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Haralson County
Historical Society
MEDIA RELEASE
Karen Higgins, President
PO Box 585 - Buchanan, GA 30113
Telephone: 770-646-3369
Fax: 770-646-1103
Web site: http://hchistory.com


For immediate release - 10 November 2006
Contact: Ron Feigenblatt, 770-646-3369
A copy of this release is online at:
http://hchistory.com/PR/20061110

Haralson County remembers its fallen on Veterans Day


Unlike typical Historical Society press releases, this one hazards to venture beyond the statement of bland pedestrian fact to offer a personal view of history, politics and their human meaning. It is not the official position of the Society, but only the sentiments of Ron Feigenblatt, Publicity Chair of the Society, who feels these extraordinary times call for all of us to examine assumptions lest we take false steps that imperil the future well-being of all.

During the past year, the Haralson County Historical Society has sponsored events honoring the service and sacrifices of its people in the prosecution of war. All human enterprises are liable to folly and evil. If war was exceptional in this regard, it would be unique, rather than the usual old friend and enemy of humanity it remains.

War involves the mobilization of masses of people who surrender their will and suspend their judgment for the sake of acting in unison, that they might prevail against a similar aggregation of human effort - or at least a perception of such. War is particularly alien to communities which otherwise treasure the exercise of freedom and judgment on an individual and voluntary basis - or at least say they do.

For long centuries in Western history, war was fought by small numbers of highly skilled professionals financed by a crown, and generally on a small and local scale - the Crusades being something of an anomaly. With the advent of firearms, fighting war became sufficiently "dumbed down" that the average man might usefully participate as a soldier. This was morally and psychologically reinforced by the modern emergence of popular sovereignty.

The great breakpoint was the mass conscriptions of Napoleon, who told his enslaved troops that since it was now their country, it was now their responsibility to fight wars in its behalf. The political advantages of this arrangement sooner or later led all developed nations to follow suit. The United States started drafting soldiers during its Civil War, shortly after the Confederacy did likewise. At first, it was violently opposed with rioting. Conscription persisted for over a century - even expanding to include peacetime - until the unpopular war in Southeast Asia or "Indochina" a third century ago led to its demise in this country.

Earlier this year, some friends and helpers of the Historical Society bade it to see what light the modern miracle of the Internet might shed on the 1968 death of an 18-year-old soldier in Vietnam, raised in Haralson County. It was simple to discover documentation on the premature demise of Lance Corporal Mark James, USMC. The results of this investigation form an online exhibit at http://hchistory.com/archives/MJ/.

Paper documents and two Compact Discs ("CDs") bearing video and slide shows providing additional material will be entered as a single document into the Special Collection of the Buchanan-Haralson Public Library pertaining to local history. Mark James was one of at least four Haralson men to die in Vietnam, and one of very many more to die in all the wars we can remember.

When contacted about James, Marine battalion volunteer archivist Ray Felle wrote:

If I understand you correctly, we are working for a common goal- the preservation of history of a war that almost tore this nation apart.
Subsequent communications with Felle, a field medic during the battle which took the life of Mark James, revealed that the experience of the war often proved extremely alienating to many of its participants, and that they struggled or even avoided expressing to family the memories which they shared with their brothers-in-arms.

The "Vietnam War," as it was first dubbed, was not the first US conflict that elicited criticism or even opposition at home. New England leaders pondered seceding from the United States during the War of 1812. The Whigs took great exception to the Mexican War. Anti-imperialists like Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie made their moral outage at the Spanish-American war obvious.

But Vietnam was a watershed with lasting consequences. Psychologically, it was "the first war America lost" - even if American land or domestic civilian life was never at risk. As mentioned, it ended the military draft - if not the machinery of dragooning soldiers. It also led to the lowering of the voting age to 18 - "Old enough to die; old enough to vote" was the rallying cry of this movement. Finally, it motivated the Congress to pass the War Powers Act, which aimed at curbing the power of the "Imperial Presidency." But the impact of these latter two results have proved minimal. Young adults continue to vote in notoriously few numbers and Congress has proven obsequious in surrendering to the President the war-making powers it has, even long after the active threat of Soviet ICBMs "only minutes away" has abated.

The Vietnam Era remains an active memory. Recently, the leader of a large veteran's association which opposed the war during its active prosecution ran for President and earned nearly half the national vote. Moreover, the culture in which it is tolerable to criticize an ongoing war has proved durable, even in the face of innumerable recent efforts to gut the Bill of Rights in the name of an effectively permanent "emergency": The political party led by the man, who as a potential presidential candidate broke the deafening silence on the current military conflict in Iraq, has just won control of both houses of Congress. That man was not dragged off to jail as was Eugene Debs was for the latter's criticism of World War I - albeit the persecution of many lesser persons by the national government proceeds shamefully.

These days, the United States has temporary normal trade relations with Vietnam, something which might be made permanent during the next week. The mercurial character of international relations is a caution to those who would take part in war, however worthy the cause for which blood is shed. Orwell's 1984 makes this point in an extreme way, among other virtues.

The American defeat in Vietnam elicited Chinese alarm that the Soviet threat of "Social Imperialism" would no longer be checked by the United States. Within a very few years of US withdrawal from Indochina, China traded actual fire with Soviet client Vietnam, and actively supported anti-Soviet factions in African civil wars. At that time, neither the Chinese economy nor military could thwart Soviet power, but its open opposition undermined anti-Western sentiments among Free World leftists, and helped conclude the Cold War in the manner obtained. In the early 1980's, the US President called China a "quasi-ally." Those who predicted US withdrawal from Indochina would lead to a Communist bloodbath were vindicated by the ghoulish deeds of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge. But ironically, Soviet client Vietnam would fight Cambodia - and so China, our new quasi-ally, would back the bloody Khmer Rouge - just as the US backed bloody Stalinist Russia during the Second World War.

In light of the manifest expedience which so often guides international relations, one should be on guard when highly moralistic language is used by political leaders seeking to justify war - whether one is a potential soldier or just a voter. Before his belated demonization in recent years, Saddam Hussein was a partner of the United States and a recipient of its largesse during his war with Iran - in the form of truck sales, satellite intelligence and half a billion dollars in agricultural credits. Surely his mass elimination of Iraqi Communists led to his favorable US consideration.

Most people are surprised by how few people wars kill - perhaps only 1% in recent centuries. (More people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic than in all World War I.) But in that it kills many young adults and does massive property damage in a punctuated manner, war has much greater economic impact than a mere body-count would reveal. And of course, there are extreme variations from the mean 1% life loss. Perhaps a third of all German-speakers perished in the Reformation wars. And during World War II one in five Poles perished - a proportional loss equivalent to 60 million Americans today. America and the other English-seeded colonial nations are basically unique among the developed nations in how their people and lands have escaped the scourge of modern warfare. They should be grateful, not smug, and not imagine they remain immune forever unless the popularity of war can be checked.

It is natural to honor the generosity of those who sacrifice so much to spare others - even people they will never meet - injustice, physical injury and premature death. That is why we honor soldiers, especially those losing their lives, who battle in just wars using sensible means. But we should never forget that our notion of justice is informed by our limited knowledge of history and our limited understanding of the possibilities of human life and its motivations - and that other people can labor under different sincere apprehensions. Finally, we should never allow militarists and cynics to use, post-facto, the loss of military or other life, no matter how great, to justify, much less sanctify, any foolish or even malevolent decisions which resulted in such grief. To do so is to dishonor those who at least thought they were working - and dying - for justice in the world.

Ron Feigenblatt



END OF RELEASE
(typo corrected 19 November 2006)