If there’s one thing that unifies the nation in times of perpetual war it’s the pledge to “Support the Troops”.
Between yellow ribbon magnets, patriotic anthems at sports games and corporate marketing campaigns, the rhetoric that those in uniform are protecting freedom is hammered into the psyche of Americans at every turn.
But no war ever fought by the US military has been about freedom. Communism wasn’t a threat to us then, and terrorism isn’t a threat to us now. The only reason an empire ever fights wars is to maintain empire.
Every year, the establishment hijacks Veterans Day – not only to audaciously commemorate the war criminals that send our brothers and sisters off to needlessly die – but to justify decades of bloodshed and militarism while paving the way for decades more.
It’s been thirteen years after the declaration of a global “War on Terror”, with two catastrophic failures under Uncle Sam’s belt. In occupied Afghanistan, America’s longest war, opium cultivation is at record high. In Iraq, over one million civilians were slaughtered to secure oil interests. And despite being kicked out of the country by Iraqis, Obama just keeps sending more troops to fight the new al Qaeda, pledging 1500 more boots on the ground just this week.
The stream of empty platitudes ordering troop worship is especially ironic considering the abysmal treatment veterans receive once they return home.
More than 6,800 soldiers have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. And until 2011, war was the leading cause of soldier death. Then they started taking their own lives. In 2012 and 2013, soldiers began killing themselves faster than they were dying on the battlefield, according to the Pentagon’s own data. To put that into perspective, a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes, or twenty-two every single day.
Maybe this number wouldn’t be so stunningly high if the military and VA actually helped returning soldiers rehabilitate. Instead, thousands are suffering from various injuries and forms of PTSD when they are thrown back into society.
Back in March, the backlog of Veterans benefits was a staggering 400,000 cases with an average wait time of 125 days to process the claims, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. At least one million servicemen and women have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to 300 thousand during the Vietnam War, despite the lack of a draft. The number could be even higher, but the VA abruptly stopped publishing the number of injured troops, citing national security reasons for the censorship.
The disgraceful way veterans are treated in this country exemplifies how little this government actually values life. Amidst all the ritualistic pageantry immortalizing fallen soldiers, we lose sight of the military mind, one that dominates policy and breeds new generations of sadists, who are taught that other human beings have lesser value than them. This toxic mindset seeps into every facet of American society, teaching every citizen that force is the answer to every problem. As Chris Hedges explains:
“The U.S. military has won the ideological war. The nation sees human and social problems as military problems. To fight terrorists Americans have become terrorists. Peace is for the weak. War is for the strong. Hypermasculinity has triumphed over empathy.”
As Salon journalist David Masciotra points out, compulsory troop worship deadens democracy and restricts questioning. Calling all soldiers heroes undermines those who actually are, a person who would throw themselves in the line of fire to save their battalion should not be generalized alongside one that pillages, rapes and murders.
I know people don’t join the military to be called heroes, or because they think they’re fighting evil incarnate. Most do so because there are no jobs and no hope, but there’s always hope that comes with choosing peace over violence. War would cease to exist if soldiers refused to fight them.
The only heroes of today’s wars are those who resist them, including, Tomas Young, a 34 year old soldier who became paralyzed on his fifth day deployed in Iraq from a bullet to the spine. Ever since, Young became one of the most prominent anti-war activists in America, famously penning an excoriating letter to Bush and Cheney.
He died on the eve of Veterans Day this week. But he said he wanted to die knowing that he fought as hard as he could to keep another him from coming back to Iraq.
So, the next time you hear someone say “Support the Troops”, ask what they’re doing to make sure there will be no more bloodshed, no more body bags and no more war.
Abby Martin | @abbymartin
Photo by flickr user Beverly & Pack