In 1963, when I was a junior in high school, Saturday-night dances were held at an old beach club near the Santa Monica pier. The club had once been exclusive and elegant but had long fallen on hard times, and its ballroom was rented for various functions. At first, most of those going to the dances, reflecting the demographics of the surrounding areas, were white. This was especially true when surf bands were featured at the dances. In 1963, surf music was at its peak of popularity and did its best to fill the vacuum created by the demise of the great rock ’n’ roll of the 50’s. As the weeks went by, different black groups also played the dances; soon, black teenagers were making the drive out the new Santa Monica freeway, which intersected the coast highway precisely at the club.
Friction developed almost immediately. The blacks expressed the opinion that particular Saturday-night dances were exclusively their affairs. Any whites wanting to enter the dance had to make their way through a parking lot filled with dozens of loitering black gang members and then run a gauntlet of blacks lining the walkway to the entrance of the ballroom. Whites, often with dates, or with only a friend or two, were at a disadvantage. A senior from our high school was jumped by a half-dozen black gang members and beaten to a pulp. The blacks let it be known that other whites would receive similar treatment if they dared show up at the next dance. By Sunday afternoon, word of the attack had spread, and, on Monday at school, we held an informal meeting during lunch. We vowed revenge for our buddy and promised to assemble in the beach club’s parking lot before the dance next Saturday night.
At the appointed time, there were at least two dozen of us there. Conspicuous by their absence, however, were nearly as many others who had sworn to be there. Their rhetoric had been grand: They were going to smash some heads. I can remember one of the no-shows slamming his fist into his hand and telling us what he was going to do come Saturday night. Come Monday morning, back at school, those absent had nothing but lame excuses. The rest of us had a fight to describe.
I am now thinking of that Saturday-night affair when I see the neoconservatives breathing fire and calling for the United States to invade this or that country, to send in the Marines, and to remake the map of the Middle East and perhaps the world. Mind you, neither they nor their sons (or daughters) are going to be the ones to do it. One of the neocon fire-breathers, David Frum, has even called those conservatives who have deigned to question the neocon policy on Iraq “unpatriotic.” Pardon me, Frum. Just what was your MOS? O311? 0341? Serve with 3/5 or 1st Force Recon? Exactly when did you go through boot camp or OCS? You must have slipped through PI or MCRD or Quantico unnoticed. Would you like to compare your SRB with a few “unpatriotic conservatives”? Tell me what outfits Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, and Michael Ledeen served with. They fatten on government appointments and contracts and propose to remake the Middle East but have yet to swab a barrel with Hoppes.
Chuck Teevan is one of those whom Frum, the armchair warrior, would describe as an unpatriotic conservative. Unlike Frum, Teevan joined the Marines out of college and served with 2/7 as a forward observer for artillery in the operational area southwest of Da Nang known to the Corps as “Arizona.” Lieutenant Teevan came back a captain decorated with a Bronze Star with “V” for valor. At one point, he raced through a hail of NVA fire to rescue a radio operator pinned down on a paddy dike. He now thinks of Iraq and whose interests we are serving by our invasion and occupation. He also thinks of the neocon warriors who send patriotic American lads—not from Harvard or Yale or the American Enterprise Institute but from the hills of West Virginia or the panhandle of Texas or the neighborhoods of East Los Angeles and South Boston—to do the fighting. “I recall going through the personal effects of an NVA officer we had killed in a firefight in the Que Son Mountains,” says Teevan. “The realization struck me that those of us in front-line units had more in common with the enemy than with those Americans who avoided military service and those in power who sent the sons of other Americans to sacrifice their lives.”
Like Teevan, Glenn Miley dares to question the neocon policy for the Middle East. Unlike Frum, Miley went into the Army shortly after high school and served as a medic with the 1st Cavalry in the Central Highlands. He left two ribs and one lobe of a lung there after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He had been dropped into a hot LZ and, in the face of withering fire, was saving the life of his third wounded soldier before he himself was blasted nearly into eternity. He was awarded a Silver Star. A reading of the citation makes it clear that the decoration could have been the Distinguished Service Cross. “Our troops deposed Hussein,” says Miley. “The 101st Airborne sent his sons to their reward. However, not one American soldier or Marine was worth that result. Their courage is too rare and precious to squander.”
Despite all the propaganda and indoctrination, troops eventually come to understand whether they have been used properly for the defense of America. President Clinton, with dozens of overseas deployments of questionable purpose, abused the military terribly. The troops came to understand this. Driven by the neocon agenda, President Bush is in danger of repeating the process. Already, reports describe troop morale sagging in Iraq. Racing to Baghdad and engaging enemy soldiers was one thing. Occupying a country of 25 million Arabs and Muslims who are not exactly fans of the United States is another. I hope President Bush executes his exit strategy—if he has one—ASAP. Otherwise, our troops will continue dying—one or two a day—from guerilla attacks and from contracting virulent strains of pneumonia and other diseases. Then, too, they might begin to question why they are really there and who are the chicken hawks who put them in harm’s way.