Friday, December 2, 2016

What do I owe my country?


“Do you owe anything to your country, or should you be able to opt out of a proscribed service requirement?”

A friend posed the above question to me: As I thought about it, I almost wanted to become a Libertarian! (And that is not something I want to consider, not something I wish to be.) 

But this got me thinking. It got me thinking about, “Who or what exactly is my country?” And “To whom do I owe a debt?” 

Is it the corporate elite who are moving overseas “on paper only” to avoid paying their fair share of taxes? No! I don’t think we owe them anything! 

Is it the working men and women who built the country? Is it the land, or the people? Is it the American Tribes who were here long before any Europeans? Is it the Black American whose slave ancestors built the nation in the beginnings? Okay, I guess I do “owe” some of them in some sense. If nothing else I owe them a debt of gratitude and a fair shake in education, in jobs, and a stake in the economy. I owe them, at the least, shared political and economic power; but even today they have relatively little of any of this.

I “owe” my dad

As I calculate my debts, I consider that “owe” my dad, who was a laboring man who worked his entire life, who served his country in WWII, who had callouses on his hands and worn out boots on his feet and hole-ridden underwear on his butt, but who provided for his family. But do I owe it to him to die in what may very well be an unjust cause? 

Perhaps I “owe" my great grandfather, who left his home in England and helped to build the Trans-Continental Canadian Pacific Railroad: He was the only surviving person of a crew of workers who were buried in an avalanche as they labored to link the west and east coasts. 

But if I were a Native American, would I still “owe” him for this? Would I owe him for crossing my country with railroads and killing off the buffalo?  If I have Native American blood in my veins, who or what is “my country” and what do I “owe” to it, and why? And what if I am a Black of slave ancestry? Do I “owe” the same debt as a White Senator’s son? 

Let me be clear about one thing: I don’t feel that I “owe" anybody for going into wars on false pretenses. 

That much I feel strongly about. I don’t owe anybody for building a 1,200 mile long oil pipeline that I may or may not agree with either.  But what if I am a Native American? Do I “owe” the oil companies the right to put my water sources at risk with oil pipelines that are known to leak ... often? 

Here are some people I think I “owe”: I owe the person who cleans the toilets at McDonald’s. And I would like to take this opportunity to say, “Thank you to all of you out there -- you know who you are -- for keeping the restrooms pleasant.” 

I have no idea what Burger King’s environmental record is, but thank you to the workers at Burger King for having one of the best hamburgers that ever came off an assembly line, and yes, thank you to corporations if you pay your fair share of taxes and do everything you can to avoid polluting the air, water and soil. I thank you, yet I don’t think I owe it to you to go kill people in the Mideast or in Asia, especially when they are only minding their own business, trying to educate their children, build homes, run businesses. But thank you for making hamburgers, cars and other products that I use. 

I “owe” the teacher who paid for my teaching materials out of her own pocket. I “owe” the good people in Congress who are fighting a losing battle to overturn Citizens United. I “owe” the Mexican and American laborers (and others) who picked the crops that fill my refrigerator every week. I owe the farmers and the cement truck drivers and the pipe fitters, carpenters and concrete-finishers, the landscapers and roofers and cattle ranchers. And I owe the corporations — yes, even them, at least some of them who have good policies and protect the American people and don’t exploit the poor.

I owe some of the companies more than others: We al owe the lowly paid workers whose wages have been withheld by unfair labor laws: Yes, we all owe them. And perhaps we owe the underpaid laborers in China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and elsewhere that have been exploited so that we could wear cheap and abundant clothing.

On the other hand, If I owe anything to the banks that are financing wars, I am sure they will collect it one way or another.

But do I “owe” something to those who — whether knowingly or just gullibly — led us into the insanity of the Iraq war? No! A thousand times no. I owe them nothing but a bloody nose! What they did was traitorous. Do I owe the corporations and their panels of high-pride lawyers who daily override the wishes of the majority of Americans for safe products? Heck no! Do I owe military veterans? 

This is a bit more sticky, but the truth is that, while I owe Vets (and I am a vet myself)  for their loyalty to the country,  they were as often as not employed in detriment to the nation and to humanity in general. So I owe them, yes, but it is a kind of bitter sweet admission. Our gratitude for Vets, I think, has been coated with too much sugar sometimes. We call them heroes, but deep inside I think we all know they too were sometimes victims of our government -- or rather of those who controlled our government. And in some cases, they were victims at the same time as they made victims of others. Some war casualties may have deserved their fate, others surely did not. So it is a mixed bag. What I think I owe the vets is a decent welcome  home, good Veterans health care, plenty of services and opportunities.

The very government that I am supposed to “owe” something is the government that, unless I am mistaken, is poised to take away benefits from these same veterans. Almost every disabled veteran is now apprehensive as to what our new President elect will do, or should be. I read earlier tonight that President-elect Trump has indicated he is considering three candidates to head up the VA, all three of which, if I read it correctly, are desiring to privatize the VA and turn it into a for-profit enterprise. As a veteran, do I owe my country for  doing this? Hell no! 

I actually volunteered my services to my country, and served two years active duty aboard a heavy cruiser, which was a war ship with eight-inch diameter guns. Nonetheless,  if I were a young person with Trump at the helm, I certainly would not want to give him a blank check that included the right to leave me bleeding on a foreign field in order to please some oligarchs bent on bleeding the system for profit. 

So just who or what is “my country,” and to whom do I owe a debt? Just asking. 


But what prompted the question in the first place is that the government is talking about a universal draft for both men and women. Talk about Big Government on your back. But if you want to support it go ahead. 

If we must have a draft, I like the President’s idea to make the draft universal, so long as there are no exceptions. Senator’s sons or landscaper’s sons, wealthy or poor, they would all have to put their pants on the same way: One leg and then the other. And that might be a good thing. 

While you think it over, please be sure they send the Senators’s kids and other kids of privilege to the front lines to fight the wars: Now, they really do owe the country. I think father-son teams would be a good idea. No special favors for the rich. No discrimination as to who is assigned to what level of action. When it is time to clean the latrines, everybody gets a turn.  Of course this will never happen. 

Meanwhile: What do you  owe the country? Should you be able to opt out of a proscribed service requirement? Why or why not? 

#war #proscribedmilitaryservice #whatismycountry 

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