Leaders, PART II: Memorial Day Thoughts on the Military

“Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Wars never solve anything, and the people who send you there, don’t go there.” Harry Wells, my dad.

“Yes, before 9/11 happened, I counseled high school graduates in Detroit to join the military. You should have seen how changed they were when they came back. They were more organized, disciplined, and confident.” Lenore, my college friend.

“I joined a different army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.” Goldie Hawn, playing the lead in the film Private Benjamin.

* * *

Today is Memorial Day, the perfect day to post the blog I started a few days ago.

In my recent blog about leaders (HERE), I mentioned my own shaky relationship with hierarchy, and talked about two well-known leaders in the world, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. It’s impossible for me to think of their huge achievements (see “Notes” section below for details), and not acknowledge that they came from the military — one of the most hierarchical institutions in existence.

I find myself wishing — in social movements, political campaigns, the Green Party, the community house in which I live, as well as the world and myself — that we had more discipline, organization, dedication and commitment. I wish we could count on ourselves and each other to do what needs to be done. I wish we allowed ourselves fewer excuses. I wish we had more confidence to move forward, and less resistance that causes us to hold back. I wish we would follow rules when those rules would get us what we really want.

In other words, I wish we who love peace would learn to organize as effectively as those who love war. I wish we would learn the good things people learn in the military.

The military I mean is a different military from the one that sends people like my dad to wars that “never solve anything.” Dad was in the Air Force because he loved flying. Then he was in World War II and the Korean War. It was late 2001 after the U.S. military went to Afghanistan that my daughter asked him what he thought about the war. I started backing out of the room because I always thought he was gung-ho whatever the military did. I was shocked — and relieved — to hear his answer.

Also in late 2001, I was shocked in an opposite way to learn that my peaceful friend Lenore had counseled kids to go to the military. But it was a different military, and she was counseling people with few options. They lacked the money and/or educational background needed to go to college, and Detroit lacked job opportunities even then.

It was a different military during the years before 9/11. TV recruitment ads showed benefits like traveling, learning new skills, and higher education after your military stint. It has been documented that after 9/11 recruitment ads began to show combat, not before. The kids my friend counseled returned from the military not having been in combat. They returned not with the post-traumatic stress disorder of many of today’s vets. They returned more organized, disciplined, and confident.

They had been trained to follow orders, yes, but they also were trained to know how strong they could be. We can’t forget how important the soldiers themselves were in ending the fiasco in Vietnam, as seen in the documentary Sir! No Sir! They had the same mission as those of us demonstrating against war. We were all serving our country.

As to leaders, I wish all of ours had the dedication and commitment shown by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. We could use leaders who persevere in the face of enormous hostility, and do whatever they can do, while fostering people’s participation, to create a better life for people and the earth.

That’s what I wish on this Memorial Day. That’s what I would celebrate as worthy gifts from the military, a different military, one with a mission to train people to truly protect life on earth.

* * *

NOTES on the achievements of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez

Fidel Castro — working with many other soldiers and with the crucial support of civilians — led a successful revolution against Fulgencio Batista’s military dictatorship, a dictatorship in which 10,000 to 20,000 people were killed from 1952 to 1959. Fidel followed up that feat by continuing the revolution for more than 55 years, with improved healthcare and education, despite the active hostility of Cuba’s neighbor, the United States of America, the greatest military and economic super-power the world has ever known.

Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela in 1998, breaking through a 40-year fixed two-party system. The Chávez government created a new bottom-up constitution, improved healthcare and education, increased participation in the government, and reduced inequality of wealth. He also led the way in strengthening regional cooperation in South America and beyond. Fifteen years ago, I never thought I would feel great support for a place where a government combined forces with the oil industry, the church, and . . . the military.

About Laura Wells: Solutions
I ran for Controller in California in 2014 on a State Bank and Tax The Rich platform. I am part of the “No Corporate Money” Campaign, in which candidates pledge to take no corporate money and voters declare our intention to vote for no-corporate-money candidates. As a Green Party candidate for Governor of California in 2010, I was arrested outside a gubernatorial debate for “trespassing at a private party.” But we won't stop, and so let's create a "public party" where we debate solutions to California's finances, like implementing a State Bank and taxing the rich -- to reduce the disparity and open up opportunities. Twitter: @LauraWellsCA

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