Friday, November 11, 2011

A Veteran's Day Reality Check

It’s Veteran’s Day, so, in accordance with our Civil Religion, we will all be saying our obligatory “Thank-yous” in a variety of ways. The morning news broadcasts are showing crowds waving flags; WABC just asked us to thank everyone we see in uniform, and send a picture into the station; my facebook friends are posting all the right pictures honoring the day; and later today I will be singing in a community concert honoring our veterans.

If I sound I sound cynical, it’s not so much cynicism as it is frustration with the easy and superficial treatment we afford the larger questions of the American military experience and impact on human lives.

We will justify what we have done to a generation of young soldiers and their families by ‘thanking them’ for ‘preserving our liberties,’ or some such sentiment. We will honor them by calling them heroes, and teach our young children to look upon them with awe and reverence. We will convince ourselves that they are fighting for our freedoms, and that we should be grateful and support a continuation of their mission, as we always do.

Let's never forget what General Dwight D. Eisenhower had to say about war:

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

I understand that today is not to celebrate war, but to honor the veterans that sacrifice so much to serve in our nations’ military.

In the most recent conflicts, that sacrifice has included the following:

By August 2011, 4,683 young American soldiers – three-quarters of whom were under age 30 – were dead from our participation in “Operation Enduring Freedom” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” (names that sound like they were invented by a Ministry for Propaganda.) That's over four thousand fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, cut down in the prime of their life.

32,799 more are injured: feet blown off from landmines, arms amputated, eyes missing, and severe burns; otherwise healthy young men and women now using wheelchairs and artificial limbs for life to function as normally as possible.

2,293 active duty military personnel have committed suicide in the last 10 years, and the rate of suicide is increasing at a troubling rate.

When our soldiers come home as veterans, their troubles do not magically end, no matter how many flags we wave:

One-third of all homeless adults in the United States are veterans. In the course of any give year, the V.A. estimates that 214,000 Veterans will be homeless. Upon returning home, the Unemployment rate is higher among veterans (12%) than it is among the general labor force (9%)…and keep in mind that homeless vets are not included in that statistic.

Up to 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans return home suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other forms of stress and war-induced mental illnesses. The backlog of disability claims at the Veteran’s Administration has topped 1,000,000 unprocessed requests for help by veterans.

These soldiers return to their home towns and families having seen the horror of war, and living with the guilt and conflicted loyalties of having visited those horrors upon others.

Do we really think that a “thank you,” a patriotic song, and wearing red white and blue makes this all better?

We convince ourselves that while war is terrible, it is necessary to preserve our freedoms, and that our young soldiers are fighting for “us.”

Yes, we tell ourselves that, and the old men who send our young people to fight tell our soldiers that, too. But in the current engagements, it is a horrible lie.

The Constitutional Right against Unreasonable Search and Seizure is not being preserved by soldiers routing out the Taliban. Rather, the same Congress that sends our youth to Asia has systematically used these conflicts as justification to degrade these rights themselves through the “Patriot Act.”

Our Right to Vote is not being enhanced by protecting government buildings in Baghdad. In fact, those politicians who favor continuing the conflicts seem to be the ones most likely to support voter-suppression legislation, now pending or enacted in almost half of the American states.

Our Freedom of Speech is not being guarded by sweeping for landmines in Kandahar. Instead, our federal government is using the conflicts to squash speech, from the jailing of soldier Bradley Manning, to ‘security concerns’ expressed at protests on American soil. Ironically, there are a growing cadre of veterans, sparked by Marine Shamar Thomas’ outrage at the NYPDs treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters, that has organized to preserve Free Speech here in the United States, where it appears to be needed more so than in Iraq.

You really want to honor Veterans today?

Demand that your Congress and President restore Constitutional Rights.

Demand that they bring our soldiers back HOME.

Demand that they treat veterans for their injuries and suffering.

Demand an initiative that provides them with jobs.

Demand a solution to our housing crisis, so that our vets do not end up living in cardboard boxes.

And by all means, stop repeating the self-comforting lie that this is all necessary to ‘preserve our freedoms.’ The current conflicts have nothing to do with preserving our freedoms, and, in fact, have been used as an excuse to restrict them. The current conflict is destroying lives while enriching corporate industrial interests.

And no one has borne these costs greater than our young soldiers.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961


Anonymous said...

While an interesting piece, I would respond that currently servicing in the armed service in voluntary and while many have died and been severly injured they joined the service knowing that injury and death are possibilities. And Yes I speak as a veteran who served 10 years in the Air Force. I was fortunate enough never having to serve in theater, but I was able and willing to if called and understood the possible ramifications.

Tully Fitzsimmons said...


I understand your position. On the other hand, while service is voluntary, the number of national guard troops getting injured or killed is three times the number of enlisted soldiers. And while these National Guardsmen also joined voluntarily, many of them did so because it was the best choice available them, given their economic position in society.

I would be much happier having these people at home to deal with tornadoes in Joplin, earthquakes in Oklahoma, power outages in Massachusetts, and floods in Vermont than getting shot at in Kabul.