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General News    H2'ed 11/10/22

Tomgram: Kelly Denton-Borhaug, What an American Addiction to War Means to Veterans

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

I felt it then. I feel far more certain of it now. My dad, who died in 1983, was a member of what came to be known as the Greatest Generation, those who served in World War II. In fact, he volunteered the day after Pearl Harbor (though he was then old enough that he might not have been drafted) and ended up in the U.S. Army Air Corps " there was no separate Air Force in those days " with the First Air Commandos fighting the Japanese in Burma.

And here was the strange thing: though he had souvenirs of that war in his closet, including an old mess kit, a duffle bag filled with papers, his major's hat, and various wartime badges, and as a boy I was fascinated, he would never really talk about his time at war. The only exceptions were those sudden outbursts of anger because my mother had shopped at a nearby grocery store whose owners, he claimed, had been war profiteers, or later because I had gone to a Japanese restaurant or bought a German car (a Volkswagen). Mind you, I thought I knew all there was to know about his war experience because he used to take me to the war movies of the 1950s where we both watched Americans ever triumphant, ever satisfied, ever glorious " and he never said a word about them, which seemed to validate everything I saw on screen.

Now, I suspect he had returned from that war with some version of post-traumatic stress disorder, some disturbance deep inside that came out in indirect but harsh ways in the tough years (for him) of the 1950s. But who talked about such things then? No one in my world, that's for sure. And that was "the good war" (as Studs Terkel labeled it, quote marks included, in his famed oral history of World War II).

When it comes to America's bad wars of the last century and this one, however, we know a good deal more about what they've done to this country's "warriors," as TomDispatch regular, religion scholar, and author of And Then Your Soul is Gone: Moral Injury and U.S. War-Culture Kelly Denton-Borhaug makes all too clear today. Yes, in these years, Americans were in a rush to "thank" those who fought our distant wars, while life here went on almost as if they weren't happening. But now we know that the price paid for the disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere was far, far too high (even if you ignore the costs borne by Afghans, Iraqis, and so many others). With that in mind, as Veterans Day comes around once more, take a moment with Denton-Borhaug to consider the price our vets have paid for the decision to fight the Global War on Terror across significant parts of this planet forever and a day. Tom

The Intolerable Price You Pay
A Civilian Addresses American Veterans on Veterans Day

By

[Denton-Borhaug will give a version of this talk virtually to Veterans for Peace Chapter 102 at a Reclaim Armistice Day meeting at the Milwaukee City Hall Rotunda this Veteran's Day.]

Dear Veterans,

I'm a civilian who, like many Americans, has strong ties to the U.S. Armed Forces. I never considered enlisting, but my father, uncles, cousins, and nephews did. As a child I baked cookies to send with letters to my cousin Steven who was serving in Vietnam. My family tree includes soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. Some years before my father died, he shared with me his experience of being drafted during the Korean War and, while on leave, traveling to Hiroshima, Japan. There, just a few short years after an American atomic bomb had devastated that city as World War II ended, he was haunted by seeing the dark shadows of the dead cast onto concrete by the nuclear blast.

As Americans, all of us are, in some sense, linked to the violence of war. But most of us have very little understanding of what it means to be touched by war. Still, since the events of September 11, 2001, as a scholar of religion, I've been trying to understand what I've come to call "U.S. war-culture." For it was in the months after those terrible attacks more than 20 years ago that I awoke to the depth of our culture of war and our society's pervasive militarization. Eventually, I saw how important truths about our country were concealed when we made the violence of war into something sacred. And most important of all, while trying to come to grips with this dissonant reality, I started listening to you, the veterans of our recent wars, and simply couldn't stop.

Dismantling the Lies About and Justifications for Our Wars

The only proper response to 9/11, our political leaders assured us then, was war and nothing but war " "a necessary sacrifice," a phrase they endlessly repeated. In the years that followed, in speeches and public spectacles, one particular image surfaced again and again. The lives " and especially injuries and deaths " of American soldiers were incessantly linked to the injuries inflicted on Jesus of Nazareth, and to his death on the cross. President George W. Bush, for example, milked this imagery in 2008:

This weekend, families across America are coming together to celebrate Easter" During this special and holy time of year, millions of Americans pause to remember a sacrifice that transcended the grave and redeemed the world" On Easter we hold in our hearts those who will be spending this holiday far from home " our troops" I deeply appreciate the sacrifice that they and their families are making" On Easter, we especially remember those who have given their lives for the cause of freedom. These brave individuals have lived out the words of the Gospel, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends ." [John 15:13 ]

The abusive exploitation of religion to bless violence covered the reality of war's hideous destructiveness with a sacred sheen. And this justification for what quickly became known as the Global War on Terror troubled me, leaving me with many questions. I wondered: Is it true that we demonstrate what we most value in life by dying for it?

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("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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