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The War Comes Home 

Inside Track

Published December 1, 2004 at 5:00 p.m.

The email went out Tuesday morning from the State of Vermont's Office of Veteran Affairs: "Lance Corporal Jeffrey Holmes, a Vermonter killed in Iraq on Thanksgiving Day, will be interred at the Vermont Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Friday, December 3rd, at 12 noon. There will be a memorial service on Friday at 10 a.m. at the Greater Hartford United Church of Christ on Maple Street in White River Junction. The service is open to the public."

Unfortunately, but inevitably, announcements like this one are becoming more common as hundreds and hundreds of Vermont citizen soldiers are being called up and sent to war by the president of the United States.

Soon, about a thousand Vermonters, folks with jobs and families and lives in our small communities, will be in a war zone where more than 1000 American soldiers have already been killed and many thousands more wounded.

We all know that a great many Vermonters do not support Mr. Bush's War in Iraq. They consider it illegal, immoral and much like the Vietnam War of 40 years ago, based on a president's deliberate deception of the American public.

Sorry, folks. The sad truth is, the lessons of Vietnam have not been learned. No way. No how.

U.S. Army Major H.R. McMaster's 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, has obviously not been on our president's reading list, assuming he even has one.

McMaster, a West Pointer, revealed a president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who refused to accept reality while the "five silent men" of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ignored their years of military training to please a powerful politician.

George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson were from different political parties, but have a lot more in common than you might think. Besides coming from Texas, both presidents hate to hear bad news.

McMaster told PBS' "Frontline" back in 1999 that President Johnson "so feared dissent that he excluded everyone but his most trusted advisors from discussions on Vietnam when the situation there demanded full examination and debate. LBJ so feared a debate over Vietnam that he often refused to discuss the subject within his own circle. On one occasion he threatened to feign illness and leave town for his Texas ranch if his advisors pressed him further to confront the issue."

Who in present-day America does that remind you of, pray tell?

How about we amend the Constitution right now and stop electing presidents of either party who own ranches in Texas?

Both presidents have acted like trigger-happy, John Wayne-style Hollywood cowboys. But everyone knows that Hollywood cowboys aren't real. John Wayne, after all, fought World War II on film, not in the service.

There is, however, some good news this week. Finally, there are signs that many Vermonters are not going to keep sitting on their hands and merely hope and pray the War in Iraq goes away.

Frankly, it's been alarming to witness the disintegration of the American peace movement since the Iraq invasion was launched in March 20, 2003.

Leading Democratic White House hopefuls like John Kerry and John Edwards voted in favor of Bush's war resolution. How could they possibly criticize?

And Kerry, the Vietnam veteran, demonstrated that even he had failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam.

Miraculously, you'll recall, it was our former governor Howard Dean who filled the antiwar vacuum. After careful consideration over several days, Dean came out against Bush's Iraq War resolution the week after it flew through Congress in October 2002. The national media spotlight suddenly turned his way, and Ho-Ho had a coast-to-coast antiwar audience. And the antiwar audience had a voice.

We'll leave for another day the question of whether Howard Dean's antiwar position was one of convenience or conviction.

But once Ho-Ho was crushed in the 2004 primaries, starting in Iowa last January, Sen. John Kerry became the antiwar voice by default. Unfortunately, his was not a very clear, credible or loud one.

As the casualties and bloodshed increased in Iraq this year, with beheadings and deadly roadside bombs, the sound of silence in America's streets was deafening. It was as if the peace movement had all its bets on Kerry, regardless of his shortcomings.

That may explain the pervasive sense of depression that fell over blue states and blue hearts when the election results came in. However, Kerry's electoral defeat may have been just what the antiwar movement needed. No one can depend on Kerry fixing things anymore. The hour of individual responsibility has arrived.

And the first sign of it came Monday afternoon outside the Statehouse in Montpeculiar. Around 1:30 in the afternoon, about 50 folks arrived in front of the Golden Dome, mostly in ones and twos, and formed an impromptu circle. They came from all over, from Corinth and Calais, Stowe and Bristol, Burlington and Lyndonville. Young, old and in between. Two women had sons in the Vermont Guard. One young man, a brother.

One Vermont soldier son is already getting shot at in Iraq. The other two are shipping out with the Vermont Guard.

The everyday-looking people went around the circle and quietly introduced themselves. Strangers told complete strangers their deepest feelings. It was quite moving.

One spoke of what the 18-month separation will do by "tearing so many Vermont families apart."

Another expressed his utter outrage at "the obscenity of people on all sides dying."

"This isn't about defending our country," he said.

Heads nodded in agreement.

Another woman quietly pointed out that the invasion of Iraq "has done nothing but help Osama bin Laden recruit terrorists."

You remember Osama? The guy behind 9/11? The guy our president promised to track down and kill? The guy who's still making videos while quickly becoming a hero to half the world, thanks to Mr. Bush?

No question, Kerry's defeat coupled with the massive call-up of Vermont citizen soldiers this month has finally lit the Green Mountain antiwar fuse. There's no longer any escaping the Big Picture. More Green Mountain Purple Hearts and more funerals "with full military honors" lie ahead. We better face up to it.

On Monday, the two military moms made it clear that their soldier sons support their speaking out against the war. It's still a free country.

"Not all moms and dads feel the way we do," Nancy Brown of Montpelier pointed out respectfully. "But we're here to tell you we believe the war is illegal and unjust and we want our soldiers to come home."

"I think," said Momma Brown, "that asking that they be safe and alive is the best support you can give them."

She's got a point, eh?

By the way, it always amazed me during the Vietnam War that the call to "End the War in Vietnam, Bring the Troops Home," was treated by "patriotic," pro-war Americans as anti-soldier.

Easy for someone 8000 miles from the kill zone to say, eh?

Joe Gainza of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-affiliated outfit, turned Monday's spotlight in the direction of our newly reelected Republican governor.

Mr. Gainza said he had been unsuccessful this month in scheduling a face-to-face meeting with Gov. Jim Douglas. He and the moms want the guv to tell Presi-dent Bush "to cancel the deployment of the Vermont National Guard to Iraq and to recall those already part of the occupation."

After all, the Vermont Guard is the "National" Guard, not the "International" Guard, they noted. Those troops are needed to protect Vermont should disaster strike -- and disaster always does.

Gainza said they'd like to tell Gov. Douglas, "We support you if you come out against this war. If you tell the president we want our kids home, we'll support you on this."

Gainza said he was not aware of Gov. Douglas' position on the war.

OK, so maybe he's not a regular "Inside Track" reader. If he were, he'd know that, from day one, Jim Douglas has echoed every deceptive, dishonest syllable that's spilled from the mouths of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, national Security Advisor -- now soon-to-be Secretary of State -- Condoleezza Rice, Vice-President Dick Cheney and President Bush himself.

Vermont's Gentleman Jim bought into imaginary WMDs and Saddam Hussein's alleged links to 9/11 early on, as if they were commandments to be followed. Now Jim goes to a lot of funerals.

So, does Vermont's governor still support the war?

"At this point it really doesn't matter how we got there or what we think about the War in Iraq," Douglas told Seven Days this week. "The fact is that we are committed to it. It's important now that we finish the job and get our troops home as quickly as we can."

Finish the job?

Just what is the job? Killing another 100,000 Iraqis in order to liberate them?

Killing thousands more of our own soldiers who are playing the role of a foreign army of occupation, just like all of history's armies of occupation before them?

What the hell is the job?

Please, if you know, write in.

Right now there's a movement underway to craft a joint legislative resolution "urging" the governor to ask President Bush to cease activating Vermont National Guard soldiers for Iraq. It's an issue of federal-state relations, and it's come up before.

Back in 1986, President Ronald Reagan called up National Guard units to serve in Honduras. It was an attempt to intimidate the Sandinista government of neighboring Nicaragua. The Sandinistas had overthrown a corrupt, U.S.-backed dictator, so naturally they were on Reagan's enemies list.

Gov. Rudy Perpich of Minnesota refused to send his state's National Guard soldiers. At the time the federalizing of guard units required "the consent" of the governor of the state.

Congress reponded by quickly passing the Montgomery Amend-ment. It provides that a governor "cannot withhold consent with regard to active duty outside the United States because of any objection to the location, purpose, type or schedule of such duty."

Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin went to Washington to testify against it. She stood up for states' rights.

The states of Minnesota and Iowa challenged the Montgomery language in federal court. Attorney generals from four other states filed briefs supporting them. Vermont Attorney General Jeff Amestoy was among them.

The courts, however, ruled against them and supported the Montgomery resolution.

Vermont's current governor is quite familiar with the case.

"When National Guard troops are called to service by the president of the United States," said Gov. Douglas this week, "they are federalized and under his control as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. It's been litigated. It's quite clear that governors have no discretion in terms of the response."

However, there is no amendment or law that prevents governors from speaking up.

P.S. As for the antiwar folks getting a meeting with the governor, nothing has been scheduled as yet. Press Secretary Jason Gibbs informed Seven Days, "Contrary to popular belief, holding a press conference and calling on the Governor to do something that they know he cannot do does not expedite the scheduling process."

Irish Eyes -- Some are smiling even more lately, did you know?

That's because the War in Iraq has meant booming business for Shannon Airport. Shannon's been the refueling stop for soldiers en route to the war zone. As of October 31, 130,000 U.S. troops have landed in County Clare this year for a pitstop and a little shopping. The Iraq War has so far brought $20 million of unexpected revenue to Shannon. Guinness sales are up, too.

Holy Germs! -- Vermont's Roman Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell got a little national press over the weekend for his edict halting the liturgical practices of drinking consecrated wine from the chalice and shaking hands during the "Kiss of Peace." The Bingo Bishop did it, he said, because of the shortage of flu vaccine.

Hey, the Big Bish follows the news, eh?

And, once again, Vermont is leading the nation. According to The New York Times, our beloved Bishop Angell is the only bishop in the country to take such extraordinary precautions.

Hey, we were first on same-sex marriage rights, too.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, researchers have found that just being in church can be harmful to your health. Air quality inside the Catholic basilica in Masstrich was tested and found to have fine-particulate pollution readings 20 times higher than European guidelines.

The burning of candles and incense, they concluded, increas-ed the risk of lung cancer. Devout worshippers who spend more time praying have a higher risk.

Avoiding church apparently has its benefits, eh?

Media Notes -- News from Ch. 5 is that reporter Lauren Cook leaves next week for the Midwest. She'll be the new weekend anchor at WTVO, the ABC affiliate in Rockford, Illinois. Ms. Cook has been on our local airwaves for two years. It's not hard to imagine her having her own show one day.

Ms. Cook, a Michigan native, also has one of the cutest bios posted on the WPTZ website. It begins: "Ever since she was a little girl, News Channel 5's Lauren Cook wanted to be a journalist. It was a dream that would take her a long way -- from the plains of Indiana to the mountains of the Champlain Valley."

And now to the cornfields of Illinois. Good luck, Lauren. Chicago's only 90 miles down the pike.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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