I spent four years in the Navy (1957-61) and four in the Air Force (1961-65). I joined because I was outgrowing my foster home and wanted to travel. During my eight years I don’t recall talking to anyone who joined or re-enlisted for patriotic reasons. The people I talked to joined to escape something, to get an education, to travel, etc. They re-upped if and only if they thought it was of benefit to themselves or their family.
I left the Air Force in 1965 and took a job installing and operating electronic equipment on Polaris submarines. Ten years later I was writing weapons systems manuals and conducting combat system training courses on U.S. Navy missile cruisers. I had faith in our system and in what the U.S. was doing and believed that we were trying to make the world a better place. I didn’t understand those who participated in either the antiwar or civil rights movements and had little sympathy for the longhaired kids who were killed at Kent State while protesting the war in Vietnam.
I was, however, beginning to be concerned about the tremendous waste of money I had witnessed in 20 years of being involved with the military and I was disturbed by the “video game” aspect that was evolving in the use of “stand-off” weapons systems. I didn’t know it then, but I was on my way down a different path.
In 1978 I changed career fields and went to Saudi Arabia with a construction management company charged with building a new city on the Red Sea coast. As a result, I was able to travel extensively. In doing so, I witnessed poverty in the klongs (canals) of Bangkok, the garbage dumps of Cairo, the streets of India, the mountain villages of Nepal and almost everywhere – often within a few blocks of five-star hotels. I found that in all third-world countries the key to development was access to U.S. markets and a willingness, on the national level, to go along with U.S. policies.
I left Saudi Arabia intending to study economics to find out why our economic system was causing so much pain. In the course of my studies, I took a class in Latin American history – it changed my life. I learned for the first time about the countries in Latin America in which the U.S. had overthrown democratic leaders and replaced them with ruthless military dictators. I was no longer comfortable with U.S. foreign policy.
Two years ago I watched a video of the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. Thirteen years earlier I had watched it unfold on American TV. But now, for the first time, I saw video of the thousands of people we killed and the destruction of entire residential blocks, and I was angered at the fact that our press kept this part of the story from me.
My experience and my years of study have convinced me that we are in phase two of a war to make the world safe for unrestricted free-market capitalism. Phase one was a phony war against the Soviets – a country that had been totally demolished and bled dry during the two world wars. Having declared ourselves the winner in phase one, we needed another enemy. In phase two, the current administration has opened an unbounded crusade against Evil Itself. Unfortunately, it refuses to look in the mirror.
Our leaders chose to start the war in two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, devastated by wars we created and sanctions we imposed, and incapable of doing anything to anybody – unless of course we chose to support and finance them and provide them arms, as we had done in the 1980s in both countries.
Fortunately, some very well-placed people have spoken out against our war. Hans Blix, the most recent UN lead weapons inspector, and Scott Ritter, a leader of inspection teams following Gulf War I, have both denied that Iraq has WMDs. Robert McNamara, one of the proponents of the Vietnam War, has apologized for what he now calls a big mistake. The continued steadfastness of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the recent words of U.S. chief weapons inspector David Kay, invite us to re-examine what we have been told by those who wanted war at any cost.
We can only hope that there is power in truth, and that the American people will take off their blinders, escape their apathy and demand that this administration be held responsible for its lies. We then need to uncover the lies that have become part of our national story and to rewrite our textbooks to reveal the truth — starting with the motives of our founders and following our path to becoming the most feared nation on earth. That’s a lot of truth — but knowing it, and dealing with it, is the only way we will ever be truly free. Let’s roll.
Dick Underhill is chairperson of the Austin, Texas, chapter of Veterans For Peace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.