Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.

Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]

 

Iraq: Just Another War Without an End

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

 We know the names of every one of the 4,479 Americans who were killed and the 32,200 who were wounded, both civilian and military, between March 20, 2003 and Oct. 21, 2011, the day President Barack Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, declared the last American soldier would leave Iraq before the end of the year.

We know Second Lieutenant Therrel Shane Childers was the first American soldier killed by hostile fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On March 21, 2003, less than a day after the U.S.-led invasion, Childers was shot in the stomach by hostile forces while leading a Marine platoon to secure an oil field in southern Iraq.  His father, Joseph, told NPR that it was his dream to lead Marines into combat.

Childers, from Gulfport, Miss., had enlisted in the Marines 12 years earlier, was a security guard at the Geneva consulate and the Nairobi embassy, fought in the Persian Gulf War, and then attended the Citadel on a special program that allows enlisted personnel to be commissioned upon graduation. He was a French major and on the Dean’s List. Childers, who had wanted to be a horse trainer when he retired from the Marines, was 30 years old when he died. The Marines promoted him to first lieutenant posthumously.

On the day Childers was killed, 12 men—seven from the United Kingdom, one from South Africa, and four from the U.S.—were killed in a helicopter crash near Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq. At the time, the Marine Corps called the crash of the CH-46E Sea Knight accidental, but didn’t elaborate.

About the time the helicopter crashed, Lance Corporal José Antonio Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Marine, was killed by what is euphemistically known as “friendly fire.” He was an orphan from Guatemala who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico, lived on the streets of San Diego and Los Angeles, was granted a temporary visa, lived with a series of foster families, graduated from high school, and began attending college, hoping to become an architect. The U.S. granted him citizenship posthumously.

On the second day of the war, three more Americans and six from England were killed. On the third day, 30 more Americans and four British were killed. By the end of March, 92 were killed.

One month before the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had declared the upcoming war, which he warned would be a “shock and awe” strategy, might last “six days, maybe six weeks; I doubt six months.”

On May 1, 2003, aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego, President George W. Bush, decorated in flight gear, declared “Mission Accomplished.” Official military records show that when President Bush made his announcement, 172 Coalition troops had been killed. More than 4,600 American and allied soldiers would die in Iraq after that declaration; more than 31,500 Americans would be wounded, many permanently disabled, after that bravado proclamation.

We know the oldest American soldier to die in combat was 60; the youngest was 18, of which there were 34. We know that 476 of those killed were from California; Pennsylvania and Florida each had 176 deaths by the time the President announced full withdrawal from Iraq.

 

There are names we don’t know. We don’t know the names and life stories of the 4.7 million refugees, nor the two million Iraqis who fled the violence caused by the Coalition invasion. We don’t know the names of the orphaned children, one-third of all of Iraq’s youth. We don’t know the names of the 100,000–150,000 civilians killed. We don’t have accurate records of more than a million who were wounded. It no longer matters who killed or wounded them, who destroyed their lives and property—American, allied, Shia, Sunni, insurgent, criminal, or al-Qaeda. It doesn’t matter if they died from IEDs, suicide bombers, gunshots, artillery, bombs, or missiles. In war, they’re simply known as “collateral damage.”

In Afghanistan, 2,769 Coalition troops have been killed, 1,815 of them American, by the day that President Obama announced the withdrawal from Iraq. There are already 14,343 wounded among the Coalition forces. Between 36,000 and 75,000 Afghani civilians have been killed by insurgents and Coalition troops during the past decade, according to the United Nations. President Obama told the world that the war in Afghanistan would continue at least two more years.

You can try to sanitize the wars by giving them patriotic names—Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operation Enduring Freedom. But that doesn’t change the reality that millions of every demographic have been affected. War doesn’t discriminate. The dead on all sides are physicians and religious leaders; trades people, farmers, clerks, merchants, teachers, and mothers.  And they are babies and students. We don’t know what they might have become had they been allowed to grow up and live a life of peace, one without war.

We also don’t yet know who will be the last American soldier to be killed in Iraq. As important, we don’t know how Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) will affect the one million soldiers who were called for as many as seven tours of duty, nor when the last Iraq War veteran will die from permanent injuries. And we will never know the extent of the terror that will plague the families, children, and grandchildren of those who served.

But there is one more thing we do know. A year before José Antonio Gutierrez was killed, he had written a “Letter to God” in Spanish. Translated, it read: “Thank you for permitting me to live another year, thank you for what I have, for the type of person I am, for my dreams that don’t die. . . . May the firearms be silent and the teachings of love flourish.”

[Walter Brasch first began writing about war in 1966. He wishes he didn’t have to. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a novel that focuses upon America between 1964 and 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War.]

 

 

 

Not over

Ackerman says it's a big deal the troops are coming home, but America's military efforts in Iraq are anything but over:

They are instead entering a new phase. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas.

The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries. The 2007 Nisour Square shootings by State’s security contractors, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, marked one of the low points of the war. Now, State will be commanding a much larger security presence, the equivalent of a heavy combat brigade. In July, Danger Room exclusively reported that the Department blocked the Congressionally-appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors’ rules of engagement.

That means no one outside the State Department knows how its contractors will behave as they ferry over 10,000 U.S. State Department employees throughout Iraq — which, in case anyone has forgotten, is still a war zone. Since Iraq wouldn’t grant legal immunity to U.S. troops, it is unlikely to grant it to U.S. contractors, particularly in the heat and anger of an accident resulting in the loss of Iraqi life.

It’s a situation with the potential for diplomatic disaster.

And the cost of the transition may again be hidden in public accounting.

 

Iraq and Afghanistan

 

The Register Guard of Eugene Oregon published an editorial, the type of which you can see in just about any newspaper. It caught my eye because it was brief, to the point and contained some basic stats which I found interesting.

For the first time since President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, an entire month has passed without a single U.S. soldier dying in a conflict that has claimed the lives of 4,474 American service members.
The U.S. military is preparing to pull the last troops out of Iraq by the end of the year in accordance with a 2008 security agreement between the two countries. But there is troubling talk in Washington and Baghdad of extending that deadline to have U.S. troops remain longer in Iraq.
While Iraq was becoming less lethal, 67 U.S. troops died last month in the Afghanistan war, making August the deadliest month for Americans in the longest-running war in U.S. history.
Obama should also continue — and expedite — the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, site of a nearly decade-long war in which this country has invested $1 trillion, 10 years of effort and the lives of 1,754 U.S. troops.

I'm tired of the BS from Washington about withdrawing troops which usually comes with the disclaimer that the date could be postponed. What do the guys on the ground in Iraq think? Are they of the opinion that we're doing something worthwhile there? Or are they cynical and angry?

I suppose it's a good sign, no it definitely is a good sign that no fatalities happened in Iraq last month. My sincere prayer is that it may continue like that and somehow the government will do the right thing by the end of this year.

Afghanistan is another story. What in the hell has been accomplished there at such a cost? Was it all about Bin Laden and the Taliban? I doubt it, but whatever else it is, some strategic balance of power in the region or whatever, I say that's enough. Let's get out of there.

Unfortunately, as the August deaths indicate, it's going in the opposite direction. What do those troops think? Is the idea that the U.S. is policing the world in order to make it safer something that sustains them? Bush and Bush supporters always said that, but do people still think that way?

The op-ed I linked to made the point that in order to heal the economy at home we need to stop spending so much on these wars. That may be true, but to me there's a more important reason, a more human reason to end these ill-fated endeavors. We have young Americans dying over there and I honestly cannot see for what.

As has been said many times in defense of pacifist and non-intervention arguments, the best way I can see to support the troops is to bring them home, every one. We can spend some of that money on VA hospitals and PTSS clinics. We can invest in education and vocational programs for these young volunteers.

This is how we can make America strong.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

(cross posted at Mikeb302000)

 

Iraq and Afghanistan

 

The Register Guard of Eugene Oregon published an editorial, the type of which you can see in just about any newspaper. It caught my eye because it was brief, to the point and contained some basic stats which I found interesting.

For the first time since President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, an entire month has passed without a single U.S. soldier dying in a conflict that has claimed the lives of 4,474 American service members.
The U.S. military is preparing to pull the last troops out of Iraq by the end of the year in accordance with a 2008 security agreement between the two countries. But there is troubling talk in Washington and Baghdad of extending that deadline to have U.S. troops remain longer in Iraq.
While Iraq was becoming less lethal, 67 U.S. troops died last month in the Afghanistan war, making August the deadliest month for Americans in the longest-running war in U.S. history.
Obama should also continue — and expedite — the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, site of a nearly decade-long war in which this country has invested $1 trillion, 10 years of effort and the lives of 1,754 U.S. troops.

I'm tired of the BS from Washington about withdrawing troops which usually comes with the disclaimer that the date could be postponed. What do the guys on the ground in Iraq think? Are they of the opinion that we're doing something worthwhile there? Or are they cynical and angry?

I suppose it's a good sign, no it definitely is a good sign that no fatalities happened in Iraq last month. My sincere prayer is that it may continue like that and somehow the government will do the right thing by the end of this year.

Afghanistan is another story. What in the hell has been accomplished there at such a cost? Was it all about Bin Laden and the Taliban? I doubt it, but whatever else it is, some strategic balance of power in the region or whatever, I say that's enough. Let's get out of there.

Unfortunately, as the August deaths indicate, it's going in the opposite direction. What do those troops think? Is the idea that the U.S. is policing the world in order to make it safer something that sustains them? Bush and Bush supporters always said that, but do people still think that way?

The op-ed I linked to made the point that in order to heal the economy at home we need to stop spending so much on these wars. That may be true, but to me there's a more important reason, a more human reason to end these ill-fated endeavors. We have young Americans dying over there and I honestly cannot see for what.

As has been said many times in defense of pacifist and non-intervention arguments, the best way I can see to support the troops is to bring them home, every one. We can spend some of that money on VA hospitals and PTSS clinics. We can invest in education and vocational programs for these young volunteers.

This is how we can make America strong.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

(cross posted at Mikeb302000)

 

Diaries

Advertise Blogads