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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye....

“Where are your legs which used to run,

When you were forced to carry a gun?
Indeed, your dancin’ days are done.
Johnny, I hardly knew ye….”

I was returning from one of many business trips last week, and I saw a fellow in the Portland airport, obviously Coming Home.

He was in a uniform – I didn’t look to see which branch; it didn’t matter; I was more interested in the people who were there to meet him. 

He looked confused – two years in a foreign country where killing people is a participatory sport will do that to a person; if the stats are right, he’s also suffering from depression and PTSD.  He carried a duffel bag which didn’t quite dwarf him, but came close; he'd obviously been and done the things he was ordered to do, and while he didn’t look to be old enough to have been and done all that, there he was, and the few who were there to meet him at 10:00PM on a random Tuesday were doing their best to make him feel welcome.

There was Grandma, who (like Grandmas everywhere) stood there, teary-eyed, while Mom hugged and hugged and cried; a younger sister stood and hugged her teddy-bear, waiting for her turn at her brother.  Dad was absent; I speculated that he was likely working a double-shift at the big-box store where he was forced to get a job after losing his contracting business.  The only thing left for the boy to do after all that was to join the military (he probably felt lucky to get a slot in the Air Force; most of those enlisted positions are ‘in the rear with the gear.’)

He’s coming home to a loving family.   While that’s a start, he’s also coming home to a lot more.

In the time he’s been gone, his government has been busy.  

The Pentagon, home to those who oversaw his all-expenses-paid trip to exotic lands, has been busy covering up the fact that now more soldiers die of suicide than combat (this is due to a lot of factors well beyond the purview of this piece, but it’s obvious that the people we send out aren’t the same ones we get back – and a lot of the time, they don’t do too well when they’re deployed, either.)

I don’t quite know how anyone is going to explain this to him – if they’ve got the sense to do so, that is – but the Constitution he swore to defend against all enemies (foreign and domestic) has been knocked into a cocked-hat, and the very government he swore to defend has turned out to be the biggest enemy of all.

It’s holding one of his own in detention (1,000 days this week) without trial for, in essence, telling the unvarnished truth, and backing it up with documented evidence.

It’s demolished the Bill of Rights, thanks to the sitting-president’s signature on two successive copies of the National Defense Authorization Act.  (Now, thanks to this, anyone who steps too far out of line by way of protest can be chucked into one of the nation’s ‘detention centers’).

Maybe that confused look on his face, as well as the tan, was due to his having been stationed not overseas, but at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada (where the operators of drone-aircraft over Afghanistan refer to their civilian casualties as ‘bugsplats’.)  Too much forced-immorality will lead to confusion as well as depression – regardless of where you get ‘em, morals have a habit of catching up with you.

As I walked past, I noted the family – the young soldier hefted his duffel, and they began a walk back to the car.  

If he can put all of this behind him – enroll in college; say – and actually begin life over again, he’ll be one of the lucky ones.  Half of the nation’s veterans are homeless; by appearances he had a home waiting, and people who cared for him, which is a start. 

What he’ll do now that there are cameras everywhere, drones in domestic skies and laws on the books to sort him out for good and all if he starts talking too much or joins a veteran’s protest group is quite beyond me. Thanks to the government’s sequester, the hot shower and warm bed which awaited him at home will be there for even fewer people as this year goes on, and perhaps even the young veteran in the airport will find himself another victim of his government's malignant inaction.

It’s a bleak America to which this young fellow returns, and the stakes are damned high if we want to get it back.

Until then – and at this point, it’d a damned near-run thing, as Wellington said – the only thing the boy in the uniform is going to learn with any certainty is that – in spite of the expense of blood and treasure – the terrorists won.

Not long ago, I read an article by a young lady who thought it was ‘unfair’ that so many people were generally down on the Obama administration – her logic was that now, at least no new prisoners were being sent to Guantanamo; he did give us that health-care thingy, and besides – only the ‘bad guys’ need to worry about that other stuff.

News:   Ten bucks off my blood-pressure medication isn’t a fair trade for the First and Fourth Amendments.  Sorry.  That ‘other stuff’ is the reason why America exists.   Take it away, and we’re another tin-pot dictatorship.

The boy looked back at the airport concourse just before stepping on the escalator for the parking garage; the look in his eyes was one of hope as well as confusion, a ‘so-this-is-home’ Thousand Yard Stare. 

I hope he makes it.  I hope we all do.
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