Sunday, July 01, 2007

What Do We Owe Our Veterans?

Yesterday’s edition of About Face asked the question, “What do we owe veterans? Are veterans just another special interest. Much of the discussion was about programs, the VA, funding and delay. We touched briefly on “why we owe veterans”, that their courage and sacrifice gave us America. I had prepared a litany of contributions made by veterans. (I always have lots of info that I can either summarize quickly or expand, depending on the volume of calls.) The list began with a successful insurgency against a major world power, included occupation of a vast land area, defeating German and Japanese militarism, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and now Iraq. In all these wars and actions, we ask soldiers to kill in our name. We tell them that our cause is so important that you must shed your humanity and destroy other human beings. On top of many sacrifices–hardship, privation, pain, death–we ask of our soldiers, asking them to kill leaves a grievous wound on their souls.

The wound is salved by knowing that the sacrifice had an important, good and lasting result. The World War II soldiers who saw so much harrowing and sustained combat against a seemingly invincible tide of militarism and totalitarianism can certainly look back and balance their descent into the abyss against the danger to America and the world. Surely, Continental Army veterans saw the good that resulted from their sacrifice (although many were quite disillusioned at the new government’s stinginess in recognizing their service). Veterans on both sides of the American Civil War looked with pride, knowing that they contributed to something greater than themselves. No doubt, all of these veterans might sometimes wonder about the things they did in war, but they could look on the results of their sacrifice and reassure themselves of the results’ value and importance.

I claim no such value for my service in Vietnam. What I did made absolutely no difference for my nation’s security and prosperity. About the only claim to I can make for my service is that someone else didn’t have to go. Another person was spared looking into his soul and learning that he could kill another human being for no good reason other than his country said to do so. Sure, there was the threat of International Communism but by 1970, the American and Soviet spheres of influence had learned to co-exist to the point that they could engage in proxy wars without fearing (too much) that these minor conflicts would lead to general war. And besides I was fighting against a home team that had a long, long history of resisting foreign occupation. So I came away with no real salve for my conscience. Stories, poetry and songs from World War I tell me that many of those veterans also wondered why. I hear many of today’s veterans asking the same question

My answer to the question “What do we owe veterans” is A WAR WORTH FIGHTING. Better to have no war at all but if the nation is going to ask Americans to kill other human beings, for god’s sake, make sure there is absolutely no other means to deal with the threat and that the world understands and supports the need for those deaths. Even in a just war, loss of life is tragic but to inflict those casualties when ANY alternative remains possible is a crime against humanity. That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.

Others may think differently. So many of my Vietnam veteran brothers still insist that it was just war, that they served their nation honorably. I agree that they served honorably and very often with great courage and sacrifice. But the nation did not serve them honorably. Maybe in the early years when the nation still believed in the war’s lies, but in only a few years most Americans no longer saw Vietnam as a great threat, certainly not worth more lives and carnage. Yet that is exactly what the nation got. As John Kerry noted last year, almost half of the names of the Vietnam Wall came after Americans decided against the war. Keep in mind that Richard Nixon promised a “secret plan to end the war” in the 1968 election. Hubert Humphrey couldn’t quite abandon Lyndon Johnson and in the end, Nixon’s plan eked out a narrow win over Humphrey’s compromised credibility. But Nixon lied. He had no plan and, in fact, expanded the war into Cambodia, setting the stage for another five years of war.

In 2006 the nation voted overwhelmingly for an end to the war in Iraq. In return CheneyBush has given us “The Surge” with even more casualties and destruction. All for..., well, I don’t know. The Iraq war, which has destroyed America’s international prestige as surely as it has ground up our armed forces, sure as hell does not contribute to our national security, so what are our soldiers fighting for? Is it worth the physical and mental wounds that these men and women will bring back with them. Will they have any salve for their wounded souls? Not that I see. America lost that opportunity when we followed our leaders’ lies into an unprovoked war.

To my way of thinking, this nation has failed in its most fundamental obligation to its service members and veterans by sending them to war in Iraq without justification. All that we can do now is to mitigate the damage and, given Veterans Affairs budgets and an impenetrable bureaucracy, many veterans can’t even get that help.

Support the Troops. Yeah. Right.



Blogger Evil Spock said...

As much government waste and corporate welfare, it makes no sense how veterans get treated.

I still don't understand how the president can justify his salary considering he's already rich. Give that money back!

11:14 AM  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

I don't understand how he justifies his salary given that the VP does all the work

11:25 AM  

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