Thursday, December 8, 2011

Betrayal: treating soldiers like garbage—UPDATED

Over on his fine Patheos blog Why I Am Catholic, my friend and fellow devil-dog Frank Weathers has posted a story from WaPo about the Air Force dumping the cremains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill. I've already left an angry rant on his combox, as well as posted it on my Facebook page, so I've blown off my initial head of steam.

But I'm still sickened and angry. On behalf of those I served so briefly with, and those in my family who served longer and with honor — especially my great-uncle 1LT Joseph P. Cronin, who lost his life at Montélimar, France, during the "Champagne Campaign" in August 1944, and whom the Army brought home at his parents' request after the war — I feel betrayed.

No. Strike that. Everyone who has ever served, or has known and loved someone who has served — we have all been betrayed.

There's a lot of meaning packed into the Latin word fides, "faith", from which the Marine Corps derives its motto Semper Fidelis
"Always faithful". Not just "faith-full", although the Corps has been dominated by Christians, including more than its share of Roman Catholics. Always loyal. Always trusting and trustworthy. Always reliable and dependable. Always acting in good faith, fulfilling commitments and carrying out orders to the best of one's ability — keeping one's side of the enlistment bargain. "Semper Fi" isn't just an in-phrase yelled out idiotically at leatherneck beer bashes and traded like a fraternity handshake ... it's a code of honor in two words.

People who join the military know that you'll never get paid as much for doing what you do as you would in the private sector, that in some cases you'll do jobs for which there's no equivalent in the private sector (and thus no call for that training after you leave), that you'll never get rich by wearing your country's uniform. (Soldiers used to sing a ditty to one particular bugle call: "You're in the Army now; /You're not behind a plow; /You'll never grow rich /By digging a ditch; /You're in the Army now.") Oh, there are plenty of benefits; and you won't starve or go shelterless, save in extreme combat conditions. But you have to work for the Man for a long time and get high up in the ranks before you earn middle- to upper-middle class pay.

Nevertheless, they put up with all the crud that comes with being a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine — some even thrive on it — so long as the bargain is kept. You follow orders; you go where your national leaders send you; you put yourself in harm's way to achieve some political objective or humanitarian concern. In return, you get your pay on time; you get the promotions and recognition you deserve; if you are disabled or killed in the line of duty, your family will be taken care of — and you will be buried with respect and honor if at all possible, "with the thanks of a grateful nation".

There are situations where it's just not possible. The ocean is the traditional tomb of sailors. The development of artillery, bombs and missiles has led to the "body" that consists of a couple fragments here and there; Gen. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle once lost an aircrew chief, of whom the biggest part they found was a hand and wrist with the watch still on. Here and there soldiers and aircrew are literally lost, their bodies not found for years, even centuries. And many Vietnam veterans remain convinced (I am, too) that some POWs were never returned, an open sore that festers even after almost forty years.

Those soldiers' bodies could have been returned and buried. They should have been returned and buried, cremated only with the consent of their survivors. That they were dumped in a landfill like so much trash is more than an outrage. It was an act of bad faith, a failure to keep the bargain on the part of the government. It was a betrayal.

Now, if I know the Pentagon and the Executive Branch, there will be a mad scrabble to find some poor wing-wiper or three to use as scapegoats. This is not acceptable! 

The decision to throw soldiers in the trash could only come from the flag ranks or from someone in the DoD hierarchy. Moreover, this is not just a lapse of good judgment — this is a cultural failure that can only come from viewing soldiers as nothing more than policy tools. The Pentagon bureaucrats may publicly claim contrition, but you don't make atonement by sacrificing someone else's career and reputation. Every officer and civilian along the chain of this command should resign or retire. 

And the Executive in charge of this whole mess — Barack Hussein Obama — should not run for re-election.

I'll have some further reflections on The Other Blog tomorrow, on why this is a cultural failure and as such an indictment of the Obama Administration. But what I'd like you to do is share this post with as many people as possible, including your congressional representatives, and tell everyone that you've had enough of an administration that treats its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines like garbage.

Literally like garbage.

Update: December 9, 2011
I'm informed by one source that the policy actually predates the Obama Administration, ending in 2008. I had little respect for Dubya to begin with; this just ended what little I had. As the source points out, there are more than enough reasons to get rid of Our Glorious Leader next November. My question is just this — do the people who were responsible for this JSFU still work for the government? If so, they need to go.