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October 8, 2010

Winchester Cathedral Window

Roy Meachum

A stained-glass window, at some expense, stands in the Winchester Cathedral, the church of the British Army Royal Rifles; it comes to mind again because of the latest awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor.


Some unknown and totally unremembered young lieutenant is remembered in the cathedral window; his life lost to Zulu spears along some obscure river in Africa. He served in Winchester’s regiment. The boy’s name was not fixed in my mind.


The window is almost lost to sight because of the grander exhibits: the towering altar, the colors captured from beaten enemies and the stone sarcophagi of ancient knights lying in the middle of the main aisle. The Royal Rifle subaltern was one of hundreds of thousands victims of Great Britain’s ambition to build an empire. And by no means the last.


His window comes to mind reading The New York Times’ account of Green Beret Staff Sergeant Robert Miller receiving the Congressional of Honor this week, at the White House. Living in Frederick, I thought at first the president, his regiment and the family gathered together to celebrate the memory of the local Special Forces soldier, whose death was reported this week.


Sergeant First Class Lance Vogeler lost his life on another Afghan battlefield; he may receive the Congressional Medal of Honor later. The paperwork takes time. S/Sgt Miller sacrificed himself to save his comrades, Afghan and American, more than two-and-a-half years ago.


Without an additional medal, SFC Vogeler already had more than several while still alive; the Thomas Johnson High School graduate stands as another sad example, along with S/Sgt Miller, of the futility of this nation’s colonial wars. Iraq and Vietnam fill out the triad of the world’s greatest democracy fighting, not for territory, but against ideological enemies.


Fifty years ago President Dwight Eisenhower ordered our armed forces to Saigon, in vain hopes of saving the face, not of Paris, but Western superiority over Asian. Thwarting international communism was the excuse.


Striking al-Qaeda mountainous headquarters and chasing the Taliban out was fully justified by the nearly 3,000 Americans who lost their lives because of the plotting of Osama bin Laden, on September 11 nine years ago, in 2001. But occupying Afghanistan smells very much like colonialism.


Iraq’s invasion a year-and-a-half later using leaks of Saddam Hussein’s suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction was even more egregious. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were guilty of colonialism’s worst sin; their “shock and awe” tactic assumed the darker, smaller Arabs could be scared into submission.


Of course, the previous administration acted on the advice of what President Eisenhower called, turning over the White House to Jack Kennedy, the “military-industrial complex.” The new president’s father fit the bill. Generals, admirals and defense industry corporations are the final beneficiaries of wars.


While campaigning against the Iraq and Afghan wars, Barack Obama went along with the deadly campaigns; maybe because health reforms and other first-year issues crowded his political plate. There were no energy and time to take on the military-industrial complex in what would be a bitter rebellion. As I pointed out on, propaganda machines in the Pentagon and every starred-shoulders’ office could foul-up Mr. Obama’s vision for the country.


The present situation presented me with the reality British colonial wars’ decisions were shaped by England’s Army red tabs, Navy sleeves broad stripes and corporate civilians who sat behind desks sipping Darjeeling tea. They enjoyed daily contacts with the tight little island’s governmental movers and rich shakers; the boys in mufti were in the same class as those in uniforms. Abraham Lincoln’s people, yes, the people, were ignored; yet most of the wars’ heroes arose from the empire’s lower class. The Winchester Cathedral window’s lieutenant was among the exceptions.


America’s tradition of citizen soldiers was betrayed by the switch to all-volunteer services presenting the generals, admirals and federal chiefs with no need to worry about public opinion, let alone demonstrations that forced political crises during the Vietnam War. They are now free to follow whims and whatever deal that strikes their fancy.


SFC Volker was deployed at least a dozen times, each time he faced the possibility of death or disfiguration; finally, he fell mortally wounded in yet another ambush; the same kind of firefight for which S/Sgt Miller received the nation’s highest honor.


The fact they were both military-minded and loved the service, as evidenced by both young men seeking out Army’s most prestigious unit; the fact cannot excuse that they lost their lives, like the Royal Rifles’ subaltern, in a lost cause. The Afghan regions shortly will be relegated to the same inconspicuousness as the river where Zulus threw their spears.


We must honor all the men and women who accept the obligation of putting their mortal existence in peril under the red-white-and-blue, and pity them and their families as victims of Ike’s military and industrial complex, which cares only for ambitions and profits.


Ya hossara! Wie Schade! Quelle domage! Che peccata! What a pity, in every language.


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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