Different Kinds of Soldiers...Different Stories
World diplomacy, in George Schultz's words (former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan), is always a matter of the carrot and the stick. Reason is sought under the guise of lesser evils, particularly in the nuclear age. Those nations who hold the nuclear card now realize quite clearly that they hold an empty bag, for since the heady days of Nixon and Brezhnev -- MAD has become both the safety on the trigger and the swan song of the world's more optimistic cynics. Mutual Assured Destruction has virtually eliminated the nuclear weapon as a viable option for any military venture where 'winning' is considered a reasonable goal. For today, when push comes to shove it hits the formidable wall of reason over extinction.
Memorial Day is a time to commemorate the wielders of that great stick, and those that paid the maximum price in the defense or the political will of a nation. But it should also be a day perhaps, to appreciate those voices and actions that sought reason over conflict -- life over death. So I present two distinctive ironies for consideration. Both have been largely overlooked and both had profound ramifications on the power of reason over force.
Now, it should be pointed out that on Wednesday of that week (October 24th), The US Strategic Command had gone to Defcon 2, the lowest it had ever been at. Defcon 1 is war and all decisions
are then under what is known as the snap-count. From that point, human control is no longer part of the equation. Under this rather ominous backdrop, helicopters from the aircraft carrier, USS Randolph dropped practice depth charges on the submerged Soviet submarine B-59. The captain considered his ship under attack by the American carrier. His orders were to fire a nuclear torpedo and destroy the American carrier. But, an argument broke out between the captain, Arkhipov and the political officer on board. Pretty unusual by military standards, particularly in the Soviet Navy. Somehow, Arkhipov prevailed upon the captain to surface his ship, thus defusing the immediate confrontation. If he had instead fired, most critics agree that nothing would have stopped an all-out nuclear exchange and we would have witnessed the final dissolution of reason. Why share this. Because there is always more to a soldier's story than we know. And because, like us, they're just humans doing a damn hard job.
Two things that young people in general, as well as military members can enjoy today: the cessation of military conscription in the United States, and the right to have a vote in the country you have chosen to serve and defend. Yes, 26th Amendment. Never mind the perceived right or wrong of any conflict, just remember that in any democracy, those appointed the task of defending a policy or an ideal should have a clear and loud voice in a decision that could ultimately cost them their life.
The irony here is where this notion came from. The Voting Rights Act had been floating around for quite some time. No, not by a group of Vietnam-era radicals, but by a rather old and worn veteran of a long and costly conflict: General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as President, sent the original Voting Rights Act down to Congress for approval. A military man who understood quite clearly the price of trading diplomacy for a gun. Congress balked and continued to feign blindness for two decades until the issue came to a violent head during the Vietnam War. It was then taken up by a different group of soldiers, "The Soldiers of Reason" who took up the rallying call of, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote!" to the streets. And they too, were spit upon, bloodied and killed. But they brought the pressure to bear. President Nixon attempted to sign the Act into law, but Oregon and Texas sued. They were upheld by the Supreme Court on the seperate matter of local elections, but by then most of Congress knew that this new federal voting block had the power to take their jobs. It was re-submitted as the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, passed on a vote 94-0 in the Senate, 401-19 in the House, and ratified by 3/4 of the states in a matter of four months. For politicians, that is close to the speed of light. President Nixon signed the Amendment in July of 1971, making it the law of the land.
My point? Yeah, there is one. Patriotism wears many hats, and as we have seen over the decades of this country's existence, it can also be "the last refuge of the scoundrel." And think very carefully about that quote. Disagreeing is the most American trait this country owns. Often, we have to fight it out among ourselves before we get it right, but promoting hate and divisiveness wrapped up in an American flag is not a virtue of mine and it should never be one this country tolerates. Those street soldiers gave today's military members that right to vote, that right to choose. They were the voice of REASON in a storm that damn near foundered this country. So the next time you want to get all huffy and toss the flag at my feet because I happen to believe that one more soldier's death is one too many...you better duck because it's comin' back at you.