“Think about the people you know who are over there. Your freaking stupid Uncle Louie or whatever. They’re dumb shits. They’re not high-level bankers. They’re not academic people. They’re not intellectual people. … They’re the frickin’ lowest of the low.”
These are the deeply misinformed words of Greg Salcido, a local California city councilman and high-school teacher speaking to a student in a video that has now gone viral.
I am one of those dumbshits. On Oct.1, 2013, I retired from the Army after 28 years of active and reserve service.
To Salcido, I have this to say: I had teachers like you, blowhards who spout unchallenged opinions to captive high-school kids. There was one teacher in particular, Mr. Raymore. Like you, he taught history. It was 1974, and I was a sophomore at Westminster High School.
He accused our Vietnam veterans of the oft-repeated atrocities. They were all “murderers” and “baby killers.” If challenged, I suppose Mr. Raymore would have wrapped himself in the flag and said, as you have, that his comments were “free speech.”
But he wasn’t exercising free speech. Neither were you. The constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech allows people to speak freely so others can decide to accept or reject their words. The founders did not draft it so a teacher could mock a student without repercussions, particularly one dependent on that teacher for a grade. Freedom of speech never gave you the right to call that student’s father and uncle — Iraq War and Desert Storm veterans — the “lowest of the low.”
The students laughed. The student you insulted sat there and said nothing.
I did the same thing in 1974.
Vietnam War Author and retired Army Col. Harry Summers, speaking at a college campus in the post-Vietnam era, was once accused of atrocities in Vietnam by a man in the audience claiming to be a veteran. David Zabecki, a friend of Summers, recounted his response. “Shame on you, you rotten son of a bitch!” Summers said. “I didn't do those things, and I don't know anyone who did. I didn't need the Army to teach me right from wrong — my mother taught me that much.”
I wish I had said that to Mr. Raymore. I wish that student said those words to you.
Today I have a second chance.
I have served with those dumbshits who cannot win a war. They are the men and women who fight and die to allow you the luxury of spouting opinions. You are talking about Americans who died in places most people only read about: Normandy, Omaha Beach, Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Our military is not comprised of the “lowest of the low,” however you define that term. The military screens applicants for intellectual ability using the Armed Forces Qualification Test and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Test. The military also evaluates candidates on a variety of areas including physical and mental fitness.
The data does not support what you said.
According to October 2017 findings of the Washington D.C. based Heritage Foundation and the Army Times, only 9.7 of the 33 million Americans between 17 and 24 meet the Army’s enlistment standards. Less than one-third, or 31%, are eligible to enlist. The vast majority of candidates are rejected for reasons such as low test scores, failure to meet weight and fitness standards, mental health and medical issues and substance abuse.
But even if the military was accepting those you judge unworthy, so what? Willingness to serve says a great deal about a man or woman. It speaks of character and a willingness to belong to an organization built on selfless sacrifice.
Your comments imply people of your caliber could do better.
I do not want you. I’ll take a private who scores in the lowest percentile any day to an arrogant councilman who thinks he is better than the rest of us. I would never trust a man like you guarding my flank.
The men and women you callously dismiss are the best of America. I know. I am alive today because of the courage of the young men and women of our military. You do not seem to understand that.
And do you really think the United States military cannot win a war? You said our military has not defeated “guys wearing frickin robes and chaklas” and lost to Vietnamese “throwing rice.”
What you miss is that wars are not won on the battlefield. They are won at home, politically. If the national will is ambivalent, our military personnel find themselves dying to take the same turf over and over depending on the current mood of the civilian leadership. And eventually the politicians and the public lose interest in the fight and most of our soldiers return home. Some do not.
Evan Wright nailed it in Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War: “Five years into this war, I am not always confident most Americans fully appreciate the caliber of the people fighting for them, the sacrifices they have made, and the sacrifices they continue to make. The young troops I profiled in Generation Kill, as well as the other men and women in uniform I’ve encountered in combat zones throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, are among the finest people of their generation. We misuse them at our own peril.”
Councilman Salcido, I certainly hope you will educate yourself then apologize to the student and the public. Somehow I think you won’t. Guys like you never do.
As for Mr. Raymore?
You are a rotten son of a bitch.
M. E. (Mark) Johnson (Mark) Johnson is a California Superior Court Judge. He presided over the Riverside County Veterans Court for five years supervised the recovery of combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other military related mental health issues. He is a retired colonel of the United States Army Reserve, an Iraq War veteran, and a graduate of the United States Army War College.