Goodbye Green

Three_soldiers

Walter Stewart

Editor’s introduction: I’m a product of the all-volunteer force, having joined ROTC in 1981.  But I’m a strong believer in a citizen military, one in which the burden of defending the Constitution, as well as the privilege of doing so, is shared equitably among all young citizens.  Walt Stewart is a product of the draft (a “draft-induced” volunteer, as he puts it) in the era of Vietnam.  He recognizes a fundamental truth: a citizen military forms the bedrock of democracy.  A culture that is overly fragmented, and also one that largely excludes itself from service and sacrifice, is one that is not fated to last.  W.J. Astore

Goodbye Green

Donald Trump and Ben Carson get it – which puts them right there with the strategic thinking of my 1966 Fort Dix basic training sergeants: Americans form and celebrate a common culture, reject the rejecters who will not, or fail as a culture and country.

At Dix it was a microcosm of a mix of young males – boys, really – brought together in a United States Army basic training company.  In the tensions of the time, the mix was explosive.  Farm-hardened rural boys, mostly white, thrown into open bay and open latrine barracks alongside street hardened urban boys, mostly black.

Our sergeants were a mix themselves – white and black staff sergeants under the direction of a Cherokee (as we were told) sergeant first class.  We called the boss “Chief,” but not to his face.  He was big, and carried the battle scars of Korea.  To a man, the junior sergeants were early veterans of the war in Vietnam.  They looked good, slim and wiry, and were as tough as nails.  We thought ourselves tough, but not that tough.

It was our sergeants’ job to turn us into a unit – to join a volatile racial mix in common culture – and they did so by asserting and enforcing an inviolable rule: “Boys, in the United States Army there is only one color, and that color is green.”  We would be green in commonality or sent home carrying the lifetime shame of an “other than honorable discharge.”  In 1966, families, friends, and employers cared about military discharges.  In 2015, most Americans don’t know what they are.

Our company was the drafted and draft-induced enlisted force raised to deter the Soviets and fight the war in Vietnam.  The draftees among us had no say in whether they would be there or not, but they came because their countrymen called.  But whether draftee or volunteer, and regardless of color or background, all but a few performed willingly and honorably.

We were part of the great cultural leveler of a citizen military formed by the draft.  The burden of service would be shared, and that some might shirk, the shame was theirs.  The rest carried on, and, like others before, brought our “greenness” home to our families and communities.  Whatever color or ethnicity, and while we never put our individuality aside, we learned to be Americans first.

So for those who oppose a return to the shared risks of a citizen military – and let’s be clear I favor a draft without easy deferments for college or marriage or kids, a draft that would make it harder for chickenhawks to find roost – how about a health-check on the state of our common culture.  Not so good, I think.  We’re black; white; brown; yellow; like the Chief, native; haves; have-nots; males, females, gender transients; racists and race-hustlers; you name it.  We are anything but a common culture, and a common defense is impossible without one.

So goodbye green, a nod to Trump and Carson, and a deep bow to the strategic wisdom of my basic training sergeants.  In 1966, you taught lessons caliphate-seekers now teach in blood: Countries don’t fight wars, cultures do!

Walt Stewart rose from a private in the army of regulars, reservists, and draftees raised to fight in Vietnam, to a major general serving with the thousands of citizen-soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Now retired, Stewart is a strong advocate for a citizen-military and a saner world.

22 thoughts on “Goodbye Green

  1. I was also drafted and arrived for basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. in fall of 1966. Yes it was a cross section of American society in many respects, but not as thoroughly as it should have been with those deferments making fairness in the draft an issue. A citizen army in the end is preferable for their is less likelihood of war for the sacrifices are spread more broadly across the nation and making war more difficult instead of easy as it is today. The draft was eliminated not because it was unfair but because it made war more difficult when everyone was required serve in the military (barring health issues) as there was a higher level of scrutiny on government and war.

    • Henry.

      I was in the “draft induced” column. And the draft law, revised after Vietnam, is still on the books. Although I am not up to speed on all the changes, deferments for marriage, children, college, these types of things, are largely eliminated. Should the nation need to reactivate the draft – and the reasons you state are justification enough – it will land in eliteville the same as in Dogpatch.

      Thank you for your faithful service. When people thank me for mine, I tell them to find a draftee. I volunteered and want no thanks. When it comes from chickenhawks, it is blowing smoke anyway.

      Walter

  2. Walter.. Yes, the ‘draft’ law embedded democracy in the military. but it was not always so. In my war, WW II, no African Americans served in our units. I volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1943 as an aviation cadet and that was all white. By late in the war the air corps started training African Americans in the cadet program but they flew in all black units. The Japanese were put in concentration camps but the army did set up a large and ultimately distinguished battalion of Japanese infantry. The US navy was probably more class based than the army. There was an open door for any poor boy, as I was, through the Navy V12 program to become an officer but I doubt that a black could have even gone through that.gate. It was only after the war that the services started to desegregate and that process is still going on with sexual orientation, etc. The Army Air Corps and I believe the ground forces were quite egalitarian with rich and poor kids at all levels of force structure.

    • Traven.

      Ours culture is, or was, a continuous striving. I think the best example of the catalyst that was the US military was reflected in a statement made by a former member of the all black WWII armor battalion, called, I think, the Black Panthers. Several unit members had gathered for a service at the passing of their white commander. Asked for comments about their service, one made a statement I won’t forget: “I’m not a black American, I’m an American.”

      1966 was only a century from the end of the Civil War, and a decade from the ordered integration of the military. And yet, we soldiered on!

      Walter

  3. I, too, was “draft induced” late in the Vietnam war. While I completely agree with the writers above, I would offer a couple thoughts, based on 21 years in the military and over 8 years directing and developing plans and programs for military training.
    The first is that any future draft should be for “national service”, not just military service. National service would include work such as teaching school in difficult areas, physical therapy work in military hospitals, conservation corps jobs in our parks and forests, and medical technicians, IT specialists and so on. Make it easier for any citizen to qualify and harder to find an excuse to be excluded from the draft.
    Second, carefully consider the training impact on the military services. The few weeks of training given most draftees in the Vietnam era was probably not adequate and resulted in unnecessarily high combat casualties, especially in the first days and weeks in theater. The training requirement in today’s military are much greater. All the Vietnam era requirements remain, and the more complex weapon systems and operational threats and tactics associated with asymmetric warfare present today will add weeks or months of training for many military draftees. A one- or two-year draft could easily end up being consumed mostly by training. The impact on the services’ training commands would be enormous. For the military services a renewed draft would be a very mixed blessing.

    • Your suggestion of “national service” is very rational. Particularly in today’s poor economic climate and our infrastructure deteriorating. People would feel better about themselves and their country if they saw their work contributing to the common good. This is assuming that draftees would not be used to suppress dissent.

    • Minnow.

      Clearly, the services would not like a return to a citizen-soldier based military. No careerists would want to deal with cantankerous citizen soldiers when they can deal with those “who want to be there.” However, from a big picture point of view, “those who want to be there” are an invitation to more wars. Also, they transmit a message to enemies and potential enemies that Americans are cowards. Americans will only pay professionals to fight on their behalf, but with red ink. Therefore, in fact based reality, Americans will neither fight nor pay.

      As far as troop training, why is it our guys in the Middle East need ever more training and weaponry, and the bad guys don’t? An AK-47 or M-4 is not that complex.

      Walter

      • Hi Walt: You’re right about the AK-47 and not a lot of training. But what Americans are unprepared to accept (and I don’t blame them) is high casualties. Intensive training cuts down on casualties.

        Sure, we could send a lot of conscripts over with automatic weapons. But we better send a lot of body bags too.

      • Walter, I agree with your first paragraph; it is our reality. We need a governing rule that the neocons can only have wars they are willing to pay for. Don’t hold your breath.

        The bad guys are playing offense, choosing the time and place and means to fight. Defense is harder, and the US has unwisely taken on the role of almost world wide defense. Vietnam introduced asymmetric warfare on a large scale. Today’s terrorists seek to perfect it with car bombs and suicide vests. That makes ground forces training that much more difficult. If we are going to send our young men and women into extremely dangerous areas, we must give them the best training to survive that we can. That takes training time, lots of it. It may not take that long to train a suicide bomber, but that is not our model. We must train like we fight. We fight with large complex weapons and don’t accept casualties. Different model, different training requirements.

  4. A big question is whether the USA can find unity in diversity today. There’s way too much identity politics, that’s for sure. Too much stress on what divides us, on our differences, rather than our similarities.

    Ultimately, it’s American ideals that should unite us, not race or ethnicity or gender and so on, And those ideals are clearly spelled out in foundational documents such as the Constitution. But we need to recognize that with our rights come responsibilities. Too many people scream about their “rights” without any consideration for the rights of others. They’re private consumers rather than public citizens.

    I agree with the idea of national service, not limited to the military. My father did the CCC in the 1930s; just think about how many things need to be rebuilt today, starting with our national work ethic.

    Let’s stop boasting about how great America is (or once was) and instead let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

    • Little fish. Have you ever disturbed a “yellow jacket bee” hive? Those little buggers go after you relentlessly. And those who catch up with you sting with ferocity. You have attacked their home.
      Keep our drones and their neo con and neo liberal masters from regime change all over the world and and the bees won’t bite …at least us.

      • Thank you, “b. traven.” My own comment was going to be (and still will be!): This is precisely how empires bring themselves to ruin. “Defend” yourself by stationing your troops in 170+ (or whatever the current figure is) other countries?!? This is not “defense,” this is the ultimate exercise in imperialist hubris!!

  5. General Stewart! You got yourself in hot water with me from your opening statement. “Donald Trump and Ben Carson get it”?!? So, do you really believe African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Native Americans are going to flock to Trump’s banner on the basis of “unity” against Mexican “drug-courier rapists”?? You approve of this ugliest kind of xenophobia on the campaign trail? Then there’s the matter of this splendid self-contradiction: “The draftees among us had no say in whether they would be there or not, but they came because their countrymen called.” Which is it, sir? They reported for duty because to refuse to do so meant a prison sentence, or because “their countrymen called”? My countrymen did not call me, I assure you. A corrupt, lying government waging a criminal war in Southeast Asia induced me to enlist in order to “avoid the draft.” Finally, your picture of the military during Vietnam is a tad rosy in that it neglects to mention the unprecedented number of troops going AWOL. And by the way, I’m rather proud of my less-than-fully-Honorable Discharge. The shame for that war falls on the nation’s leadership. I feel not the slightest trace of shame regarding my own military record.

    With that said–and believe me, I’m practicing maximum self-restraint here!–I am not entirely opposed to a system of “universal national service.” But first the USA needs to cease waging ginned-up wars of choice, guaranteeing the perpetuation of violence by creating new enemies. That policy serves the interests of a certain elite, not those of your fellow everyday citizens, General.

    GREG LAXER
    US Army 1967-71

    • Greg: At first glance, it would seem you and Walt are diametrically at odds. But to me you’re both describing different aspects of America’s experience with the military and with Vietnam in the 1960s. And that experience was highly complex and emotive and variegated and, yes, tragic.

      The troops — yes, they answered the nation’s call — or what they thought was the nation’s call. Did they do so because they were being coerced as well? Sure thing. Did many find ways to evade? They sure did. Did some evade or object for principled reasons? Most definitely. Were they punished for their principles? Yes, they often were, because armies are authoritarian structures that don’t suffer dissent kindly, mainly because dissent is seen as fundamentally corrosive to cohesion, without which an army becomes a rabble.

      Dare I say that what I love about this site is that it brings together people like you and Walt for meaningful discussion? Is it crazy to say, Contrarians Unite!

    • I agree with what you say in your comment. Maybe because we belong to an older generation and we have a better perspective.

      A long time before, if you said YES it was enough, you did not need a contract written by an attorney. Today the yes, has many optional interpretations. That is one of the big differences I see in the way the old guard analyses the events when discussing about them.

      My father used to receive the orders for merchandise through a phone call. That meant yes, I want the merchandise, and yes, I will pay for it. No contract to secure the transaction, or the payment. That is something that could not even cross the mind of a business man today. And the bills were large. But everybody could count with the honesty of the other.

      That same honesty was manifested in all the transactions I heard about when I was a child. You went to the store in your community and took what you needed and said “add it to my Mom’s /Pap’s account” and by the end of the month they paid what they owed. And no child dared to buy anything the Mom or the Pap had not authorized.

      If you think about it, we seemed to be naturally honest. That is the innocence that it is lost today in all aspects of our life. That is the honesty our government abused and continues abusing. That is the politically correct lie I detest the most!

  6. Like Greg Laxer, I find the author’s expressed admiration for Donald Trump and Ben Carson — not to mention sub-educated bootcamp drill instructors — unpersuasive, to say the least. But unlike Greg, I feel no compunction to express my disdain for such militaristic sentiments in restrained, euphemistic language. My own “induced” (i.e., forced) enlistment in the U.S. military — meaning, pick your own brand of slavery or your government will pick one for you — taught me the timeless wisdom of Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce’s jaundiced view of national “service” and “servants,” namely:

    “Patriotism: combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name.”

    and:

    “Patriot: the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.”

    Since I have little but contempt for the ambitious name illuminators who typically infest the highest levels of the U.S. government along with their ruinously inept career military establishment — a bizarre combination of Peter Principle and Praetorian Guard — I urge every young American to treasure the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution which allows them to vote the slimy, self-serving bastards out of office and billet at the merest suggestion of military conscription. If the United States truly requires “defending” from Canada, Mexico, or the fish in two bordering oceans, then surely the required “defenders” will voluntarily come forth and — armed at their own expense, thanks to the Second Amendment — subdue the impoverished foreign peasants wading ashore at Galveston Bay or Coney Island. In other words, “national defense” does not mean “imperial domination” or “racketeering for the corporate oligarchy,” as the ludicrous likes of Donald Turmp, Ben Carson, or You-Know-Her would have Americans believe.

    In short: the United States does not need a standing military establishment. In fact, the existence of such an armed and self-interested government boondoggle guarantees the eventual — if not already accomplished — death of our democratic republic. The sooner we rid ourselves of this blundering parasitic institution, the better. You can paint all the lurid lipstick in the world on this pig and it still won’t look and act like anything but David Petraeus or John McCain. By this I mean: Ugly. Incompetent. Corrupt. Ruinously expensive. And only too willing to do the deranged bidding of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or You-Know-Her. I would laugh at the prospect of these pretentious clowns in high office, but I’d probably vomit instead. Vietnam had that effect on me. It taught me well. I have never forgotten. And I will go to my grave urging every younger generation of Americans reject out of hand the cynical siren song of “military service.” Live your lives happily in freedom, instead. Killing foreigners, destroying their homes, and turning them into homeless refugees — about the only thing the U.S. military can do with any degree of effectiveness — should have no allure for you. Reject such barbarism summarily and feel not the slightest degree of regret for doing so.

    • Aw, shucks, Mike! I just didn’t dare uncork myself in fear I’d be pounding away for an hour on my “word processor warmed up in Hell” (a la Mark Twain, technologically updated). I will have some choice words about the concept of Patriotism in my memoir. Gosh darn it, I really need to put the final touches on that lest it end up published posthumously!!

    • Think about your assigning the approbation of “sub-educated.” As I read it, elitist to the extreme.

      But I agree with you on the U.S. not needing much of a standing military. (The Constitution did establish a standing navy, and would undoubtedly have done so had an air force been possible.)

      • Walter.. Mike may have sounded a bit elitist but his comment matches my experience in 1943 in the Air Corps. The Air Corps was able to scoop up many of the high scorers on the AGCT* ( Army General Classifications Test), but the Army also insisted they take a number of lower scorers. This was quite obvious since we had in our group several illiterate recruits from New Jersey as it happened. The drill instructors at that time certainly were not in the high scoring category and were not candidates for the more specialized work required..

        *In his excellent history Freedom From Fear, David Kennedy had this to say about the AGCT:
        “The AGCT……was an aptitude test designed to sort recruits into categories according to their suitability for different kinds of duty. the AGCT reflected the educational opportunities the individual has had.etc etc.”

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