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Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You

New -- 20 January 2005

 

In President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, he provided what is quite possibly one of his most famous quotes:

"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what can you do for your country."

This was followed up by,

"My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

It is noteworthy that the second line is routinely ignored or simply unknown -- and for that matter, the existence of any antecedents including that of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.:

"It is now the moment ...to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return." [1]

Exactly 44 years after Kennedy's Inaugural address, it might be worthwhile to revisit the implications of this statement. Can it be said that it is quite the liberal glorification that we are often led to believe that it is? Perhaps not.

How might one, for example, define country? It is at once a fatherland, a nation with its own government, a national population, a rural land, and/or a territory possessing its own language, people, and culture... among other things. In the context in which Kennedy and Holmes likely used it, it is either the collective government which provides both protection and welfare to its citizens (and simultaneously collects taxes and requires obedience to its laws)... or it is the collective of fellow citizens. It is probably not the latter in that the collective of fellow citizens do not routinely and automatically provide much of anything.

It is far more likely that these quotations from our illustrious leaders refer to the idea that our fellow citizens should not be asking what manner of welfare and free rides their country can provide for them, but what they can provide for their government. Assuming this is the case, then we are left with a bit of a quandary.

A government is not an independent entity with its own inalienable existence. It is instead that collection of individuals who exercise the rule of the government over its constituents. In other words, governments are that collective of the elite and powerful.

Accordingly, we might rephrase John Kennedy's statement as:

Ask not what the elite and powerful can do for you -- ask what you can do for the elite and powerful.

Oops. Not quite the same impact of altruism, is it? The rather sad fact is that such a rewording is quite possibly much more realistic and a much better indicator of the state of the world. After all, both Kennedy and Holmes can hardly be said to be among those thought of as the common man. Both in fact were very much members of the elite.

In fact, the American Aristocracy which rules the United States -- and their counterparts in virtually every democracy, facist government, and theocracy in the world -- are but examples of elite ruled governments. The elite rulers claim a compassionate kindred with the common workers (aka slaves) and simultaneously enjoy the fruits of the labors of these menial serfs, also known as "my fellow citizens".

A really good example of the currency of this view is the political fanatism which sends the commoners to wage wars in such exotic locations and popular tourist destinations as Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudia Arabia, and any other locales which have the misfortune to have black gold resting serenely under their sands, jungles, and whatever. In effect, the United States Government asks its fellow citizens to do for their country what the country's ruling elite has no interest whatsoever in doing for themselves. The Chicken Hawks of the current ruling elite are eager to wage war just so long as they're not likely to be in harm's way.

[Chicken Hawks: "The army of media pundits, cabinet members, and military experts arrayed in favor of an attack on Iraq [who] have one startling fact in common. Not one of them has a shred of wartime experience." As Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a Vietnam veteran, has phrased it, "They come at it from an intellectual perspective versus having sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off." [2] For further clarification, one can visit the webpage, "Recognizing Who Served."]

On the other hand, when it comes to what their country can do for veterans of these ill-fated and ill-conceived wars... Ah yes. That's an entirely different matter. It's okay for the current crop of scum bags to send the armies over which they have authority to a war -- a war which was initiated by them at a time of their choosing -- without adequate armor, equipment, or training for the horrendous task of policing the aftermath of their smart bomb destruction. But it is an entirely different matter to respond to the veterans' needs upon the occasion of their returning home with physical and emotional disabilities. The economically inconvenient fact that the government (the elite) has a contractural obligation to the veterans to provide veteran benefits for those who have served their "country" seems lately to have fallen through the cracks.

A case in point is the very recent, unfortunate incident of a U.S. Marine returning from the Iraqi Occupation and subsequently kidnapping and killing a stranger, a 19-year-old female. "Police said she was killed at the hands of a man who went on a multistate crime spree", "a preacher's son who was discharged last year after four years as a Marine [and] arrested last month... on a cocaine possession charge." Reportedly, he was also "involved in an armed robbery at a convenience store." "'Something happened to my son,' the suspect's mother" said, "saying he had trouble adjusting to civilian life after serving in Iraq. 'Some of the things that he endured I may never know. But it changed who he is and for that I'm sorry.'" [3]

In another unrelated incident, one veteran of the first Persian Gulf War ended up suing the Army after it ordered him to report of duty 13 years after being honorably discharged from active duty and eight years after he left the reserves. I.e. ask what you can do for your country's elite again and again!

The lesson to be learned here is that the current administration in the United States -- and indeed most all administrations in every country in the world throughout history -- have treated their war veterans as just so much cannon fodder. Once the veterans have shot their wad, so to speak, then they are discarded without fanfare -- either that or called up for another shot at the brass ring. Despite the Chicken Hawks' claims of honoring their returning veterans, the reality is that wounded soldiers -- both those with physical and/or psychological injuries -- are send to high profile, public relations oriented institutions like Walter Reed Hospital, and then thereafter sent home to depend upon the closest Veteran's Administration (VA) hospital or clinic for subsequent care. The VA, of course, is facing as a system a continual decrease in the availability of veterans benefits, and in many cases involves closing hospitals even during a time of war when the needs are increasing.

Furthermore, VA hospitals in general place a much higher priority on following procedural rules -- i.e. the military mindset of following the book to the letter -- than in actually helping their patients: i.e., the veterans with military disabilities and those with health problems arising from other causes. While the latter may not have incurred their problems while in the military, they are nevertheless entitled to effective medical treatment by virtue of the contractural obligation they entered into with their government as an inducement for them to join the military in the first place.

Much of the staff of VA hospitals are competant and concerned people. They are making a valiant effort in a largely untenable situation. Furthermore, they tend to be very good at dealing with health problems which do not require immediate aid, i.e., those problems which lend themselves nicely to following a horribly long set of procedures in order to activate the VA staffs to actually do something for the veterans. Preventive care, for example, is much more in the VA venue than addressing acute emergencies.

For example, a routine colonoscopy or hernia repair -- where surgeries can be scheduled well in advance (so as not to interfere with golf days, vacations, and so forth) are some of the things the VA hospitals are really quite adequate in performing -- adequate at least in terms of any effectively socialized medicine standards. But when serious pain is involved -- physicaly and/or psychological -- or urgent treatment is essential in order to prevent irreparable damage to a veteran's body and mind, then there's a real problem. Blind adherence to procedural rules suddenly becomes a serious hinderance to providing effective health care.

Blinding pain is of course often only in the eyes of the beholder, the one experiencing the mind-bending juggernaut. From the typical military viewpoint, it's procedurally just a matter of sucking it up and proving that one's a man (even when they're a woman). The almost universal rule is that those who complain are to be treated as if they are hypocondriacs. This condition on the part of the staff to routinely assume this of their patients can be thought of as hypohypercondriacs.

[A distinguishing characteristics of VA and private care emergency treatment rooms is that while the VA is blindly obedient to procedures and suffers from rampant hypohypercondriac conditions, private hospital emergency rooms tend to suffer from hypomoniacal conditions, i.e. the fear of not getting paid for proferred medical services. For example, the routine at emergency rooms in private hospitals is for the patient to see, in order: 1) someone to briefly review your complaint and to check your insurance, 2) someone in the emergency room itself to verify your ability to pay, 3) someone to obtain signed waivers on all the ways the hospital can screw up (something which could cost them money), 4) someone to ensure that the first three individuals have done their job, 5) someone to see if you're still alive after the foregoing ordeal, and finally... 6) the doctor... or nurse practitioner... or just whoever is available. The only exception to this drill occurs in the case where the patient is bleeding profusely when they arrive at the emergency room and thus threatens to bleed all over the recently installed and very expensive carpet and/or room decor. These patients get to skip step one.]

The end result is that many veterans -- who asked what they could do for their country (i.e., for the powerful and wealthy Chicken Hawks) -- have found that asking what their country can do for them is often an exercise in futility. Many in fact have been forced to resort to their own finances in order to obtain effective medical treatment. Of course, such choices are only for those who can afford it. Those without such means are often forced to suffer irreparable damage from pain relief medications and extension of the time of the disabling condition while waiting patiently for their case to meet all of the arcane procedural requirements and the eventual marginally adequate treatment.

It's really quite a pathetic answer to those who have honorably served their country.

There is, however, the possibility of a silver lining in all of this. It is this: For the elite and powerful who are currently enjoying the fruits and sacrificial efforts of their military veterans, these members of the ruling class might want to consider that these people who they are willing to discard as so much unwanted trash... have been very well trained in a multitude of ways of killing people. They have become very good at shock and awe. The kinds of talents which might shock the elite and cause them to say, "Ahhhh..."

(6/20/05) As Anthony J. Principi, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has said [4]:

"History is littered with governments destabilized by masses of veterans who believe that they had been taken for fools by a society that grew rich and fat at the expense of their hardship and suffering."

Just a thought for the elite to while away their hours at their exclusive polo matches. Sort of gives a whole new meaning to the ideas of anarchy and revolution, doesn't it? <Cheshire Cat grin>

BTW, this was written by a veteran who has personally experienced much of the above. So there!

References:

_______________________

[1] http://www.bartleby.com/66/31/32431.html

[2] http://www.alternet.org/story/14070

[3] http://www.netscape.cnn.com/news/story (22 January 2005)

[4] "Home From the War: the 200-Year Struggle of Returning Soldiers for Their Rights," The Washington Spectator, April 1, 2005. [April Fool's Day, no less!]

 

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