Saturday, December 31, 2011

War Is Hell; For Hundreds of Thousands of Our Iraq Veterans It's Far From Over

It was suggested by Rachel in one of her last 2011 shows, as a matter to "discuss" amongst ourselves, that we should have a ticker-tape parade in the "Canyon of Heroes" in New York City to welcome home and honor our returning Iraq War veterans, celebrating the official "end" of the war with the last of our troops' pullout. People, veterans, are divided over this. As they should be.

Here's my two cents: I think it's an ill-conceived, if not terrible, idea. A New York City ticker-tape parade is traditionally an upbeat celebration to honor some remarkable event, or person(s) who did heroic service to the nation, or, as in this case, the end to a war. That's key. The war in Iraq may be over, but the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not. Borders are porous. American troops have lost their lives on both sides of the so-called "Af-Pak" line, a metaphor for a border where lines on a map are largely meaningless. Americans are fighting a shooting war in that perilous region as we prepare to celebrate the New Year. Every day, it seems, there are reports of more dead and wounded in this shooting war.

As long as any part of our military are in harm's way in a hot, unresolved war in the "Af-Pak" theater of operations, it's unseemly, in my view, to celebrate the safe return from Iraq of their brothers and sisters in arms with a ticker-tape parade. Yes, we should and must honor our returning Iraq troops, but with more sober and dignified ceremonies that acknowledge the simple fact our troops still face peril in a war whose end is not in sight. Iraq and Afghanistan are inextricably linked. Celebrating the end of one war while the other rages on just doesn't seem right. When the last of our troops leave Afghanistan for their final trip home, alive and whole or not, then maybe we can consider having a New York City ticker-tape parade.

In the meantime, our veterans need all of our support, and then some. Two sobering news items I read today only begin to show just how sheltered we, non-combatants, are from the immensity of the horrors suffered by the troops fighting for us. Dan Froomkin of the Huffington Post writes that the official number of wounded, 32,226, "wildly understates the number of American servicemembers who have come back from Iraq less than whole":
"The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year-long fiasco in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands — maybe even more than half a million — if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems."
In a related story, is this disturbing item the Pentagon and U.S. military do not like to publicize: "For the second year in row, more US soldiers killed themselves than were killed in combat. In 2010, 468 soldiers took their own lives, compared to 462 killed in fighting." According to reports, "an average of 18 veterans per day commit suicide and many more attempt it. Last year, 20 per cent of America’s 30,000 suicides was a soldier or veteran."

These are the hidden costs of war, on the human scale. They will be with us long after the last U.S. soldier leaves Afghanistan. And there's not enough ticker-tape that can ever paper over such tragedy.

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