Republican Rhetoric: Where Have All the Protesters Gone?


By Bill Britton, Contributing Editor

PERHAPS THE MOST ALARMING STATEMENT AT THE SECOND REPUBLICAN DEBATE was Carly Fiorina’s: “Let’s talk about the future . . . We need the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it [as if we needed reminding].” She said we need 50 Army brigades, 36 Marine battalions, 300 to 350 naval ships, and must “upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad . . .” This would mean an additional 15 Army brigades, 3 Marine battalions, and 30 to 80 ships (there are some 160 to 200 in the reserve fleet). Fiorina neglects the fact that today’s wars are not fought with massed troops and armor but instead are civil wars or insurgencies with unclear battle lines.

Red and white, blue suede shoes, I’m Uncle Sam, how do you do?

Gimme five, I’m still alive, ain’t no luck, I learned to duck.

Check my pulse, it don’t change. Stay seventy-two come shine or rain.

Wave the flag, pop the bag, rock the boat, skin the goat.

Wave that flag, wave it wide and high.

Summertime done, come and gone, my, oh, my.

–Grateful Dead: “U.S. Blues”

Of course the reasoning behind Fiorina’s declaration is obvious: She wants to establish her hawkish credentials to an audience that loves the military but has largely avoided the risk of military service. Today’s military forces, in particular the Marines and Army, resemble ancient Rome’s legions in that the officer corps is drawn from the upper tiers of American society, while the troops are from the lowest. The citizen majority sit at home playing war games on their Xboxes or watching the news media’s obsession with celebrity, shootings, and scandal. Advertisers don’t like the grinding reality of war.

Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong

They’re still there he’s all gone

He had a woman he loved in Saigon

I got a picture of him in her arms now

Down in the shadow of penitentiary

Out by the gas fires of the refinery

I’m ten years burning down the road

Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go

–Bruce Springsteen: “Born In The U.S.A.”

Where would the funding for Fiorina’s expansion come from? Republicans have come to abhor higher taxes, although their idol, Ronald Reagan, was forced to raise a variety of taxes to cover budget shortfalls. And they forget that the national debt tripled during his presidency to almost $3 trillion. Or they could adopt George W. Bush’s strategy of not raising taxes but instead funding Middle East wars by increasing the nation’s debt by almost $6 trillion. Most likely, the burden would fall on a middle class whose real income has stagnated for 30 or more years and whose clueless cheers will drown out the few voices of protest. After all, opposition to American adventurism is now equated with not supporting the troops. How many former Marines like me would be willing to affix a peace sticker next to the Marine Globe and Anchor?

We met as soul mates

On Parris Island

We left as inmates

From an asylum

And we were sharp

As sharp as knives

And we were so gung ho

To lay down our lives . . .

Yes we would all go down together

–Billy Joel: “Goodnight Saigon”

Thinking about war protests, where are the protesters? College campuses were once the incubator of protests. History and humanities departments provided intellectual space for the examination and criticism of the past as it relates to the contemporary world. Those departments have been much reduced and circumscribed by the needs of today’s technocracy. Self-absorption is de rigueur; self-examination is passé. Besides, who has time to protest when it’s hard to keep up with the demands of Twitter and Facebook?

And now, the greatest of protest songs:

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?

Where have all the soldiers gone?

Gone to graveyards, everyone.

Oh, when will they ever learn?

Oh, when will they ever learn?

–Pete Seeger: “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”


Bill Britton is a currently a contract editor for The Johns Hopkins University Press and has worked for other firms on scientific and environmental issues.

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