About ten years ago it began to be popular so say “thank you for your service” to veterans and active duty members of the armed services. It was a sign of the maturing of our social consciousness, and sorely needed after a generation of Vietnam veterans came home to both apathy and hostility from a conflicted public. Many of us were learning at last to separate the soldier from the war, to support the former without condoning the latter.
We’ve had many opportunities to cultivate this particular insight, though we seem to need regular refresher courses. In the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and the Global War on Terror, over 1.1 million American men and women lost their lives.
I was lucky to be in the Marine Corps during one of those rare periods in our recent history when the involvement of our armed forces in police actions and nation building was at a minimum. I was also fortunate never to send a child or a sibling off to war, or wait for a parent’s return, though there are many stories in my family about what it feels like to experience these things. Until recently, these were just stories, poignant, but long ago and far away.
Last week it became a lot more personal when I said goodbye to a friend on his way to one of those sandy places on the other side of the globe where we have sacrificed almost 7000 American lives and spent about a trillion dollars in the global war on terror.
My friend is a young man who had already chosen a path of service, just beginning his career as a police officer, just starting to settle into his new life and career, but when his national guard unit was called up, with no hesitation and no regrets, he was prepared to go. At a recent holiday gathering I said goodbye to him with a lump in my throat.
It’s hard for me to imagine what his parents must be feeling, the worry and uncertainly that never completely goes away, the sleepless nights, the visceral anger, and the dull ache. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
So yes, we support the troops, God bless them, and we sincerely thank them for their service. They are the best of us. But as our forever war drags on into its second decade, we remember also the sacrifices made by the families of those men and women who serve at the convenience of our government. The gratitude we extend to our soldiers should be shared generously with those who wait and worry and pray, and to those of you who do, thank you for your service as well.
Surely there is more that we can do beyond giving lip service to the gratitude we feel for someone else’s sacrifice. Is it not also our duty as well as our right to require of our politicians who, on paper at least, work for us, that they end this forever war? That they cease making enemies for us to fight? That there be an accounting of the costs in blood and treasure for the sake of those young people who are about to join a war that began before they were born? Scarcely in the history of the world has one people existed as the natural enemy of another. Enemies are made on the Wall Streets of the world, not the Main Streets. Is it learned helplessness that keeps us silent, or are we content with sacrifice as long as it doesn’t affect us personally?
If you haven’t heard the term, “forever war,” it is perhaps a more honest description of what is otherwise known as the global war on terror. Eisenhower warned us about forever war in his farewell address to the nation. Yes, the seeds of forever war were planted a long time ago, but it was during the administrations of Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama that the business of conflict was elevated to an art form.
How soon we forgot the events leading up to the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein, which opened Pandora’s Box and destabilized the middle east for generations! Does anyone in America remember Clinton’s wars, the destruction of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, cluster bombs in Serbian markets, the disruption of the Yugoslav economy and the destabilization of southeast Europe? Millions are alive in the Balkans who do remember. Tens of thousands are dead who don’t.
Does anyone remember the blatant lies about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, or were we all soothed into forgetfulness by smiling photos of good friends, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, globe-trotting together? Did we get a warm, fuzzy feeling when George W. passed Michelle O. a piece of candy during John McCain’s funeral? Remember President Obama, the all time champion drone striker and weapons dealer, selling American arms all over the globe? What about President Trump, who is on track to exceed even Obama’s world record at arms dealing?
And speaking of President Trump, blunt, unpredictable, unpopular President Trump, who was eviscerated for trying to normalize relations with Russia, attacked for pulling troops out of Syria and criticized for planning to reduce our presence in Afghanistan, what do we make of his actions? What do we make of the instantaneous push back of politics and punditry headlined and dramatized by mass media?
Who can say? What can we infer from the unified chorus of peace loving liberals, hawkish neoconservatives (republicans and democrats) and corporate media mouthpieces shouting their panic and outrage over the possibility that we might choose to remove thousands of our sons and daughters from harm’s way?
Yes, I know. Fight them over there, so we don’t have to fight them at home. We’ve heard that for almost 20 years now, long enough to expect that some kind of resolution be forthcoming. Remember when Shelby Foote, in that great Civil War Series, told the story of a Confederate soldier talking to a Union soldier across the picket lines one night? The Yankee soldier asked the Rebel, “Hey Reb, why are you fighting?” The Rebel soldier answered, “Because you’re down here.”
Is it possible that maintaining military bases inside sovereign nations, supporting brutal dictators, destroying economies, turning infrastructure into rubble and killing tens of thousands of civilians just might do more to cause terror than to prevent it?
But as the cards are shuffled and terrorists become allies and allies become adversaries, and as decades of bombings, missile and drone strikes and sanctions finally begin to fragment and diminish those who “hate us because they hate freedom,” the forever war needs new enemies. Enter stage left, Russia and China.
The think tanks tell us that we need to fear Russian and Chinese hypersonic glide platforms capable of defeating most if not all of our countermeasures. Billions of dollars in research and development will be necessary to counter this threat, and if you invested in Lockheed Martin, you’ll be happy to know that they were just awarded a sizable contract to help us catch up.
Of course, fool-me-once citizens might have a few questions. Given that governments are capable of lying (remember WMD’s) we might reasonably ask if what they say is true. It might very well be true, but given that we spend more on defense than the next seven countries combined, is it not also reasonable to ask why we are playing catch up with someone we “defeated in the cold war?” I suppose money doesn’t buy what it used to, or maybe the ruble goes a lot farther in Russia than the dollar does here. We might also ask why the recent Defense Department audit was off by trillions of dollars, but that’s another story.
One of the benefits of living in a nation which promotes free speech is that armchair diplomats and sofa-ops soldiers, and all kinds of people with no skin in the game, are free to express their opinions on any subject. Many of us are beginning to question how our opinions are formed. I want to respond to one opinion in particular.
Go ahead and tell me that we have to fight them over there, that it’s dangerous to consider disengaging from the nation destroying, widow making, migrant producing enemy factory of forever war. Tell me that we’re foolish to reduce tensions with well armed adversaries (and their relentless tweets and subversive Facebook posts). Tell me that you’re eager to send a son or daughter to fight. Tell me that you’re ready to volunteer yourself.
So, you’ve never served, never said goodbye to a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife or a parent as they left home to travel thousands of miles to a place where they will be almost universally despised, and where not even the nation they’re supposedly helping to “build” wants them to be there? You don’t even know anyone personally who served? Well. You must be a Congressman or a Senator (or a network commentator or a former president or presidential hopeful). If you are, there’s a better than 80% chance that you have no skin in the game of war. That’s right, for most of you whose responsibility it is to allow, or not to allow the sacrifice of American blood and treasure, it might as well be a game, because you suffer no consequences from your actions.
Go ahead and try to press your argument by enumerating all the returns that we (the tax paying public) have received from our multi-trillion dollar investment in destroying and rebuilding countries, and how the loss of 7000 American lives was worth the sacrifice. We’re not listening. We know who you are. We know you by the fruit of your labors. You came to Washington to do two things: To get reelected, and to work tirelessly to figure out ways to privatize profit while socializing risk.
Hopefully enough of us will see you for who you really are that we can send you back home.