We have just begun the tenth year of occupation in Afghanistan. Despite having declared an end to combat operations, American soldiers are still dying in Iraq as encounters with insurgents are increasing. Concurrently, 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 to another more appropriate occasion and shift our focus from mythologizing war to understanding its realities and consequences, both as it impacts upon our soldiers and veterans and upon 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 U.S. forces and 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, U.S. military veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 18 per day.
Repeated exposure to depleted uranium used in U.S. munitions has led to increased rates of various cancers, auto-immune 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 suffering devastating injuries, often requiring lifelong care, including Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the "signature wound" of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Studies indicate a conservative estimate of over 30% of troops returning from theater are suffering from some form of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder leading, in turn, to high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, suicide, and domestic violence.
The Veterans Administration has recognized (at last) the prevalence of moral injury, i.e., guilt, shame, loss of self-esteem, etc., 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 impact of these wars and occupations go far beyond their devastating effects upon our veterans and members of the military. According to Pulitzer Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, U.S. military occupations abroad will, when all is said and done, cost U.S. taxpayers between 4-6 trillion dollars, monies that could be much better spent creating jobs, improving schools, hiring teachers, providing adequate healthcare to ALL, rebuilding America's infrastructure, preventing foreclosures, etc.
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, social security, etc. Yet, the cost of these occupations in both lives and treasure seldom even merit 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 illusion 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, therefore, there is no cause for celebration and parades. Rather, we should use this day to remember the waste of treasure and of human lives, ALL human lives, whether American, Iraqi, Afghani, Yemini, etc. We must remember most of all that war is anathema, and unnecessary war 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,