We have just begun the tenth year of occupation in Afghanistan. Despite the declared “end” to combat operations, American soldiers are still dying in Iraq as encounters with insurgents increase. Meanwhile, covert and drone operations are escalating in Pakistan and Yemen.
As we mark Armistice/Veterans Day 2010 with parades and sales at the mall to “honor and recognize” the sacrifices and service of veterans and of our troops, perhaps we might consider postponing these celebrations and marketing strategies until a more appropriate occasion and shifting our focus from mythologizing war to understanding its realities and consequences as it impacts our soldiers and veterans and our economy. So let us lower the flags and the volume of the inspiring hymns and anthems and pay some attention, for a change, to the facts of war.
* As a result of President Obama increasing troop strength and escalating combat operations, 2010 has been the deadliest year thus far for US forces and for civilians in Afghanistan.
* The number of active-duty military dying from suicide exceeds the number of those killed in combat. According to the Army Times, US military veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 18 people per day.
* Repeated exposure to depleted uranium used in US munitions has led to increased rates of various cancers, autoimmune diseases and other serious illnesses, including birth defects in the offspring of those exposed.
* Tens of thousands of American soldiers have been wounded in combat and have suffered devastating injuries that often require lifelong care, including Traumatic Brain Injury (CBI), the “signature wound” of Iraq and Afghanistan.
* Studies indicate a conservative estimate that over 30 percent of troops returning from theater are suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, which in turn leads to high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, suicide and domestic violence.
* The Veterans Administration has recognized (at last) the prevalence of moral injury – for example, guilt, shame and loss of self-esteem – in our returning veterans as an inevitable consequence of occupation and of fighting a war in which civilian casualties are the norm rather than the exception.
* The stability of military families has been detrimentally affected as the spouses and children of servicemen and women have to endure the trauma of multiple deployments of their loved ones.
The impacts of these wars and occupations go far beyond their devastating effects on our veterans and members of the military. According to Pulitzer Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, US military occupations abroad will, when all is said and done, cost US taxpayers between $4-6 trillion, monies that could be better spent creating jobs, improving schools, hiring teachers, providing adequate healthcare to all, rebuilding America’s infrastructure and preventing foreclosures.
We hear endless rhetoric from pundits, “experts” and politicians about the failing economy, the booming deficit and the urgent need for budget cuts, usually at the expense of vital services such as education, healthcare, and social security. Yet, the cost of these occupations in both lives and treasure seldom merits even a column in a newspaper, a commentary on a cable news show or a question at a political debate. It is as though America’s sons and daughters are not killing and being killed in our names, as though war and occupation is not draining our treasury and destroying our moral character. It is as though America would rather ignore the realities of war and occupation and continue to embrace fantasy and engage in meaningless distraction and bickering.
It is time, I think – long past time – that America awake from its apathy and indifference, from its illusions of nobility, honor and moral superiority, and face the realities of its crimes – crimes for which we all, as citizens of a democracy, bear culpability. There is blood on all of our hands. On this Armistice/Veterans Day, there is no cause for celebration and parades. Instead, we should use this day to remember the waste of treasure and of human lives, ALL human lives, whether American, Iraqi, Afghani or Yemeni. We must remember most of all that war is anathema, and unnecessary war is a sacrilege against both God and the family of humankind. Finally, if we truly are the patriots we claim to be, if we truly love America and appreciate the sacrifices of our veterans and members of the military, we must do what is truly in their interest. We must end these occupations and wars immediately, compensate the victims of our aggression, seek God’s forgiveness for our transgressions, bring our troops home now and ensure that they receive adequate and effective treatment for their physical, emotional, psychological and moral injuries.
Many march to remember,
others to forget.
But for those who truly know war,
no parade is necessary to help us to remember,
or allow us to forget,
as the memories of war are with us
every day of our lives.
Nor does marching in a parade
enable us to put to rest the turmoil
of a life interrupted and devastated by war,
or to forget the dying and the killing.
Parades accomplish nothing
save to allow those who make war easily
or ignore completely its insanity and horror
to feign support and appreciation
and to relieve their collective guilt
for immoral war and crimes against humanity.
Marching in a parade
neither educates nor informs
about the realities of war.
Rather it celebrates and perpetuates
the myth of honor and glory,
and “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
I will march no more.