publisher's note
September 2, 2004


Sticker shock
by Bruce Rodgers

When the Republican Convention started looming on the horizon, when it appeared that God was not going to strike “W” dead for sending young men to that “meat grinder” (using a Lee Judge image from one of his recent Star cartoons) in Iraq, I decided it was time to put on my “Veteran for Kerry” bumper sticker on the back of my truck.

I had been hesitating, not wanting to peel off my “Dean” bumper sticker. Howard is still my man, if for no other reason that he went farther than Kerry in condemning Bush’s war in Iraq. But neither, at this point, has the guts to take a firm stand against it. Only that sad egoist Ralph Nader and weird Dennis Kucinich are point blank in saying we need to get out of Iraq. But neither is electable as president, in large part because the corporate press refuses to report on their positions in a serious way and belittles their efforts to educate citizens to view issues beyond soundbites.

So that leaves Kerry, a fellow vet, a status that goes a long way in leveling the playing field between us despite the fact he was an officer, me a draftee, him blue-blood, me more blue-collar, him rich, me decidedly middle class, him tall with a rich wife, me short with a working class ex-wife...I could go on, but I think you get my drift. In America, we elect presidents (with the exception of Harry Truman) who are not like the vast majority of us; we just keep electing them hoping they will become like us.

But the sticker went on because he is a vet, a combat vet, a guy who could have skipped out using his family’s influence and money but didn’t. The sticker went on because I was tired of hearing the lies from those Swift Boat vets, tired of the Bush tactics of smear and tired of the corporate media beating this so-called news item to death, refusing to let it go BECAUSE THE FACTS BACK UP KERRY!

It’s taken the corporate media awhile, but they’re finally beginning to get it. The Swift Boat lies, the questions about Kerry’s medals and his motives in taking an anti-war stand really don’t have anything to do about what he did or did not do during combat. It’s because he took at public stand against the war and became a leader against a war he fought in. And he told the truth about government lies and the pain and horror of that war.

Some vets can’t get it. They can’t admit that the Vietnam War was a waste...of lives and money. And the complaints usually come from those vets who never fought in Vietnam. The vast majority of veterans who went to Vietnam did not fight in combat. The ones that did fight don’t talk about it much. And many of them could give two shits about politics.

I was in from 1971 to 1973. Drafted after not going back to college. I didn’t go to Vietnam. I pushed a pencil stateside and ran early punch-card computer, sort of a war games clerk. But my company was filled with guys who had spent time in Vietnam. Most had joined the Army because they believed their government, they believed it was a war for freedom. But they ended up in my data processing company because they had re-upped for another four or five or six years in the military to get out of Vietnam or to change their military job ranking so they wouldn’t get shot at or killed as the war wound down. It was to “save your ass.” I heard the story over and over.

Some had heavy-duty monkeys on their back. Heroin was cheap in Vietnam. In Fort Hood, Texas, the jones was intense. Some shot up between their toes and ankles to cover tracks, many stole from other GIs or the Army to maintain the habit. A lot of them were country boys, just like the guys going to Iraq. They didn’t care about politics, they just knew the government was bullshit. Talk centered on your “ETS” (or end-this-shit) date — how long before you left active duty.

Kerry didn’t dishonor his fellow soldiers by speaking out against the Vietnam War. Our military was dishonored by the politicians who ran the government and lied about the war. That’s usually the way it is, in any country. Kerry is proud of his service to his country, as are the vast majority of veterans, including me.

The great paradox is that American military men and women will sacrifice their lives for the great ideal of democracy and freedom though they, themselves, are in an institution lacking much of the freedom they fight for. The sad and painful truth is that within such willingness to give the ultimate sacrifice lies the hypocrisy of those in civilian command who are unwilling themselves to sacrifice in the same way for their country.

Buried in the back pages of the Star are the lists of dead coming out of Iraq. Read the ages of those young men and women...19, 20, 23 — most under 30 — the future of this country wasted on Bush Jr.’s want to one-up his dad, Cheney’s lust for corporate dominance of world affairs and a host of pointy head neo-conservatives playing out their theories of American manifest destiny as the bodies pile up.

So to those vets proud of their Electra Glides, touring to the lake with the Mrs., or pointing their Ford F150s down I-70 at 85, convinced it’s a righteous demonstration of American might, I don’t mind if you check me out.

And if you don’t like my Veteran for Kerry bumper sticker, tough shit. And if you give me some knee-jerk rationale about Bush being a great leader, I’ll bitch-slap you silly.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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