Monday, May 26, 2008

Broyles: "America, we have a problem"

As a writer, screenwriter (Apollo 13) and editor for almost 40 years, William Broyles, Jr., knows a good metaphor when he sees one.

During a speech May 24 at the Democratic State Convention in Jackson, Broyles (shown above at podium) talked about shovels and war. When he had finished his year in Vietnam and was "ready to get on that freedom bird and go home," his Marine Corps sergeant intervened. Lt. Broyles had checked out a shovel and hadn’t returned it. He didn’t have one, but the sergeant insisted: no shovel, no freedom bird. So Broyles bought a shovel on the black market and turned it in. He flew home, carrying with him a lesson in accountability.

"That’s the kind of attitude we used to have," he said. These days, during the Bush Administration’s endless war in Iraq, "we shovel all of our money to a few large corporations" which are also pals of Bush and Cheney. "We worked hard for that money. I take it personally."

Broyles, an Obama delegate to the convention from Teton County, moved the luncheon crowd with the story of his son, David. He moved himself, too, stopping several times as he choked back tears. David graduated from the University of Texas "and enlisted with a great deal of idealism," serving as a pararescue jumper with the U.S. Air Force. He’s the fourth generation of Broyles’ men to serve in combat.

"With each tour in Iraq, he grew to hate the war – for the men in his unit and all the others," he said.

At home, Broyles couldn’t answer the phone when it rang. When he heard about another batch of young Americans blown up by a roadside bomb, he thought of his son.
"There better be a good reason when you go to war," said Broyles. "If you abuse their trust, you create a hole in their soul and the soul of America."

American military men and women are returning home in droves with amputated limbs and traumatic brain injury and mental health problems. Broyles said that a thousand attempt suicide each month.

David’s new mission is to help wounded veterans. He swam the Strait of Gibraltar in 2006 with Army officer Rush Vann, a feat documented in the new film, "Swim," which will be screened this summer at the Jackson Hole Film Festival. Their goal was to raise money and awareness for disabled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the JHFF web site, they were only "the 16th and 17th Americans to record a successful crossing. Fewer Americans have accomplished their challenge than have climbed Mount Everest." [See a clip of "Swim" at]

So, while some families sacrifice much during wartime, others don’t.

"I take it personally when I see George Bush, who dodged Vietnam, and Dick Cheney, who dodged the draft, talk about sacrifice," Broyles said. He reeled off a list of Republican "warriors" who never served in the military (Rush Limbaugh) to those who have military-age sons with better things to do (Mitt Romney and his five sons). He takes it personally when Bush and John McCain think that sacrifice is giving tax cuts to the rich, many of whom are making a bundle as war profiteers. He takes it personally when he hears about military coffins coming back from the war, some ending up cremated at pet cemeteries. He takes it personally when he sees George Bush "giving up golf to support the troops." [Note to readers: Dubya has ended his golf hiatus, causing many of us to wonder if the war is over and "mission accomplished."]

Broyles wants the U.S. to withdraw now from Iraq. "We can’t solve this – the Iraqis have to solve it," he said. "We withdraw now or five years from now – we’ll have the same result."

He injected some history from the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon campaigned in 1968 with a plan to end the Vietnam War. Once elected, he changed his mind. "25,000 to 30,000 names on The Wall were written by Richard Nixon," Broyles said, adding that another million or so Vietnamese also died. The main reason give by U.S. strategists for the war was to stop the takeover of Southeast Asia by communists – China and the U.S.S.R. Four years after the end of the war in April 1975, a united communist Vietnam went to war with communist neighbor China. Less than 15 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union collapsed. "Vietnam is now one of the strongest countries in Asia," Broyles noted. It didn’t happen overnight, but both the U.S. and Vietnam were stronger when the war ended.

"The longest love affair of my life is with the U.S. Marine Corps," said Broyles, a lifelong Democrat. "One thing I learned in Vietnam – never ever leave anyone behind. It’s a Marine Corps value. It’s an American value."

The goal for the Democrats in the 2008 election, he said, is to "leave nobody behind," no matter their race or gender or economic circumstances. "We’re going to take everyone with us – and a lot of Republicans, too."

Broyles bio:

Bill Broyles grew up in Baytown, Texas, where he worked in the oil fields to pay his way through Rice University. He was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, worked in the civil rights movement, and then served in Vietnam as a Marine Corps infantry lieutenant.

As a journalist, he was founding editor of the very lively Texas Monthly and, from 1982-84, was editor-in-chief of Newsweek.

He has published his work in The New York Times, Atlantic, Esquire, and The Economist, among many others. He wrote the book Brothers in Arms about his Vietnam experience, and was the co-creator of the Emmy Award-winning TV series China Beach. He wrote the original screenplay for the movie Cast Away and the screenplay for Jarhead. He has co-authored six other screenplays, including Apollo 13, Unfaithful, The Polar Express and Flags of Our Fathers. He was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay for Apollo 13. He is married to Andrea, a well-known artist. They live in Wilson, Wyoming, and they have five children: David, Susannah, Katie, James and Bettina.

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