General Colin Powell (1937-2021)

octogenarian with multiple myeloma

Colin PowellThe first substantial story about the death of Colin Powell that I saw appeared in Common Dreams. “Colin Powell, Who Helped George W. Bush Lie Nation Into Iraq War, Dead at 84.”

Further: “It’s crucial to remember just how important Colin Powell was to selling the Iraq War, and how deliberately he used his public credibility to boost the lies that pushed us into the war. That is his biggest legacy.”

Certainly, as someone who was vigorously active in opposing the Iraq war for months before it began in 2003, I recognize the outsized role his United Nations presentation played in “legitimizing” the 2003 invasion. They never did find those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was supposed to have had.

Still, I’m uncomfortable defining most people over their biggest mistake. It is especially so when Powell acknowledged and regretted the speech repeatedly, calling it the biggest blunder in his career.

From Daily Kos: “Born in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican parents, Powell was a retired four-star general who served in multiple administrations. He was an icon of the Republican Party, serving as the youngest and first Black national security adviser under former President Ronald Reagan and first Black national security adviser and as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.”

“In 2008, during then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential run, Powell stood up to decry those who falsely called Obama a Muslim in order to discredit him… In his later years and during former President Donald Trump’s presidency, Powell began to move away from the party he had affiliated himself with for so long.”

Vaccine disinformation

It is true that Powell died of complications from COVID-19, though he was fully vaccinated. But it’s also accurate that the octogenarian was being treated for multiple myeloma, cancer that forms in certain white blood cells.

So when John Roberts, Fox News‘ co-anchor of “America Reports,” tweeted news of Powell’s death to promote vaccine disinformation, he was rightly blasted.

“According to… Roberts, Secretary Powell’s [breakthrough] death ‘raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term,’ which is both manipulative and false, given the facts surrounding his health – namely that he was 84 and battling cancer that impacts the body’s ability to fight infections… Roughly 7,100 such deaths have been reported in the US, with 85% occurring in patients 65 and older.

“Vaccine disinformation is ‘a big reason behind low inoculation rates,’ the L.A. Times recently reported… Fox News aired claims that undermine COVID-19 vaccines on 99% of days in the last six months, according to research by progressive media watchdog group Media Matters for America. Only two days from April through September didn’t feature the sowing of doubt about the safe and effective shots.”

Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans

861 – Surgical Technician

Henry Flipper
Henry Flipper battled prejudice in the military
In the legitimate complaints about veterans coming home and not getting their due, I have come across a particularly ugly reminder from the Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans

“The end of the Civil War marked a new era of racial terror and violence directed at black people in the United States that has not been adequately acknowledged or addressed in this country… The violent response to freedom for former slaves was followed by decades of racial terror lynchings and targeted violence designed to sustain white supremacy and racial hierarchy.”

The more than 40,000 black soldiers who died in the Civil War fought to protect a Union that rejected them in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott ruling of 1857.

“No one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans who had proven their valor and courage as soldiers during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Because of their military service, black veterans were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination. Thousands of black veterans were assaulted, threatened, abused, or lynched following military service…”

The great equalizer?

“Military service sparked dreams of racial equality for generations of African Americans. But most black veterans were not welcomed home and honored for their service. Instead, during the lynching era, many black veterans were targeted for mistreatment, violence, and murder because of their race and status as veterans. Indeed, black veterans risked violence simply by wearing their uniforms on American soil.”

Particularly egregious was the Red Summer of 1919, right after WWI. “In Pittsburgh for example, the Ku Klux Klan made their goal of using violence clear with notices that read: ‘The war is over, negroes. Stay in your place. If you don’t, we’ll put you there.'”

Dear old dad

I’ve written before about my father’s complicated feelings about the military, I suspect due in part to his knowledge of history. In the European theater at the close of World War II, he was “861 – Surgical Technician”

“Performs various duties to assist medical officers in rendering surgical treatment. Prepares operating room and surgical equipment for use; assists operating personnel; administers hypodermic injections as instructed; cleans operating room and sterilizes equipment; assists in transporting patients from wards to operating room; sterilizes linens and instruments; performs duties during operation that cannot be done by operating personnel; gives first aid treatment; instructs others in simple surgical duties. Should be at least a high school graduate.”

This seems to have been applicable to him: How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans, “The sweeping bill promised prosperity to veterans. So why didn’t black Americans benefit?”

Our current sin

We Deport Veterans: “For decades, we’ve deported military veterans—legal residents of the United States—while dangling citizenship before them. Congressional Hispanic Caucus estimates there are about 3,000 instances of veterans being deported to other countries.

“We also know that tens of thousands of immigrants serve in the U.S. military. According to Department of Defense statistics, about 70,000 non-citizen people born outside of the United States were serving in the military between 1999 and 2008.

“According to a 2017 report from the National Immigration Forum, about 40,000 immigrants currently serve in the armed forces and about 5,000 non-citizens enlist each year. Furthermore, as of 2016, about 511,000 veterans were foreign-born. And more than 20 percent of Medal of Honor recipients are immigrants to the United States.

“Those immigrants who can enlist in the U.S. military are often promised fast-tracked access to a green card. In reality, however, most of these vets neither apply for nor attain citizenship. Many of these enlisted immigrants will tell you they were promised citizenship by recruiters or that their paperwork has at least been initiated. Many even believe they attained citizenship simply by enlisting and swearing to defend the United States.

“So why doesn’t the U.S. military ensure that immigrants are presented with accurate facts on the possibility of their path to citizenship? Where’s the support system developed to ensure they complete each step when it’s available to them?”

Thank you for your service?

Dr. Sherman describes ‘thank you for your service’ as a ‘token of gratitude or something that is meant to break the ice, although it often doesn’t accomplish that goal.’

“Thank you for your service,” says golf pro Michael Allen to Major William McGarry, Bioenvironmental Equipment Engineer, 944th Aeromedical Staging Squadron during the last day of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Saturday. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Meredith Mingledorff)

The family was listening, again, to the original cast album for the Broadway sensation Hamilton, when this dialogue from the song Helpless came on:
[ELIZA]
Thank you for all your service
[HAMILTON]
If it takes fighting a war for us to meet, it will have been worth it

And I laughed. The Wife wondered why, and I said that “Thank you for your service” is such a 21st century trope, used there as a deliberate anachronism. And by trope, I mean “a common or overused theme or device.”

This got me to wondering how vets feel about it. In Why Saying “Thank You for Your Service” Offends Some Veterans, James Kelly wrote: “As active-duty USMC, I have to admit that when people thank me for my service, I feel awkward and a little uncomfortable. But why? Where do veterans’ uneasiness come from?

“The first issue is that literally everyone says it. In fact, it is said so much that it has become, to many vets, an empty platitude, something you just say because it is politically correct.

“Some veterans believe that saying ‘thank you for your service’ is almost a way for civilians to massage away some of the guilt at not participating themselves.”

Rich (only name given), suggests “Thank You for Your Service” Can Actually Do More Harm Than Good.

“In her book Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers (2015), Dr. Nancy Sherman discusses this conflicted relationship veterans have with the phrase and the people who casually offer it. As University Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and the Inaugural Distinguished Chair of Ethics at the United States Naval Academy, she is a philosopher who lectures worldwide on moral injury and military ethics.

“Dr. Sherman relates this to a greater problem that she describes as the ‘gaping disconnect between those who wear the uniform and those who don’t.’ She describes thank you for your service as a ‘token of gratitude or something that is meant to break the ice, although it often doesn’t accomplish that goal.’ Instead, it can at times come across as ‘glib,’ or just a ‘one-stop remark [a person] can dispense with’ to avoid any meaningful communication.”

See also Please Don’t Thank Me for My Service.

So what should you do instead?

The first article notes:

“When I asked veterans how civilians should thank them for their service, one answer proved to be the most common: ‘VOTE!’ Volunteer in your community, try and make a difference, and vote for what you believe is right. Honor the actions of veterans by ensuring that your voice is heard at the ballot box. Educate yourself on veterans’ issues. There are a number of fantastic organizations that help veterans with real issues but the most impactful is to use your right to make your voice heard.”

The second:

“If you want to thank a veteran, be considerate, be genuine, and be willing to listen or have a conversation. Dr. Sherman suggests simple alternatives that may actually contribute to repairing the military-civilian gap. If the service member appears to be willing and able to talk with you, you should invite a respectful conversation.

“‘I am grateful for your service. Where were you deployed? What was it like?’

“You might also ask: How is your transition back home so far? What is/was your job in the military? How is your family doing with your service? What do you want to do now that you’re back?”

I must say that I would personally be very uncomfortable with doing this latter thing, for reasons stated in the article. “It’s also true that many [vets] do have physical and emotional scars or moral wounds as a result of their service and are dealing (or not) with lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or helplessness, among others.”

So I’ll probably do what I’ve been doing all along, which is giving the knowing head nod, hoping that’s it’s adequate, at least for the moment.

Charities for Veterans and Military Organizations

“CharityWatch believes it is reasonable for a charity to set aside less than three year’s worth its annual budget for financial stability and possible future needs.”

disabledveteranI was reading this article in CharityWatch, Multiple Names + Exaggerated Programs = Two Related Charities, But Little Help for Vets or Cancer Relief. Ticked me off.

“Help the Vets (HTV) and Breast Cancer Outreach Foundation (BCOF) are two relatively new charities that share the same address and phone number, as well as the same family members in leadership positions, including the president. But of more concern to donors should be another shared trait between HTV and BCOF — the likelihood that most donations will go towards paying for-profit, professional fundraisers rather than for helping veterans or cancer sufferers.”

I found these grades of charities for veterans and military organizations in the Winter 2016/2017 Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report, so they theoretically have changed since then, though unlikely. The entities noted with a ? means that CharityWatch did not have enough information. Perhaps some are less than three years old.

“CharityWatch believes it is reasonable for a charity to set aside less than three year’s worth of its annual budget for financial stability and possible future needs. When a charity’s available assets in reserve exceed three year’s worth of its annual budget, CharityWatch downgrades its final letter grade rating. However, we continue to show what a charity’s efficiency rating was prior to being downgraded for those donors who do not wish to factor a charity’s high assets into their giving decisions.” (Those graded thus have two grades and a dollar sign.)

The listings in italics have a grade of B+ or better and therefore are ranked among the top-rated charities.

AdoptAPlatoon Soldier Support Effort: ?
Air Force Aid Society: A/F $
American Legion National Headquarters: D
American Studies Center: ?
AMVETS National Headquarters: D
AMVETS National Service Foundation: F
Armed Services YMCA of the USA: A
Army Emergency Relief: A+/F $

Blinded Veterans Association: D
Bob Woodruff Family Foundation: A-

Center for American Homeless Veterans: F
Circle of Friends for American Veterans: F
Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes: F

Disabled American Veterans: D
Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust: ?
Disabled Veterans National Foundation: F
Disabled Veterans Services: F

Feed Our Veterans: F
Fisher House Foundation B+
Foundation for American Veterans: F
Freedom Alliance: C-/D $

Gary Sinise Foundation: A
Good Charity: ?
Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind: A

Healing Heroes Network: F
Help Hospitalized Veterans: F
Help Our Wounded: F
Help the Vets: F
Homes for Our Troops: A

Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund: A
Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America: A-

Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation: B-
Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation: F
Mission Continues: A
National Military Family Association: A

National Veterans Foundation: ?
National Veterans Services Fund: F
National Vietnam Veterans Foundation (DISSOLVED): F
Navy SEAL Foundation: A+/C+ $
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society: A

Operation Homefront: A

Paralyzed Veterans of America: F
Paws for Purple Hearts: F

Semper Fi Fund: A+
Soldiers’ Angels: B
Special Operations Warrior Foundation: A/F $

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: B+
TREA Memorial Foundation: ?
Troops Need You: F

United American Patriots: F
United Service Organizations: C
United Spinal Association: C-
United States Armed Forces Association: F
United States Navy Memorial Foundation: D

Veterans Assistance Foundation: C-
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and Foundation: F
Veterans of the Vietnam War & The Veterans Coalition: ?
Veterans Support Organization: F
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund: D
Vietnam Veterans of America: F
VietNow National Headquarters: F

Wounded Warrior Project: C
Wounded Warriors Family Support: A

About a fifth of these received a B+ or better. Over a third received an F.

Veterans Treatment Court

Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment given their past experiences in the Armed Forces.

justice4vetsI’ve complained before about the often empty statement “support our troops,” as though sticking a flag decal was actually doing something. Here’s the story of a guy who did.

“The first Veterans Treatment Court was founded by the Honorable Robert Russell in Buffalo, New York in January 2008, after he noticed an increase in the number of veterans appearing on his Drug Court and Mental Health Court dockets. Judge Russell saw firsthand the transformative power of military camaraderie when veterans on his staff assisted a veteran in one of his treatment courts but also recognized that more could be done to ensure veterans were connected to benefits and treatment earned through military service.”

So what is a Veterans Treatment Court? “The Veterans Treatment Court model requires regular court appearances (a bi-weekly minimum in the early phases of the program), as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions and frequent and random testing for substance use (drug and/or alcohol). Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment given their past experiences in the Armed Forces. However, a few will struggle and it is exactly those veterans who need a Veterans Treatment Court program the most. Without this structure, these veterans will reoffend and remain in the criminal justice system. The Veterans Treatment Court is able to ensure they meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community.”

The concept has gotten some media coverage. I had seen the CBS News story. There are only about 220 Veterans Treatment Courts across the country, with a protocol for setting them up. To participate in VTC Planning Initiative, “each community must identify ten individuals representing the following disciplines to form a Veteran Treatment Court planning team, including Judge, Prosecutor, Defense counsel, Community Treatment provider, Treatment Court Coordinator, Community supervision representative, Law enforcement Evaluator/researcher, Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator, and Mentor coordinator.”

One can find out more about the VTC program here.