isn’t trained in small arms fire could kill and wound so many; perhaps the first responders got a little carried away in the heat of the moment and some of the fatalities and injuries were the result of friendly fire. But what do I know? Nothing. I rely on the willingness of the media to report the facts—and dig for them if they have to.

So. It’s Veterans Day—everywhere else in the world called Armistice Day. The US obviously has no interest in honoring the peacemakers. You only have to look at the monuments and statuary in Washington DC to see that. You’d think that with more than 200 years as a nation behind it, the United States could finally dare to raise a monument to an artist or a writer or a composer without fearing it would be ridiculed by the Old World.

But I digress. Here are my picks of what you should have been reading and watching this Veterans Day.

::Taking Chance::

This HBO movie on DVD stars Kevin Bacon as Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, on whose blog—which was widely read in the military—the film is based. Just one thing happens in this movie: the body of a young man killed in Iraq is returned to his hometown in Wyoming for burial. Strobl, who had a desk job, volunteered to accompany the remains mistakenly thinking that Marine Cpl. Chance Phelps would be returned to the town from which he enlisted, which was Strobl’s home town. But Phelps had only lived there in his final year of high school.

The film is almost 100 percent faithful to the events described on Strobl’s blog. In fact, he was a consultant on the movie, and the film-makers also involved Phelps’ family. The extras on the DVD include an interview with the family, and home movies of Chance as a child growing up in the West. I recommend this movie for anyone outside of the United States as a way of understanding what a powerful role the military plays in the collective American psyche.

::The Fort Carson Murder Spree::

In its November edition, published in early October, Rolling Stone magazine carried a feature article written by a freelance journalist who lived in Fort Carson, Colorado, for a year researching why so many murders were taking place on the third-largest military base in the US and in its neighboring town.

L. Christopher Smith’s article includes interviews with some of the perpetrators, their friends and families, and with Army brass, psychiatrists, and veterans advocates. It paints a disturbing picture of the state of mind of soldiers who have experienced combat, and their inability to adjust to life away from that “zone”, if you will. One pullout from the lengthy article quotes a top veterans advocate as saying, “It’s no surprise that these murders happened at Fort Carson. The failures there border on dereliction of duty.”

In both the DVD and the article one theme runs strong: joining the military is seen as a ticket not just to some action-adventure wargame-made-real, but to a secure future and to admiration and respect from family, friends, and the community. And by secure future, I mean housing and income security, guaranteed healthcare, cheap education for themselves and their children, preference for jobs outside the military for their families as well as for themselves. All of it paid for by the government.

That’s just socialism, isn’t it?



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