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Spitting on Veterans

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Joel McNally
June 3, 2008

As someone who opposed the Vietnam War and didn’t spit on a single soldier, I have never believed those stories about servicemen in uniform encountering a tsunami of expectoration upon returning from Southeast Asia.


In the ‘60s, our contempt was primarily aimed at the commanders-in-chief, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, who sent more than 58,000 young Americans to their deaths in that immoral and unnecessary war.


But for veterans who were lucky enough to make it home, we knew our country had put them through horrors that would take them a long time to get over. The last thing we wanted to do was to make their lives harder.


They were kids we’d grown up with who weren’t as fortunate as we were to be protected by the college or marriage deferments that, in those days, were the primary means through which we avoided their fate.


Exaggerated claims about the inhumanity of those who oppose wars toward those who fight them are intentional distortions to try to discredit protest as unpatriotic.


In fact, war boosters are often the ones who disrespect our troops the most.


The most obvious examples are the so-called “chicken hawks,” President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who avoided military service during Vietnam but now support open-ended war as long as someone else’s children or young parents are being sacrificed.


Unbelievably, the Bush administration opposes — and has even threatened to veto — an updated GI Bill for Iraqi War veterans to give those who risk their lives in Bush’s war the same full college benefits the original GI Bill provided for veterans of World War II and Vietnam.


Even harder to believe, Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, also opposes the new GI Bill.


McCain was a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Unlike Bush and Cheney, McCain actually knows the overwhelming sacrifices the American soldiers our politicians send into war are required to make.


McCain says he opposes full college benefits for soldiers who serve “only” one enlistment because too many of them might leave the military to attend college.


In the course of that one enlistment, a soldier could be sent into active combat in Iraq or Afghanistan as often as three times.


The Bush administration has no qualms about sending the same soldiers back into combat again and again. Psychiatrists for the Veterans Administration say many soldiers may not have dealt with the effects of their last time in combat before they are sent again.


That may be the reason why new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers jumped 50% in 2007.


McCain wants to make soldiers “earn” full college benefits by re-enlisting. Risking your life with a piddling three combat tours isn’t enough. You should be required to make it back alive at least six times before we let you go to college.


The other reason Bush and McCain cite for opposing increasing educational benefits to cover the full cost of college is because they say it would simply cost too much.


Why, over the next 10 years, the college benefit to our soldiers could cost $2 billion, they say.


You know what else costs $2 billion, that enormous amount of money it would cost to provide a decade’s worth of college educations for our military veterans? According to the Congressional Budget Office, that is the cost of one week of the Iraq War.


McCain built a political reputation over the years as a maverick by occasionally breaking from his fellow Republicans.


But, in opposing the new GI Bill, the Republicans McCain has broken with are strong supporters of military veterans including Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, another Vietnam veteran, and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, former Secretary of the Navy.


Military service today should be a bridge to a college education just as it was for veterans of World War II and Vietnam.


Bush and McCain should stop spitting on our returning soldiers for their service.



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