For a significant portion of our nation’s history the United States’ populace was largely non-interventionist and isolationist, usually needing to be convinced through yellow journalism and intense propaganda to support a war. Our people were loath to enter World War One and, after its conclusion, we reverted back to an isolationist foreign policy. Because of major opposition within the country, the U.S. never signed the Treaty of Versailles or joined The League of Nations.

Our reluctance to intervene in other countries continued throughout the 23 years between the world wars. Then it took time, trickery (the Lend-Lease Program) and Pearl Harbor to convince Americans to support the Allies. Actually, there are some historians and documents that suggest our government had foreknowledge of the Japanese attack, but kept that secret so Roosevelt could use the attack to elicit public support for the war.

Well, those days are over and it’s time to ask why non-intervention and isolationism have been off the table since the end of World War Two. Instead we have stationed troops throughout the entire world on what has become essentially a permanent basis. Whether there is reason or not.

Worse, it seems our government hasn’t met a war it didn’t embrace. Can somebody please explain what Granada’s threat was to our national security? And while it’s true that Vietnam caused large scale protest, as did the two wars in Iraq, our government has kept the pedal to the metal, continuing to engage our forces anywhere and everywhere possible.

Even when war hurts our national security by destabilizing an entire region and radicalizing foreign hatred of our country, we march on. And we’re getting ready to do it again, using ISIS as our reason. Doesn’t it always start with “advisers” but no “boots on the ground?” Dime bags to hundred dollar bills, there will be boots on the ground.

And when there’s no war in which to engage, no matter, we simply stay on. Currently, the United States has military personnel deployed in about 150 countries which covers 75% of the world’s nations. (For a series of charts that attempts to pinpoint where our troops are specifically placed you can glance here. And while these charts are taken from Wikipedia, attached are some pretty solid references.)

And I don’t believe, though I’m not certain, the above covers our Special Operations Forces who are stationed in over 105 countries.

But other numbers are equally staggering.

ChartThe result: Defense spending accounts for about 20 percent of all U.S. federal spending.

Call me crazy but I see all this as completely insane. Especially if we actually want to protect ourselves. Conservatives are concerned with our national debt and see that as a major threat to our way of life. Despite all of NSA’s intrusions into our civil liberties, airport “security” is an ongoing joke, and virtually all of our internal terrorism is locally grown Nazi-like White Supremacists with but a few exceptions. Or look at our decaying infrastructure. Hell, cities don’t have enough money to shovel snow. Think some of that military money might help with any of these problems?

It might even be nice to have bullet trains, a middle class, and regain our desire to eradicate poverty and racism. Instead we station about 38,491 soldiers in Germany alone.

Now, I understand that embassies and consulates need protection. The world is a dangerous place and certain strategically placed military bases are necessary. But do we really need, or ought to have, 117,951 military facilities in foreign countries?

I don’t think so. I think we need to bring all our troops back home save for those deployed with the specific purpose of guarding embassies and consulates. Even there I would look carefully at each and every one of them in order to reduce the present number.

It’s not like we’ve really helped anyone with our warmongering since World War Two. (Ok, I *might* consider Korea. Though again, we’re talking about having engaged in a war on the other side of the world without any real threat to our national security.) We certainly didn’t rescue Southeast Asia. And the havoc we’ve wreaked in the Mideast is almost beyond comprehension. Why not let people in their own parts of the world decide for themselves how they want to live and who owns what. Only they’re not Americans so what do they know? But I can say, without fear of contradiction, that our military spending and wars have padded the pockets of the military/industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about. And it doesn’t do too bad for the arms trade and multi-national corporations either. War means money and other peoples’ resources.

What about the rest of us? Start with the troops who we’ve put in danger war after war. Agent Orange, missing limbs, PTSD, and at least twenty-two veteran suicides a day. And frankly, I believe the number is higher depending upon the sources you believe.

Can anyone think of any benefit they’ve received from either the wars or the massive number of troops and bases abroad? I know the argument that if we don’t fight terrorism “over there” we’ll be in danger here. If it’s true, why won’t the government prove it? Show us the facts that substantiate the claim. We can handle the truth. To top it off, it doesn’t look like we’re doing too well “over there” either. Every day I open the newspaper and read about large numbers of people who were blown up, murdered, or kidnapped. And often at our hand, as we add to the totals with bombs, drones, and infantry and call it “collateral” damage. Our belligerent policies have brought death and destruction to hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children throughout the world.

Now, I understand that bringing ’em home has absolutely no chance of happening. Nonetheless, it’s time to call for what we know to be right and to hell with just what’s possible. What we’re doing now is not only unsustainable and morally bankrupt, it threatens the very soul of our country.

3 penny

Post Script: I want to thank Kent Ballard who, during the past six months, graced this page with humor, intelligence, and wit. Although he’ll pinch-hit for me on occasion, I’m going to really miss reading him every other week. Thank you, Kent. Zach






Something seemed strange when my eyes popped open. Not the recliner, used to it by now. Not even the shoulder pain after my recent surgery. Mornings always begin with that these days. But this time the ache seemed lighter and, for a moment, I wondered whether the painkillers were still working after seven hours.

Then it hit me. The pain was less simply because there was less pain.


Okay, then. Rather than automatically grabbing for my morning meds, I decided to see if I could skip that round and wait for the next. Sit at the table, have my coffee, read the paper, hell, take the fucking brace off for a while.

Big mistake. For the first time in what felt like forever, I actually understood what I’d been reading for the last few weeks. But on this particular morning I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, grabbed the past week of the Boston Globes and read them all. That’s when I realized I had awakened to a nightmare.

“Boots on the ground” in Iraq? Hadn’t we already done that with horrifying results? (Is there anyone anywhere in the world (other than Iraqi politicians who got rich and powerful) who actually imagines our decade long debacle was any kind of victory for anybody? Or even slowed the growth of terrorism in any way? And now our guns, drones, bombs, and warships are starting to point toward Syria as well as Iraq.

I’m a fucking usher at the same movie over and over and, regardless of the “new” situation, I know the ending will be the same. It always is and has been since the Second World War. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results?

Does anyone really expect a better conclusion to using our force in the Middle East? I don’t think so.

Except, I suppose, the military and those who control it. When you have the largest number of weapons ever accumulated throughout the entire course of history, the incentive to use them must feel irresistible. Kinda like having a naked sex partner in the other room. Sooner or later you’re going into that room. Probably sooner.

And make no mistake. For most politicians war is sex.

It seems apparent that our government—both Democrat and Republican—just can’t get the taste for blood out of their mouths. Could it be that if we stop being the cops of the world we’ll no longer have any identity?

We sure as hell don’t want to be known for the chart at the top of this column. And that chart doesn’t even mention the insane income disparity that currently exists. Did anyone reading this ever believe we’d be living in a country where financial inequality would be greater than during the Robber Baron era? Not me.

Truthfully, when I combine all that I read, see, and watch about our domestic and foreign policies, it doesn’t feel like a nightmare. It is one.

And I’m one of the swells. White, relatively healthy, have a home that’s paid for, work I usually enjoy, friends and relatives with little or no chance of anything other than ill-health or accidents waiting to occur. Call me crazy, but that’s just not good enough.

This isn’t the country I imagined and hoped it could become. I never thought we’d spend our lives simply enjoying the arts, never thought we’d totally eradicate poverty, or even live in communes where no one fought about whose turn it was to do the dishes. I did, however, believe that if people put their service shoulder (no pun intended) to the grindstone, time and effort would tilt all of us to a better place. A place where we wouldn’t have to sweat our children’s opportunities or our grandchildren’s lives.

Obviously I was wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s worse now for most Americans than it’s ever been. And you don’t even need that chart to see it.

Ask people you know. Ask the person who works in Walmart but has to receive food stamps to feed her kids.

Ask anyone who has children who couldn’t afford college how their job search is going. Ask if they’ve been offered anything other than part-time work with absolutely no benefits. Including health insurance–other than the half-ass Obamacare that tries to pretend it’s “healthcare for all.”

Last week Kent wrote about the way suicide sneaks up on people with bi-polar conditions. But I have a suspicion there is something I’d call “political suicide.” Do you really think the day Hunter Thompson shot himself he was more depressed than the days, months, years before? Does anyone believe that about Spaulding Gray the windy day he waded into the ocean never to return alive?

I have no doubts that a forensic psychologist could/would uncover a ton of personal reasons for why these two people took their lives. But I’ll go to my grave believing a serious slide into their descent was the realization that our society was going to get worse. Much, much worse.

They were dead right.

Now, I have no plans to kill myself because my country is the belly of the beast. I’ll continue to do as I’ve always done. Try to write about difficulties in human relationships (see Matt Jacob), about all sorts of wrongs through this column, try to find pleasure where possible—and even write about that too. Plus, I will continue to believe in my heart of hearts that innovations in technology will enable good, compassionate people throughout the world to communicate and create the potential to grow seeds of positive change.

But those seeds are still just “potential.” Now is now, and now it’s time to take my painkillers.

“There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” ~ Edith Wharton

Independence Day

(Happy 29th Anniversary to Jeff & Donna, my brother and sister-in-law.)

At first I resisted writing about July 4th.  I figured everyone else would.

I rationalized that there was nothing to celebrate.  I thought about a class taught by William Appleman Williams while I was at Madison.  He lectured about the American Revolution, but used data to show it really wasn’t a simple popular uprising, but rather one initiated by those who wanted expansionist capital to be housed in the New World and not just in London where it was locked and loaded.  Hardly a grassroots revolution.

Then came the usual “I want to be different” bullshit, which seems lodged in my DNA, never to completely disappear.

So I’m writing about the 4th.  What the hell, despite my democratic socialist views and cynical eye, I still believe there’s “…a lot to like in America…”

I know the politically correct thing is to begin with regret about the lost and maimed soldiers who have fought in all our wars–but it wasn’t the first thing that popped to mind.

I just never before thought about war on the 4th–I thought fireworks.  (Yeah, I know, pretty fucking stupid not to have made the connection between fireworks and bombs, but give me a break.)

The 4th ended with fireworks in my hometown park (Carteret, exit 12 off the N.J. Turnpike), but better yet was the earlier parade where I could see Spot, the Dalmatian my family once owned in his new digs.  He was riding the fire truck since we had given him to the local department when he grew too large for the house.  Bittersweet, but cool.  (Probably more associations to be made with that last sentence fragment too-but not today.)

All in all, it was a great day because I always pretended my birthday was July 4th (even though it was the 6th) so that all the parades and parties were for me
Then the next fireworks blast (sorry) hit me on Miami Beach when my youngest son was still an infant.  The day featured The Jefferson Starship with Grace Slick belting out songs all afternoon.  Come evening, we met up with the family of my older son’s friend and walked the beach.  Fireworks were cascading from the top of the Art Deco hotels toward the ocean, met in the middle by more fireworks aimed toward the beach from a flotilla of boats along the shoreline.

The experience felt like walking under the overhead canopy of flashing neon in downtown Las Vegas or the scene inApocalypse Now where the river boat meets up with soldiers protecting a bridge under rocket and mortar fire. (Another connection between Independence Day and war.  Hmmmm.)

But the funniest and most frustrating firework memory happened right here in Boston during my father’s first visit.  It was the Bicentennial and the city had been bragging for weeks about the magic that would light the sky after the traditional Boston Pops concert on the Esplanade next to the Charles River.  I had a close friend who lived in an apartment with a perfectly located roof for viewing.  As everyone at the party, including my father, climbed the stairs to the sound of THE 1812 OVERTURE (always played to introduce the fireworks), we walked into a cloudless night.

With a breeze.  A fucking windy breeze.  That July 4th may have been the greatest show on earth, but all we saw was smoke.  And more smoke.  ‘Coulda been a factory stack belching nonstop black and grey.  At least some smokestacks have fire burning off their tops and it would have been more light than we saw that entire night.

Welcome to Bicentennial Boston, Pop.

My final 4th story has nothing to do with fireworks or even Independence Day, per se.  I was working as a teacher’s aide in a Chicago high school right before I moved to Boston.  I had long since mailed my draft card back to the local board but it was the day they instituted the lottery for the Vietnam War draft and the numbers were published in the newspaper.  Each number corresponded with a birthdate.  I grabbed the paper, skimmed the dates, and saw my hideously low number thirteen.  My gut tightened ’cause I knew my shit was gonna hit the fan one way or another.  It was a really long anxiety ridden afternoon until something inside whacked me upside the head.  I had looked at July 4-that childhood idea had stuck around painfully long.  I scrambled back to the garbage where I’d stuffed the newspaper and found July 6.  My real number was in the three hundreds.

Although I now sometimes forget how old I am, I haven’t made that mistake again.

“I guess if the 4th looks like a war, sounds like a war, it is indeed connected to a war.”
Zachary Klein

When Guns Go Down?

I received a number of public and private comments in response to my Wisconsin post about how badly anti-war protestors treated returning Vietnam vets.  My first impulse was to compare the activists’ behavior  with that of the U.S. government’s refusal to acknowledge the effects of Agent Orange and PTSD therefore denying treatment.

But the issue got me thinking about if an individual soldier has the ethical and moral responsibility to lay down arms when he/she realizes the war they are fighting is unjust, irresponsible, or flat-out wrong.  How much information does an individual soldier need to realize that napalm incinerated more than enemy soldiers?  That the killing of civilians in Panama was simply to rid the country of a leader we no longer needed?  That “shock and awe” was slaughtering noncombatant Iraqis by the tens of thousands?

In an award-winning documentary about Robert McNamara called The Fog of War, he talks about his part in the military planning of destroying Dresden and later Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Almost offhandedly McN comments (and I paraphrase): Had the “other” side won, he and the rest of the Brass would have been tried as war criminals.

To the victor go the spoils and the opportunity.  In this case to convict upper echelon Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials.  But what about the soldiers who herded people into trains they knew were bound for extermination camps?  Is “just following orders” really enough of a justification for sending innocent people to certain death?  Of course, that Nazi soldier would be trading his life in protest for boxcars of lives.  Is it even imaginable to ask anyone to make that choice?

One glance at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict raises the same sad question.  A suicide bomber kills ten Israelis (which I don’t in any way condone) and Israel responds by bombing hundreds of Palestinians.  When did “collateral damage” become something to simply ignore?  I suppose it happens during any war, every war.  But it sure don’t make it right.

And so we have modern precedent for trying leadership for “giving orders” but nowhere do we grapple with the responsibility of those who carry them out.  In our culture, one that prides itself on touting “individual responsibility,” there’s something wrong with this picture.

Of course the notion of individual soldiers laying down their weapons is a daunting thought.  But is it any more daunting than those who burned their draft cards during the Vietnam era, or for those who refused to serve?  Or the memories I have of visiting friends in prison because they wouldn’t step forward when ordered to board the Army bus.  Or other friends who were forced to expatriate because of their beliefs?

I understand the military is based upon an individual relinquishing his or her self to a chain of command.  But perhaps it’s time for those individuals to hold onto their selves and decide if those commands are, in fact, ethical, moral, or not.  And then decide whether to “just follow orders.”

Could be the world might have fewer wars and, more significantly, a much lower body count.