Last Updated: February 20th, 2019

The holidays inspired me to reflect more deeply. I did not just think about being nice to people. I did not only focus on images inside stores relating to memories of toys I did not get, or the toys I did get: The first Atari video game.

And no, I did not head off to a Cistercian monastery in Massachusetts and navel-gaze about my studies and future career plans. Instead, I stayed home in my lovely city, New York. I went to the movies and saw Vice.

I reflected on the movie’s main character, Dick Cheney. This experience led me to form a peculiar review of the movie that is tied to American military service.

An ‘inside job’

I was seeking to do an ‘inside job’ by staying home in deep thought for the holidays. A wise man, who was a college basketball player turned expert psychoanalyst, once shared with me the meaning of ‘inside job.’ In the monastery, this means ‘to go in silence and contemplate deeply.’

I was led not to an ashram, but to the Angelika, one of the last great New York City movie houses. Without a Yoga mat, I sat and viewed the movie Vice, and it inspired me to think deeply about Iraq and Dick Cheney, the man behind the invasion of Iraq.

Dick Cheney was a war-driven former U.S. Secretary of Defense, the former CEO of Halliburton and a former vice-president. The irony? Cheney never served in the military. This movie almost led me to forget this ironic fact.

Cheney never served in the military

The movie Vice has a unique noir and features brilliant acting by Christian Bale playing Dick Cheney. My review is not a cinematic review, a la Siskel and Ebert. So please do not expect me to go into detail about the cinematographic shots of lovely Wyoming, where Cheney has his roots and gained his appreciation for fly-fishing.

I will not go into the technical aspects of the movie script. I won’t even go into the director’s intent. I write this piece as a critical reflection about a key thing left out in the movie: Dick Cheney’s draft deferments and avoidance of military service.

According to the book used to create the movie, Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency, by Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Dick Cheney had five military draft deferments during the Vietnam War era.

The movie never engages Dick Cheney’s sentiments about the Vietnam War or about the Middle East crisis of the 1970s. Ironically, many years later, Cheney would be responsible for sending troops to fight an unpopular war in the Middle East.

While Cheney’s draft years are not presented in the movie, the movie engages Cheney’s failure at Yale. By the way, who flunks out of Yale? I studied hard as a student at Yale, but I embodied “Prenons du bon temps” (let the good times roll).

Proudly, unlike Cheney, I graduated from Yale. I also served in the military several times before my years at Yale, and after my time at Yale. 

Cheney’s avoidance of joining the military is a key aspect of his life that could have been featured in the movie. There are psychodynamic meanings tied to his messianic messaging of using military force to remove Saddam Hussein and pursue a regime-changing invasion of Iraq in 2003.

His moral compass?

I wonder if the movie could have explored Cheney’s inner life. Where was his spiritual grounding? How did he form his ethics? Was he aware of his moral compass? What fuelled Dick Cheney’s lack of military service, yet bold militarism? Why no regrets about the invasion of Iraq that led to thousands of military and civilian deaths?

Variety magazine reviewed the movie and pointed out that the film did not explore Dick Cheney’s psyche. I agree, as I am left with questions about Cheney’s frontal cortex (executive decision-making) and his soul.

The questions above are almost obsessive.

Ironically, in recent interviews and book tours, Cheney is still fixated on being right. According to his tailored American security gospel, he still considers himself right in pushing for the invasion of Iraq. Cheney thinks he prevented future 9/11 terrorist-like attacks by pushing for the Iraq War.  

The movie Vice does not engage the deeper issues behind the leapfrogging seen from the U.S. Secretary of Defense, the CEO of the premier defense contractor Haliburton, and later, the vice-president of the U.S. In all of this, it would have been captivating to see how he set up his big defense-contracting deal for his small contracted ‘army within a large Army.’

It is a shame that many are just caught up in the brilliant acting of Christian Bale. It is a shame that the movie Vice gets caught up in the sentimental moments between Dick and his wife Lynne. Where was the deeper look into Cheney’s obsession with power and might?

Was Vice a war movie? I could not find Cheney’s narrative in the Iraq War scenes. This was movie mass-culture at its best: Let’s present the spectacle of war, but let’s not truly understand the meanings of these battle scenes. 

The movie’s war scenes fail to depict the human costs of war. We are left with sensational images of Hollywood war scenes and spectacular acting from the all-star cast of Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Steve Carell.

Enough about the movie.   

Withdrawal of troops from Syria

Lately, I am caught up in the withdrawal of troops from Syria. Why? I do not want to see a major national security emergency involving U.S. troops. The troops in Syria were not invited by a sovereign country. They are also surrounded by large military forces in the area. And the United Nations Security Council did not approve the presence of U.S. troops in Syria.

I am glad that Elizabeth Warren has been vocal about troop withdrawal in Syria. So what if she agrees with the President?

Yet, many in mass-culture media are pushing for troops to remain in Syria. The media people will not go and drop their jobs and families to serve in Syria, but they want to keep others at high risk in the area.

The fantasies of stationing troops in Syria to protect the Kurds playing out on MSNBC, CNN and in many digital news sources are problematic. I am glad that Elizabeth Warren has been vocal about troop withdrawal in Syria. So what if she agrees with the President? She understands that small wars can lead to big wars like the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

We used ‘Stop-Loss’ to get numbers from a pool of formerly activated troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was a highly unpopular bureaucratic move to keep an unjust war going with limited troops.

America needs to check its beliefs about the ethical deployment of troops. We will need troops to fight future big wars if there is a large national security emergency. Where will we get them? ‘Stop-Loss’ has its limits, as we have experienced in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

I wonder if, in the future, we will have to go beyond ‘Stop-Loss’ and deploy young men from home who are not in the military. If this happens, I have been appointed to select men for military service.

America’s future national security emergencies

I am on the board of America’s military conscription system. Though the U.S. has a volunteer military, it also has a federal agency with the capability of ‘calling on’ Americans to serve in national security emergencies. I was nominated for the board by an army officer and by the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and I pride myself in this honour to serve my country again.

Can you see why I dwell on Dick Cheney’s lack of military service? Cheney’s 5 military deferments?

Less than 1 percent of U.S. citizens make up those ready to fight and those who are fighting now. So, today it is Judy Ramos’ son in Syria awaiting an ambush, but if we create reckless deployment patterns, we will exhaust our expeditionary military force. What then?

If we ever get into a great national security emergency, will those with neocon-like sentiments join me in evaluating records of young men from Manhattan, from both wealthy and poor backgrounds? Lindsey Graham will not be staying up at night thinking about the specific young men I will have to choose to enter military service.

I know that I have a moral imperative and obligation to follow if I am placed in a position to select citizens for conscripted military service. In the event of a national security emergency, I will not simply hand out military service deferments without using great care and prudence. I cannot favour certain individuals or groups when choosing men to enter nationwide emergency-based military enlistment. 

Citizens like my sister CPT Karen Kim Zogheib and SGT Rudy Reyes inspired me to volunteer at age 40 to deploy to Iraq after many years out of the military. I know that many in society may not want to join the military because it may not be convenient or because there are many perils tied to such service. There may also be serious health reasons or religious/philosophical reasons for not joining the military. I am respectful of these legitimate circumstances. So, I am not bashing Cheney for having military deferments. I am just curious about Dick Cheney’s aggressive military posture and the reasons he avoided joining the military during the Vietnam War.  

If I could share a few words with Cheney, here goes: 

HEY Dick! Guess what? I have extremely bad vision and flat feet, and had to get an age waiver for my last military stint, yet I still pursued service in the military. I am not a hero, just a citizen dedicated to civic service, obligation and participation. There are others like me and they, like me, value military service while rejecting ‘war hawk’ militarism. As men served their country and died in Vietnam, where were you? As loved ones mourn the losses of troops in Iraq, where is your heart?

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit MINDFULLY INTO 2019: A Veteran and his New Year’s resolution»

1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 A hell cannon found after the battle of Aleppo in December 2016 via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0) 4 Pixabay 5 Pixabay