Dear Chronicle readers:
I recently wrote a letter that a few found problematic. Some have suggested that the title was offensive to Vietnam veterans. This was neither my intent nor my belief. Quite to the contrary, I am supportive of my fellow citizens, vets included. In part, the title stems from the fact that many of the men and women who have served in the armed forces have been severely mistreated by the military establishment for whom they served.
The letter in question’s primary theme echos President Eisenhower's 1961 concerns of the run-away power of a "Military Industrial Complex" and the dangers it posed to a free democratic United States.
Now, we have 60 years of proof supporting the president’s statement. Just 3 years after the prophetic warning, under President Lyndon Johnson, a questionable encounter with a U.S. destroyer provided a pretext for the U.S. entrance into what became known as the Vietnam War. During that war, both U.S. civilian and military leadership made decisions to bathe that nation with hundreds of millions of pounds of munitions, and poisons such as napalm, and agent orange. It was not just enemy combatants that suffered this assault, but regular Vietnamese citizens, neighboring nations, and also our own U.S. servicemen that were showered with these hazards. Indeed, some 5 decades later, large numbers of our solders carry the burden of this exposure with high incidences of cancers and many other health issues. Not only this, but some of these devastating consequences have been passed down to subsequent generations.
The industries that comprise the complex profited greatly from that engagement. Monsanto, Dow and other companies making millions and millions of dollars from agent orange managed to get over the ethical dilemmas posed by the use of this chemical. Have they given this money back to taxpayers? Do they willingly give their profits to the victims of their chemicals? No, people who ran these companies were among those who pound the drums to war. This is the ‘Shame in Vietnam’--which is part of the title of my original letter that was said to be offensive.
This immoral chemical exposure to our military personnel was not a one-off incident either. Following World War Two, over one hundred thousand servicemen were intentionally exposed to nuclear detonations. More recently, depleted uranium has become a favored munition exposing millions of soldiers and civilians to those hazards. Large numbers of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now suffer from a wide array of problems stemming from that exposure. But it doesn’t stop there; most of the nuclear detonations took place in our own country or the oceans we eat from! This toxic legacy has paralleled the cancer epidemic that has emerged as a number one killer around the world.
Eisenhower’s message was that our democracy had become corrupted by immoral profiteers. It is even worse now. One of the methods that the profiteers use to disguise their role is to conflate our ‘servicemen’ with the military ‘organization’. When they say support our troops, it is commonly twisted into support our next military endeavor (which while needlessly endangering many of our loved ones, will yield great profits for stockholders of the complex).
So please re-read my letter. Perhaps you will find that I am on your side.