Monday, January 25, 2010

Letters From the Past (Sept. 9, 1999)

On Sept. 9, 1999 this letter I wrote was published in the Idaho Statesman.

According to the Idaho Statesman, the US Army is considering changing its advertising slogan. It's about time. For years the Army has insulted the youth of our nation and their parents with its "Be ALL You Can Be" slogan, falsely implying that the greatest potential young people have is to join the Army and learn how to kill other people. Each young person's life has a greater and better potential than anything an army can offer.

We only have one life to live and we can use it either to make peace or make war. Since armies today generally attack civilians, not other armies, a decision to join any army is a decision to add to the escalating violence and terrorism against civilian populations in the world. A new and honest slogan from the US Army will make that clear.

Leonard Nolt


Here are a few of the responses I received, also published in the Idaho Statesman on the dates indicated.

PROUD OF ARMY - 9-26-99 (Response #1)
I couldn't disagree more with the Sept. 19 letter from Leonard Nolt of Boise regarding our US Army. We are citizens of the greatest country in our planet's history. The men and women of our armed services have helped make this so.

From our nations' birth to today, it has been their commitment, their love for their country and its people, and their sacrifice at home and abroad that defines the true meaning of "Be All You Can Be."

I am a veteran of the US Air Force, but given the opportunity, I would proudly serve in the Army if so asked. I would welcome the challenge, for I owe (as we all do)a great debt to those who have served before us, those who have died fighting for our nation's ideals, and for those who may follow.

Nolt should be thanking our enlisted men and women and the Army they dedicate their lives to. It is their daily sacrifice that allows his anti-American feelings to be printed. (from a Boise resident.)

HURT BY REMARKS - 9-30-99 (Response #2)
In reply to Leonard Nolt (Sept 19 letter), I again felt the anger and hurt remarks like Nolt's provide. My grandfather headed the Minnesota National Guard. My father remains an Air Force MIA in Vietnam.

Our son, a member of the National Guard, is an Army-trained nationally certified EMT. He also attends the University of Idaho as an ROTC member. Since joining the Army, his grades are up, his self-confidence has risen, and he has turned into a proud young man with a purpose, a goal and a very bright future. He has what many young people do not have today: a sense of duty, honor, and pride in his country. He is and always will be "All He Can Be."

The next time Nolt wishes to say something like this, he should think twice and remember who gave their lives so he may remain free to do that. All the men and women of the United States armed forces and we, their families, would appreciate it. (from a Boise resident)

ARMY SLOGAN FITTING - 10-2-99 (Response #3)
I was appalled at the apparent lack of military knowledge and obvious bias, that Leonard Nolt illustrated in his letter in the Sept. 19 Statesman. The US Army has a long history of contributing to American society; there have been and currently are millions of young and seasoned veterans who make up an important part of our national fabric - in government, commerce, education and many other professions.

Tom Brokaw's book, "The Greatest Generation," vividly depicts the military's "personal and personnel" contributions to the greatness which our nation enjoys. The Army's current slogan, "Be All You Can Be," has been a theme that has inspired many young Americans who served their country for varied number of years. My lengthy military experience has netted the view that young people who have served in the military are generally mature and focused, and proud of having served their country. Should the Army adopt a new slogan, I hope it will be a as inviting and hard-hitting to young people as "Be All You Can Be." (from an Eagle resident)

A NOBLE PROFESSION- 10-8-99 (Response #4)
I am writing in response to Leonard Nolt's letter dated Sept. 19. Nolt contends that the Army is not a worthy profession and that it promotes violence. He obviously lacks historical knowledge and fails to possess the ideals and values that this great nation stands for.

As an active-duty Army officer, I consider it an honor and privilege to serve. Our country won the freedoms we enjoy because of the selfless service and ultimate sacrifices made by the members of the armed forces. The purpose of the military is to protect our freedoms and national interests.

The noble men and women who pursue careers in the military, and those citizens who support them, are true Americans. They are worthy to take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities our country has to offer. Those who complain about our military and believe it is immoral are not worthy. (from a Meridian resident)

Obey Orders - 10-25-99 (Response # 5)
As a veteran of the Army, I agree with Leonard Nolt's letter concerning the Army's slogan. He was not attacking the character of our soldiers; he was simply questioning the appropriateness of the slogan "Be All You Can Be" for an institution that really has no interest in whether its soldiers are living fulfilled lives and being all they can be.

The Army simply wants soldiers who will never orders. With this in mind it comes as almost no surprise to learn of the slaughter of hundreds of women and children during the Korean War, which only recently came to light.

Why would good, decent young men, fighting to defend our freedoms, decide to spray bullets into a crowd of helpless non-combatants?

They didn't make that decision - their commanders did. The first thing you learn in basic training is that you don't think for yourself. You just do what your told. Never question orders.

The Army's newest slogan, if they were interested in being honest (they're not), should be: Never Question An Order, No Matter How Cold-Blooded and Inhuman." (from a Boise resident.)



Although these letters are over ten years old, the issues they raise are still current. Here are a few observations.

1. First let me say that in the letter I wrote (Army Slogan), I was simply expressing my distaste for the slogan which is, like much advertising, dishonest in that it implies the greatest potential young US citizens have is to join the Army and learn how to kill people. Contrary to what was implied or stated in the responses, I was not suggesting that members of the Army and other branches of the military lack commitment, bravery, maturity, or that they don't love their country.

2. I'm aware that soldiers in warfare often act with great courage and bravery under unbelievably threatening and destructive circumstances. I also believe that war veterans should have quick and easy access to any first-rate physical, psychological, or spiritual care they may need for life.

3. It's interesting to note that none of the four letter writers who criticized my letter actually addressed the two points I made. First, that it's insulting to claim US young people do not have any greater potential than learning how to kill young people from other countries. Second, that soldiers in warfare primarily kill innocent people, not enemy soldiers. Is their refusal or failure to respond to the points I made an indication that they have no argument against them?

4. I believe that every person has a much greater potential that simply learning how to kill other people. It's a higher and more noble calling to learn to heal and help, rather than hurt or harm others. It's better to construct than to destroy. It's better to help feed, clothe, and house people than to destroy their sources of food, clothing, and shelter which is what usually happens in war. It's also better for a person to be a peacemaker than a war maker. Einstein said, "One cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." If we're spending our time, our lives and other resources preparing for war, we cannot use those resources to prevent war. Preventing war is better than preparing for war.

5, Two of the writers mention the "greatness" of the United States. One person wrote that the US is the "...greatest country in our planet's history." Another refers to the US as "...this great nation." The word great is a very vague term. Which aspect of US life is the "greatest?" Is it our wealth, the potential destructiveness of our military's weapons, or is it our commitment to freedom and the care and concern we show for the poor, minorities, immigrants, and other marginalized people? Another category of greatness to be considered is the availability and affordability of education and health care for all people. Are we the greatest in the world in all these categories? We may be the wealthiest country that has ever existed and we certainly invest more resources in developing our potential to kill more people and destroy more land than any other nation. We spend more on warmaking than all the other countries in the world combined, but is that a sign of greatness? Should we be proud of our ability to kill and destroy others?

6. The letter writer dated 9-26-99 claimed that my letter expressed "anti-American feelings." There is nothing "anti-American" about expressing concern for what often seems to be an eagerness to wage wars in this country. The wars we have fought in recent decades have been against countries too poor or weak to attack us, or even defend themselves against us. They've clearly been fought for reasons that have nothing to do with self-defence (Iraq-oil/Afghanistan-possible oil pipeline/Vietnam & Southeast Asia-virulent and blind anti-communism as well as an attempt to expand US control and try out new weapons systems). These wars have also resulted in the premature deaths and injuries of tens of thousands of Americans as well as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans, and in Southeast Asia the victims number in the millions. Most of the people victimized by US military action have been innocent civilians. Is protesting the killing of innocent people "anti-American?"

7. Two letter writers (10/299 and 10/8/99) use the word "service," each one twice. Others write of duty, honor, and sacrifice. If we're waging war to steal oil or other resources, no one is receiving a service. We have no duty to kill civilians for any reason and there is no honor or nobility in doing so.

8. The letters dated 10/8/99 and 9/30/99 mentions "freedoms" or "free." Killing people, for whatever reason, destroys freedom. Dead people have no freedom of speech, press, or religion, no choices on election day, and no democracy. Even people who are not killed but injured with lasting physical or psychological injures have had some of their freedoms destroyed.

9. Over 40% of the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan are under the age of fifteen so these wars we are fighting now are primarily wars against children, teenagers, and women. They are the primary victims of our military violence. There is no honor or duty in attacking women, teenagers, and children, all of whom pose no threat whatsoever to the US.

There is more that could be written in response to these letters but I'll leave it for now.

Leonard Nolt