The Radical Veteran


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An Open Letter to Komandant Thomas Cadmus

Thomas Cadmus, the Supreme Fuehrer of the American Legion, declared war on all antiwar protesters in a speech given before the national convention of the American Legion on September 23, 2005:

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."

Without mentioning any current protestor, such as Cindy Sheehan, by name, Cadmus recalled: "For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories. We must never let that happen again.
Read the complete story on Editor and Publisher, and probably a lot of other places by now.

Here is the complete text of the letter that I sent to Komandant Cadmus that very day:

Dear American Legion Commandant Cadmus --

I read with both interest and dismay your comments to the national conference of the American Legion, and I must tell you, sir, that I am a Vietnam veteran (one who was actually ON THE GROUND in Vietnam, and NOT one who was simply "Vietnam-Era") who most emphatically DOES NOT share your views on the necessity to stifle dissent in this nation.

How dare you, sir, pretend to speak for US veterans when you say such inflammatory things as Use Whatever Means Necessary to silence those of us who are in opposition to this illegal and immoral war in Iraq? Everyone knows that phrase is actually code for "using violence", and don't let's try to pretend that it isn't.

Mister Cadmus, how dare you talk about taking away my freedom to protest, my freedom to speak out against my government and its terrorist international foreign policy, its criminal acts against the Iraqi people and its cavalier attitude towards its own wounded veterans?

How dare you attempt to abrogate my constitutionally-protected right to peaceably assemble and petition my government for a redress of grievances?

You probably don't even recognize that, do you? It's in a quaint little document called The Constitution of the United States of America. You ought to try reading it sometime.

You also might try to brush up on a little recent history; here's a letter which you ought to find illuminating:
Mr. President, the United States Armed Forces should never be committed to wartime operations unless the following conditions are fulfilled:

* That there be a clear statement by the President of why it is in our vital national interests to be engaged in hostilities;

* Guidelines be established for the mission, including a clear exit strategy;

* That there be support of the mission by the U.S. Congress and the American people; and

* That it be made clear that U.S. Forces will be commanded only by U.S. officers whom we acknowledge are superior military leaders.

It is the opinion of The American Legion, which I am sure is shared by the majority of Americans, that three of the above listed conditions have not been met in the current joint operation....

In no case should America commit its Armed Forces in the absence of clearly defined objectives agreed upon by the U.S. Congress in accordance with Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States.
Recognize that? That was a letter written to the president of the United States by Harold L. "Butch" Miller, the former commandant of the American Legion in 1999. Biggest difference here? Bill Clinton was president and the war was in Bosnia. I guess it makes a big difference who's doin' the prezdintin', doesn't it?

So why don't you just come out and admit that you and your rightwing organization are nothing more than useful fools, tools and mouthpieces for any Republican maladministration that comes along?

Oh, but then you'd lose your tax-exempt status, wouldn't you? But why not? You support this stupid war so much, maybe you ought to be helping to pay for it.

And I certainly hope that if you have children, they are in uniform and are in Iraq. If they are not, then you, on top of everything else, are also, like your commander-in-chief in the white house whose children are likewise not in uniform helping this noble cause, a hypocrite.

Respectfully yours,

Dennis Mansker
US Army Transportation Corps
Vietnam, 1968-69

Kinda makes me wish I'd actually joined the Legion, just so I could resign.

But I never did. And that was for a couple of very good reasons: (1) In my experience, Vietnam vets were not really made to feel welcome by the older WWII vets who dominated the membership in the late 1960s and the 1970s -- it was like "we won our war, and you fucked up and lost yours", and (2) both the VFW and the American Legion demanded that you certify to a belief in god. Whatever the fuck was up with that I don't know, but I was not about to join any non-religious organization that demanded public affirmation of what is essentially a private belief -- or lack thereof. I still get periodic prodding from my vet pals to join VFW or the Legion -- "Oh, it's different now, we're in charge, it's getting more progressive, we can make a change" etc etc etc, blah blah blah.

Bullshit. I still don't want to join. I have plenty of places to drink alcohol and plenty of opportunities to talk with my fellow veterans. I belong to the veterans organizations that are having a positive effect on the nation and the world, organizations that already support my political and social values -- Veterans for Peace and Veterans and Military Families for Progress. I don't need to join any reactionary quasi-rightwing Stalinist/Fascist organizations with the hope that I could somehow help to pull them to the left. I don't have that much time left in my life, and I'd rather use it productively.

And I still refuse to join any organization that demands that I certify to a belief in god. I won't say the phrase "under god" when I salute the flag, and I also won't swear "so help me god" when I testify in court. To do so would be hypocritical.