The American Legion, 2.7 million members strong, is the largest of America's veterans' service organizations. The Legion does a lot of good things for U.S. war veterans, not the least of which is its congressional lobbing efforts on behalf of Veterans Administration funding. But the Legion is also an ultraconservative political and social activist group, one that promotes policies and agendas that have little to do with veterans' rights.
The American Legion did not evolve into a tool of conservative causes over a period of time. Formed in 1919, one of its first actions was to attack the headquarters of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) headquarters in Centralia, Washington on Armistice Day as part of the effort to squash the organized labor movement in America. Five Legion members were killed in the raid. In revenge, Legionnaires formed lynch mobs and conducted door-to-door searches for IWW members and sympathizers. IWW organizer Wesley Everest was tortured, castrated, and hung by his neck from a bridge.
Today's Legion is nowhere near that violent, but its right wing philosophical bent is as evident as ever, as witnessed by the neoconservative circus they sponsored last week in Salt Lake City, Utah at which George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld were keynote speakers.
"For God and Country" and War without End, Amen
The preamble to the American Legion's TEXT constitution begins with the motto "For God and Country," and pledges the organization to "to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America" and "to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism." The Legion's idea of upholding the U.S. Constitution reflects an interpretation of that document that matches Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's view of it--an interpretation that conveniently supports one hundred percent neoconservatism.
One of the best examples of the Legion's adherence to the Karl Rove propaganda playbook is its Resolution 169 titled "The War on Terrorism: A Guide to Building Public Awareness" that the Legion adopted during its 2005 convention in Hawaii.
In his introductory letter to the resolution, Legion commander Thomas L. Bock ran through the entire menu of neoconservative talking points. You can't separate the war in Iraq from the war on terror, and you can't separate support for the troops from support for the war.
Bock also tells his Vietnam era membership to remember how war protestors--and by inference the media that encouraged opposition to the war--aided the enemy and led to American defeat in that conflict. This is the most cynical and dishonest propaganda ploy in the pro-war right's bag of cheap tricks. The media and the war protestors didn't lose the Vietnam Conflict. Vietnam was lost by bad politicians and bad generals who started a bad war on bad pretexts and ran it badly for over a decade.
Today, the American Legion is abetting the same line of horse feathers to support the Bush administration and its agendas and policies. It's not the fault of young Mister Bush or old Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld or any of the rest of the bad men of the neoconservative cabal that America's misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have put our ship of state bow down in the water. It's those pesky old liberal reporters, and the likes of that wicked old Cindy Sheehan that don't know how to practice their rights to freedom of speech in a "responsible" manner.
According to Resolution 169, Iraq War protestors "are not only causing additional pain and anguish to America’s heroes, they are also encouraging the enemy, thereby lengthening the war."
War protestors who want the war to stop are lengthening the war? Come on, American Legion.
Proposition 169 acknowledges the right of war protestors to speak out, but admonishes them to limit their activities to things like writing letters to their local newspapers, e-mailing their representatives in Congress, and voting against political candidates whose stances on the war they find objectionable. In other words, anyone who disagrees with the administration's policies and war strategies should feel free to voice their opinions as long as they do so in a way that no one can hear them.
And that fed directly into Donald Rumsfeld's speech at the 2006 Legion convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he accused Iraq War critics of "moral" and "intellectual" confusion.
If there's any moral or intellectual confusion going on in this country, it's occurring at the level of the federal government that Rumsfeld occupies and in neoconservative echo chamber pot organizations like the American Legion that support the morally and intellectually bankrupt Bush regime.
As a rule, I don't like to paint all individuals in an organization with the same brush, but in the case of the American Legion I'll make an exception. Legionnaires typify the mindless right. They're by and large a bunch of ex-G.I. working class stiffs who have bought into the illusion that being good little soldiers and good little Republicans makes them part of the ruling class. But the sad truth is that they're just another band of brothers sitting in the back of the bus.
The American Legion has every right to exist, and every right to take whatever political stances it cares to take. But as a retired military veteran, I find its very existence offensive. I didn't spend the prime of my adult life defending the constitution to sit by idly and watch the key players in and around the Bush administration wipe their feet on it, or to remain silent as a self-styled "veterans' service organization" actively helps them do it.
The American Legion's "God and Country" dogma is a key component of the neoconservative agenda to turn the "land of the free" into the "land of the lemmings." No amount of support for community projects or amateur baseball can justify or forgive the Legion's role in driving the United States' government system toward a militaristic, theocratic oligarchy.
And Legionnaires who insist on adhering to the red, white and blue brainwash that the likes of Thomas L. Bock pours down their throats by the pitcher may want to pay heed to Samuel Johnson's admonition that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.