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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Pondering the truth of 'suckers' and 'losers'

Those of us desperate to end Trump’s sustained assaults on everything good about our country could only be delighted by the exposure of his disparagement of our dead and wounded soldiers. Previous revelations and self-revelations, appalling as they have been, haven’t shaken his base. This one, however, hit the flag-waving cheerleaders for American supremacy where they live — their tribal allegiance. I sent money to VetsVote to help it stoke the shocked and angry reaction.

So much for my partisan response to Trump’s “September surprise.” But my willingness to give even the Donald his due and my penchant for seeking the complex rather than the consumable truth of such matters wouldn’t allow me to rest in complacence. I had to ask myself what I really thought about regarding our dead and wounded troops as “suckers” and “losers.”

Trump’s diction evidenced yet again his insensitivity to the pain of others and his contempt for self-sacrifice — perhaps his most despicable and dangerous traits — whereas I prize compassion and the service of others. But as my own diction in the opening paragraph should have signaled, I want nothing to do with the mindless jingoism that allows our national leaders to use our armed forces to pursue global hegemony, mainly for the benefit of transnational corporate and financial interests.

Concomitantly, I can’t extol those who fight such wars. They wreaked terrible destruction in Vietnam, East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan — everywhere they deploy. Those who, rightly, were offended by Trump’s denigration of John McCain’s suffering and courage in captivity never mentioned what the napalm and phosphorus bombs he dropped on Hanoi did to its residents. The wounds and deaths of those we choose to treat as enemies are beyond the reach of American cognizance much less of American concern.

Trump’s family wealth enabled him to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam war. I don’t fault him. Bill Clinton was a Vietnam-era draft dodger, too. I don’t fault him either. Back then, I would tell my male students, if they asked, to regard no strategy of evasion as shameful. But I had enormous admiration for those who — draft resisters, not draft dodgers — went to jail. Like military service, their choice entailed pain and self-sacrifice. Doubtless, Trump would deem draft resisters as suckers and losers too. Moral courage must be more puzzling to him than physical courage. Resisters had the courage to think for themselves, to follow their conscience, to denounce in a remarkable way their nation’s immorality.

I once heard the Rev. C.T. Vivian, a civil rights leader who died in July, say, “It’s a privilege to die for something when so many are dying for nothing.” Are those who serve in our wars of choice sacrificing for nothing? Have they allowed themselves to be suckered in by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, including Trump? In an important sense, I must answer “yes.” That belief has obligated me to oppose every war that kills and maims them ... but not to regard them with contempt.

Because, although I believe our combat troops have been misled and misused, I don’t see them as losers. We all die. What counts is not whether we live, but what we live for. They thought they heard a higher calling. They risked life and limb for their buddies. Their faith and their actions dignified their lives. In contrast, people who live only for their imagined self-interest are, as Albany tells Goneril in “King Lear,” “not worth the dust which the rude wind / Blows in your face.”

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.