CLAYTON — November is the month we honor our veterans, gather our families and thank whatever higher power we believe in for the blessings we have, including this nation.
But Veterans Day, formerly Armistice Day, was originally established to celebrate peace. And last month we entered our 19th year of constant war. Today our 19-year-old Americans in uniform update their last wills and testaments upon deploying to fight in wars that nearly are as old as they are.
Representatives of the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America group say 59 percent of post-9/11 veterans know a fellow vet who committed suicide, giving that surviving veteran another possible traumatizing event. A new report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 60,000 veteran suicides have occurred in the last decade, exceeding those we lost in 10 years of Vietnam combat. Yet nobody seems to notice. Or care.
Mike Haney responded to this last brutal statistic and the public apathy. He’s the person most responsible for Syracuse University, my GI Bill alma mater, being named the best private college in the United States for veterans by Military Times. Mr. Haney said:
“Roland: The only thing I have to say is that all Americans should be ashamed. This is the downside of getting rid of the draft. ... When you disconnect the costs of consequences of war from society (which happened when the draft was eliminated), you therefore disengage the public from any self-interest associated with the concerns of veterans.”
The largest single factor in the growth of the federal government has been war. This government has expanded during every war, shrinking a little after the conflict, but still ending up at a larger size than before that war began. War always makes the executive branch more powerful, diminishing the system of checks and balances our U.S. Constitution intended.
Some powerbrokers in the federal government, especially the executive branch, may have a vested interest in permanent war. As might many defense contractors, the politicians they buy off, some highest ranking military and civilian Pentagon employees, political districts with the most defense-related jobs, etc. So the fix is in.
We spend a $1 million per service member to keep one GI alive in a combat zone for a year. For that GI, that is money well spent: intelligence, record keeping, support (air, armor, and artillery), supply, transportation, technology, medical.
But hundreds of thousands of our troops have been deployed worldwide. Do the math. We are sending trillions down overseas rat holes.
Stars and Stripes reported that 83 percent of veterans and active troops say we have been in Afghanistan and Iraq too long. The U.S. Army War College concluded that our Iraq War was an overall disaster. A Pew Research Group survey in July said 64 percent of recent veterans believe Iraq was not worth it; 58 percent of them said Afghanistan was not worth it; and 55 percent say Syria is not worth it. Shouldn’t we be listening to the experts?
If we stopped fighting endless and winless wars, could we then afford Medicare for All, many more college scholarships based on need, almost end homelessness, improve our schools, save Social Security, fight climate change, fix our infrastructure, greatly widen the path out of poverty for every American? Maybe I’m wrong, but let’s try it and see.
Retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman wrote the book our military uses to get troops to kill. Veteran and Professor Mike Haney of Syracuse was mentioned above. Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff for Colin Powell in the Army and State Department. Army Col. Kathy Platoni, editor of Combat Stress, is a psychologist, Desert Storm/Iraq/Afghanistan veteran and Fort Hood massacre survivor. Kevin Esslinger is a discharge planner for the most deployed division in the Army. Gregory Hughes is a supervisor in the VA suicide prevention program.
This is about a third of the people who helped me with an article on reducing veteran suicide for the summer 2019 edition of e-magazine Combat Stress. Their credentials are impeccable. This Watertown Daily Times column tries to build upon that magazine piece. Col. Wilkerson maintains, and I concur, that at least one factor in the wounded morale and emotional suffering of thousands of our troops and veterans is the growing awareness that their wartime sacrifice is now, perhaps, no longer worth it.
Older veterans also commit suicide. In addition to the difficult adjustment reactions of later life, we old vets often despair that our wars were not the war to end all wars. Our wartime military service accomplished little except handing down more hell and insanity to the younger troops and veterans.
Occupying Islamic lands, our troops create more terrorists than we can possibly kill. And our Air Force, Navy and Homeland Security can protect us without all that sacrifice abroad. Let us bring our Army and Marine ground troops home while they are still alive and in one piece and take care of them. We cannot prove our gratitude unless they are here to enjoy it.
If we are not working to bring them home, our “Thank you for your service” rings hollow, as if we are really only grateful that it isn’t us or our loved ones doing the fighting. At least, not this time around.
Endless and winless war only serves to keep that anxious civilian populace in line, benefit those exploiters mentioned above and provide a financial excuse for why we cannot fix our country. We have slept through this calamity because our military is only 1 percent of the population and our veterans are only 8 percent.
This situation is a home-grown, self-inflicted, installment plan version of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. We need to recall the warning of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto. We must “awaken this sleeping giant and fill it with a terrible resolve” — to change.
Tragic as they are, 60,000 veteran suicides also are the canary in America’s coal mine. Our status quo cannot hold. Post 9/11 patriotism and the poverty draft of the Great Recession delayed our running out of troops and losing these wars.
The military recruiters no longer benefit from those disasters. How many more catastrophes await?
Roland Van Deusen is a Clayton resident. He served in the U.S. Navy and is a retired counselor.