Downplaying the Mess of War

by , June 22, 2010

“Honor those
Who lives did give;
But now who pays
For those that live?”

The best part of America’s wars is that, except for limited attacks during WWII, all our conflicts have been fought on somebody else’s soil since the battle of Appomattox. This represents good and careful planning. You certainly don’t want your own constituents grousing about residual Agent Orange, depleted uranium, unexploded ordnance, blown-up bridges, or torn-down homes.

Controlling the media likewise tamps down war complaints. Embedding friendly reporters into the military and banning stray ones from the battlefield sanitizes the perception of war for the folks back home.

And we do. You may have noticed, for example, that we haven’t seen or heard much about drones lately. Not long ago they were all the rage. They demonstrated that good old American know-how allowed us to kill the bad guys without getting our hands dirty. Then, worse luck, malcontent citizens in Pakistan and Afghanistan commenced whining that our armchair pilots back home in Nevada were bumping off too many of their wedding parties and 8-year-old insurgents. Suddenly drones disappeared from the headlines.

We don’t hear that much about the suffering of our own heroes either. Never did. But the Army Times reports that 18 vets a day commit suicide. Every day! And those are just the ones being treated by the VA health system. Worse, these only constitute 7 percent of those who try. In addition, 11 percent of those who attempted suicide once give it another shot within nine months. Suicide rates for active-duty troops are also high, but closely held. They’re generally called “accidents.”

Secret also are the numbers of vets and troops being treated for mental illness. Stuff happens when you send the flower of our youth to the heroin capital of the world to perform heinous acts of violence. Some are driven to substance abuse, others to a secret torture chamber in their own heads. Still others seek to escape into the next world. No wonder the military keeps things quiet.

Now just suppose, say, that high school kids received full knowledge of the hideous nature of war. Or the number of female soldiers who get raped. How many do you think would sign up? Well, sure, some still would, many of them because they need jobs or citizenship. But plenty who today respond to the Pentagon’s snazzy $4 billion recruiting budget might sign up for community college instead. Then how would we be able to invade Iran?

Probably by using still more civilians. That’s another secret. We’ve heard generally about the shady defense contractors who rip us off while supporting our armies abroad. Thanks to these mercenaries, we don’t need so many troops. But how many are there altogether? That’s classified. The estimate is one civilian per GI. And many are foreign laborers who work for dirt and are treated about the same.

That’s the way many soldiers and veterans feel too. Plenty with post-traumatic stress disorder find themselves discharged for behavioral problems, thus relieving the Pentagon of having to care for them. Others finish their enlistment and then flood the VA seeking help. Thus begins their next war: fighting for adequate appropriations to treat the suffering from preferably forgotten old wars.

All presidents are much more eager to “move forward” into exciting new wars, which someone else will later have to clean up. It’s the way of life.

Reprinted courtesy of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Read more by William A. Collins