During the summer of 2018 my family and I were passing through Oklahoma. We were going home to central Texas from a family camp where my wife had been both a camper and counselor growing up. It was a great week.
Instead of driving through McDonald’s, we decided to get a real meal from a sit-down restaurant. Not only did the town of McAlister have a Chili’s, but we also had a coupon for free queso, so I was sold!
The waitress was sweet from the beginning and melted at the sight of our three beautiful kids. My Son was still a baby and was near peak cuteness. Towards the end of the meal, it came out that I was a Navy Vet, Submarines, Ohio-class. She perked up and said, "My Son was on one of those!"
"Oh, cool." I exclaimed. "What’s his rate – or is he an officer?"
"No, he was special forces."
"So an SSGN, I’ll guess the Michigan?"
"That was it."
SSGNs are the ones that carry boatloads (pun intended) of Tomahawk missiles and are also capable of launching special forces while still submerged.
She then went through his story about how he later volunteered to go to Afghanistan. Up to this point both her demeanor and the language used seemed to suggest that he was still serving. But then I unintentionally flushed it out.
"He was killed in 2011 in Afghanistan." She said calmly.
What do you say except, "I’m so sorry to hear that…"
We both handled it well, no one cried, and I tipped very well. Then as I was buckling my baby son into his car seat, checking the straps tight and chest-clip properly placed, I started getting angry thinking about the corrupt warmongers in DC that got the waitress’s son killed.
When he died, the obviously failed war was already more than a decade old. After ten years of war, Ron Paul predicted that if we didn’t withdraw, the war would last another ten years. It turns out he was exactly right (again) and if they had listened to Paul, her son would still be alive. But that didn’t happen. The US war machine would continue pumping hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives into Afghanistan in order to ultimately replace the Taliban with the Taliban. And they intentionally and knowingly lied to us time and again. In a healthy democracy, the report of those lies would have been the top news for years. Nationally televised hearings, shameful resignations, and even prison sentences would have been dished out. None of that happened, and to the immense frustration of the small antiwar, anti-corruption crowd, no one even seemed to care.
Like clockwork, the war lobby is once again spouting insane claims that Al-Qaeda and ISIS is going to rise up and attack America if we don’t drop more bombs. These think-tank "experts" are often funded directly from weapons manufacturers and foreign governments like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Israel. They don’t even hide it, it’s publicly reported! They spend tens of millions of dollars a year funding "experts" to get on CNN, ABC, FOX, and NBC to tell you that endless war is necessary to keep you safe. It’s all so obviously corrupt, dumb, and unnecessary.
It seems many Americans are moved – rightly, of course – on Memorial Day. It’s fine to get emotionally charged thinking about all the brave men and women who gave their lives in service to our country over the years. Here’s the thing though, our emotion on Memorial Day these past years should be righteous anger.
I want to be clear: we should absolutely honor the waitress’s son. He was surely heroic and honorable. But we should be equally clear: he did not give his life for our freedom. His death had absolutely zero effect on protecting our liberty or way of life. This wasn’t his fault, but rather the fault of politicians who kept prolonging the war which sent him there in the first place. The truth is important. Denying this will get more waitresses’ sons killed.
As I finished buckling my son up, I told him in my head, "If anyone ever tries to kill you, I’d kill them."
So on the way home, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those Taliban fighters used to be normal men who simply wanted to be left alone. How many of them had families killed directly or indirectly by the war? Maybe killed by the disastrous drone war program? I couldn’t imagine fighting in a war like that. During my service, I was (relatively) safely tucked away in a submerged metal tube sleeping between intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles, but I can at least attempt to have some basic human compassion and understanding for men put into that situation. If a foreign government drone bombed my family, I could at least understand the desire to join the opposition.
When the U.S. Afghan War was reaching its 18th year back in 2018, imagine trying to explain to a 15-year-old Pashtun-speaking shepherd boy in the middle of Afghanistan why the US had to bomb his country for an attack carried out by a bunch of rich, well-educated Arabs on the other side of the world 3 years before he was born. Imagine trying to explain that. It is "for both of our freedoms?" Should he seriously be expected to buy that? He might rightly point out: my family doesn’t like them, but the Taliban never even attacked America.
The US empire is more than $30 trillion dollars in debt. Our central bank is printing unfathomable amounts of money. Instead of curbing spending, congress is continually expanding spending and expanding its power. The corruption is more obvious, and the propaganda is more brazen than ever before. Sanity is called extremism and suggesting peace is called treason. But I guess Truth is treason in an empire of lies.
And that empire is in decline.
We all love Memorial Day, but no one loves Memorial Day more than weapons manufacturers and foreign governments. It’s time to take it back. We should absolutely honor those who have fallen in battle, but we need to be honest. We need to cognitively stop conflating support for the troops with support for the wars. Opposing the wars is supporting the troops. The message should be simple: stop abusing our courageous young men and women! Stop risking their lives for causes that actually make us less safe by creating a smoldering hatred towards the US in nations on the other side of the world because of our politicians’ and generals’ blatant and delusional sense of exceptionalism and superiority.
If we want to honor the waitress’s son, end the wars, withdraw the troops, end the unlimited foreign aid which is currently flirting with cataclysmic nuclear world war, slash the infinitely growing budget which never benefits the troops, but rather the crony military contractors and foreign governments. Stop the US backed coups of democratically elected governments. Stop arming terrorists because they’ll promise to fight governments the empire doesn’t like. Abolish the Patriot Act. Stop spying on our own citizens. Free our markets, because where goods cross borders armies do not. Defend the National Guard, preventing DC from stealing them from home and sending them overseas. And of course: bring our troops home.
Freedom works! We should try out more freedom again and maybe, just maybe, we can right this ship before it sinks.
Jonathan Grotefendt was a 1st Class Petty Officer, Nuclear-Trained Electrician’s Mate on the USS Nevada, an Ohio-Class Submarine. After his 6 years in the Navy, he moved his family to Central Texas where they built a house and homeschool their 4 beautiful children.