“George W. Bush started the two wars in a great flourish of righteous bluster and — in the case of Iraq — outright lies.
Bush is retired, playing golf and
watching baseball. Dick Cheney is still giving speeches justifying the
enormous deception of the Iraq debacle. In the meantime, there is a
larger consequence at home, the veterans next door — those 2.3 million men and women who served in one of the two wars.“
The Other 1 Percent
By Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.
March 15, 2012
The yellow banners, the halftime tributes, the bloviating by politicians of both parties — it’s so easy for the 99 percent of us who aren’t serving in the military to act like we support them. We all love the troops, blah, blah, blah.
And then, you see an Army lieutenant colonel accused this week of plotting to blow up the Washington State Capitol and kill his commanding officer. You see, two months ago, a man not long out of his Army uniform gunning down a park ranger in her uniform. You hear of the massacre of children and women in Afghanistan — civilians all — allegedly by an Army sergeant who served four tours of duty.
All of those incidents came from people connected to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma, Wash., the largest military installation on the West Coast. And all of the suspects had completed combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. Is it the base, or the service, or the wars? Who’s failing these soldiers?
For now, we all are. George W. Bush started the two wars in a great flourish of righteous bluster and — in the case of Iraq — outright lies. And he had the backing of most Americans. We honked our horns at bypasses near Lewis-McChord, and told the troops our hearts were with them.
Of late, the polls show that more than 60 percent of Americans think both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were not worth the costs in blood and money. But, more telling, veterans who fought those wars are not far behind the public in sharing the same sense of futility. A Pew poll last fall found that only a third of all people who served in Iraq or Afghanistan said the wars were worth it.
So, I guess we can move on, yes?
Nobody likes to say that someone’s service was for a misguided cause. How does a mother who lost a son, a wife who lost a husband, a child who lost a mother fit those tragedies into a cognitive conclusion that will carry them through the days?
Bush is retired, playing golf and watching baseball. Dick Cheney is still giving speeches justifying the enormous deception of the Iraq debacle. In the meantime, there is a larger consequence at home, the veterans next door — those 2.3 million men and women who served in one of the two wars.
They will be trying to live with the horrors they saw and felt for the rest of their lives, perhaps another 60 or 70 years. Their suicide rate — 38 per 100,000 — is more than three times that of the population at large. And that same Pew poll found that 37 percent of the war veterans suffered from a degree of post-traumatic stress.
At the same time, it would be wrong to put these veterans in a box, pegged as time bombs and malcontents. Too many Vietnam vets were branded as psychos or lone avengers — see Rambo, and numerous cultural clones — a perception that still lingers.
But there are a couple of things the 99 percenters can do:
One is to make sure that the Veterans Administration — and by extension, taxpayers — does not fail these citizens who put themselves in harm’s way. The Army is now conducting an investigation into whether budget concerns prompted authorities at the Madigan Army Medical Center, which serves Lewis-McChord vets, to overturn post-traumatic stress diagnoses for 285 people. Did the Army reverse its findings on the mental strain of these soldiers to save money?
If the Pew poll is accurate, more than 800,000 veterans are re-entering society with some form of psychological trauma. The wars will cost at least $2.4 trillion through 2017, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, which includes interest for borrowed money. The balance between money for armaments going in and mental health going out should never scrimp on the exit.
In 2009, President Obama signed a new G.I. Bill to help veterans go to college. More than 700,000 have taken advantage of it. But many ex-soldiers complain of bureaucratic ineptitude, resulting in failure to pay tuition on time and crushing debt.
A second, and larger, consideration is caution concerning all the war talk as tensions mount with Iran. Republicans Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney — none of whom served in uniform — have all but unleashed the dogs of combat, acting as if striking Iran would be the “cakewalk” the Bush Administration predicted for Iraq.
I thought President Obama and the British prime minister, David Cameron, struck the right tone in their comments this week about the wars that most Americans have now put behind them, and the war that could loom ahead.
“No one wants war,” said Obama. “Anybody who answers a poll question about a war saying enthusiastically, we want war, probably hasn’t been involved in a war.”
Most of us do not, cannot and will not ever understand this as much as the 1 percent who fought on behalf of the 99.