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General News    H3'ed 11/25/19

Tomgram: Andrea Mazzarino, What My Personal War Costs Me

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Think of it as a small miracle of sorts.

This country has now been at war continuously for 18 years, ever since President George W. Bush and his top officials announced a "Global War on Terror" within days of the 9/11 attacks and, not long afterward, launched the invasion of Afghanistan. Iraq, of course, followed. And Somalia. And Yemen. And Libya. And Syria. And drone strikes that have never ended across a vast region of the planet. And the building up of a Special Operations force of 70,000 -- bigger than the militaries of many countries -- and the creation of an Africa Command (AFRICOM) after which the war on terror spread across that continent, too. And so it's gone, and continues to go, as hundreds of thousands die and millions are displaced. And that "war" (an ever-more complicated and unsettling set of conflicts) has in its own way come home, too, not just in the arming of America's police with weaponry straight off those distant battlefields or the creation of militarized SWAT units across the country, but in those endless ceremonies "honoring" the troops at sporting events of every sort, in the constant growth of the national security state, and the continual padding of the Pentagon budget.

Despite all of this, Americans have generally done a remarkable job of ignoring those grim wars. Since the invasion of Iraq, almost no Americans have taken to the streets in protest. The costs of the war on terror are seldom discussed. Those ever-spreading conflicts -- and their never-ending nature -- are generally an unacknowledged background fact of American life, which is why the Costs of War Project at Brown University is indeed a small miracle of sorts.

Visit its website and you can actually check out estimates of the true costs of America's forever wars (at least $6.4 trillion that didn't go to infrastructure repair, health care, or anything else that matters domestically) or an accounting of deaths of every sort from those conflicts (approximately 800,000 soldiers, civilians, journalists, contractors, etc.), and so much more. It's an eye-opening accomplishment in a country that would rather look the other way and we at TomDispatch are proud that we've published articles by its co-director, Stephanie Savell, exploring the never-ending costs of those wars. And we're no less proud today to feature a piece by one of that project's founders, Andrea Mazzarino, the co-author of a new book on the subject of their costs, War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, she writes about how they have come home to her, not just as a researcher but as a military spouse and a mother. It's a reminder that America's twenty-first-century wars, while fought thousands of miles away, are also far closer at hand than we like to think. Tom

Bearing Witness to the Costs of War
On Being a Military Spouse and Writing About Our Post-9/11 Wars
By Andrea Mazzarino

There is some incongruity between my role as an editor of a book about the costs of America's wars and my identity as a military spouse. I'm deeply disturbed at the scale of human suffering caused by those conflicts and yet I've unintentionally contributed to the war effort through the life I've chosen.

I am the co-editor with Catherine Lutz of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new volume of social science research from Brown University's Costs of War Project. At the same time, I am a practicing therapist-in-training and I specialize in working with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Through the scholarly research I review and the veteran clients I have seen, I am committed professionally to bearing witness to the human costs of America's forever wars, and to alleviating suffering where I can.

I am also married to a submarine officer in the Navy. We are so fortunate in so many ways. We have two beautiful children, pets, loving friends, and extended family. We both have graduate degrees. While our finances take hits from relocations without adequate job and childcare support, we don't face the continuous fears that many military families experience when a loved one is sent into a war zone. In many respects, my family's life does not look like that of most American military families profiled in my book.

And yet I have misgivings.

During one of my husband's deployments, I was relieved to hear our 2-year-old son talk about war in a way that, despite his innocence, was more nuanced than the usual tales of "sacrifice," "honor," and "fighting terror" that one hears routinely in the mainstream media and in local command newsletters.

It was spring 2017 and we had just seen Kim Jong-un displaying one of North Korea's new missiles on the TV news. Our son asked me what a war is. I gave my best explanation and his reply, undoubtedly garnered from preschool discussions about conflict resolution, was: "They don't use words? They hit?"

Sort of, I told him. I did my best to explain what a weapon was, a description I suspect that many of my liberal mom friends would balk at. In our military community, however, such imagery is all around us. Real missiles and replicas are, for instance, often used as decorations lining the streets of naval bases or as lampposts or even wall hangings in military family households.

My son did his best to take it in. Later, at the waterfront near our home, he tossed a piece of his donut into the ocean and told me it was for his father who, he insisted, was under the water "playing hide-and-seek." Of course, he doesn't connect the relentless training and deployments characteristic of our military life with the fighting of war itself, though our family feels the strain and implicit sense of danger in our daily lives.

In writing my recent book on the costs of this country's post-9/11 wars, I learned about Afghan war widows who use heroin to make it morally possible to live amid grief and poverty after seeing their spouses and children killed; about NGO workers who leave their own families, facing threats of kidnapping and death, to aid refugees in the Pakistani-Afghan borderlands. And I read about the experiences of the million war-wounded, ill, or traumatized American combat veterans, the sorts of patients my therapy will someday (I hope) help, who have sought health care and social support and so often come up desperately short.

As I do this, there's always a low buzz of guilt somewhere in my gut, even about my own voluntary, unpaid work in support of other military spouses, even after I've relinquished travel assignments in my work as an activist that would have compromised my husband's security clearance, even as I abide by harsh security restrictions in my personal life. I worry, in other words, about aiding the very military that, 18 years after the 9/11 attacks, still continues to rack up war's costs without an end in sight.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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