Tomas Young’s War Is the Cost of Empire

When the eulogy for the US Empire is finally written, it will not serve to glorify the exploits of the US government abroad. There won’t be a laudatory recounting of examples of the Empire spreading so-called democracy across the world by the barrel of gun, or by drone strike, or by military occupation. No one will sing the praises of the world’s leading weapons manufacturer, nor mourn the loss of the only State to annihilate entire cities with atom bombs.

Tomas Young’s War is one story that must be featured prominently in any history of the fall of the US Empire, however, not because it shares with us antiwar triumphs at a time of perpetual war, but because it highlights the tragic consequences of war. Unfortunately, this story’s hero succumbs to his injuries after years of rehabilitation and medical setbacks that followed his deployment to Iraq. The Iraq War never really ended, and even today it isn’t over, despite the decrees from D.C. to the contrary. Tomas Young’s War is a book that is relatable to a wide audience, beyond the antiwar crowd already receptive to its message. The author, Mark Wilkerson, himself a veteran, has written a biography that is as well-written as it is devastating in both its substance and implications as to how Americans think of US foreign policy.

Tomas Young’s War is an American story. Tomas, an average Midwestern boy, came from a home complicated by divorce and a childhood sometimes marred by unpleasantness. His mother, Cathy, would later prove to be one of his strongest supporters and a reason this young man was able to survive as long as he did with agonizing injuries and constant pain. Like many Americans, Tomas was unsure of his future and what to do with his life as he became a man. Two days after witnessing the horrific blowback in the form of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and inspired by President George W. Bush’s call to enlist from the rubble in New York, Tomas decided to join the United States Army. He hoped to defend his country, earn money for college through the G.I. Bill, and "I wanted to go to Afghanistan and get the people that did this to us."

Bush had other plans and other wars to start, so Tomas was eventually sent to Iraq, a conflict he viewed as unconstitutional, pointless, and avoidable. Five days after being sent to Iraq in April 2004, a year after the conflict began, Tomas was shot. He was riding in an open, unarmored vehicle when a bullet pierced his spine during an ambush in Sadr City, paralyzing him from the chest down.

For the next decade, Tomas battled his injuries and the government responsible for sending him off to die in another unnecessary war. His activism with Iraq Veterans Against the War was strained at times, but through that initial antiwar activism, Tomas found his voice and was featured prominently in Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue’s under-appreciated documentary film, Body of War. Wilkerson’s biography of Tomas not only provides a more well-rounded view of its subject, but most importantly, Wilkerson picks up where the 2007 documentary left off and tells the final chapters of Tomas Young’s life.

This biography should be easily accessible to most Americans, because in the age of Empire, most of us have one connection or another to the US government’s wars and those who have participated in them. Read the letter Tomas famously wrote to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, The Last Letter, and try to hold back your emotions. You can’t.

Tomas wasn’t always staunchly antiwar, which is evident by his reasons for enlisting in the first place. Tomas believed Afghanistan to be the ‘good war’ and Iraq to be the ‘wrong war’, but he had begun to seriously doubt the righteousness of the war in Afghanistan as it dragged on to become the longest war in US history. Tomas became a champion of the antiwar cause and a vociferous proponent of counter-recruitment – a strategy to oppose war by employing various methods to prevent military recruiters from enlisting civilians, ranging from engaging in political speech to taking direct action.

The eulogy for the US Empire will be damning, and perhaps far worse than your average American realizes. Congratulatory huzzahs and admirable moments are nonexistent in this eulogy because it will be overshadowed with complete and utter horror. The eulogy will contain words like torture, preemptive war, rendition, night raids, Predator drones, occupation, orphaned children, rape, widowed spouses, domestic violence, broken families, Hellfire missiles, veteran suicides, murder, and a list of others so long that only the end of the Empire will possibly truncate it.

Tomas Young’s War presents the lesson that must be learned, understood, and reiterated again and again. The costs of war are far greater than financial expenditures and deaths incurred. The war doesn’t end when guns fall silent, battlefields clear, and forces disengage. The war comes home in so many ways, exemplified by the life of Tomas Young, a man paralyzed before his twenty-fifth birthday after a mere five days in Iraq on behalf of the US Empire.

Following Tomas Young’s death, which occurred just hours before Armistice Day 2014, Ralph Nader wrote, "In the annals of military history, moral courage is much rarer than physical courage, in part because of the long-lasting sanctions against dissenters and those who speak truth to power about the faults in our own society. Tomas Young had both moral and physical courage. His example should be heeded by young soldiers in the future who are ordered by their gravely flawed politicians to make the ultimate sacrifice for their leaders’ illegal follies and ambitions."

Save yourselves. Save your sons. Save your daughters. Save your friends, family, and strangers. Those lives matter considerably more than any government policy that will result in property destruction, further insecurity, and death.

Tell others and ask them to spread the word: Don’t enlist.

(Listen to Jared Labell’s great interview of Mark Wilkerson about the book here.
And listen to Wilkerson’s
recent talk he gave about the book here. -ed)

Jared Labell is executive director of Taxpayers United of America (TUA), a nonpartisan, 501(c)(4) taxpayer advocacy group. Founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1976 by activist and economist Jim Tobin, TUA works on behalf of taxpayers to reduce local, state, and federal taxes. Labell’s work has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox television, WBBM and WBEZ radio, and published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, other various newspapers, and the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Read more by Jared Labell

Author: Jared Labell

Jared Labell is executive director of Taxpayers United of America (TUA), a nonpartisan, 501(c)(4) taxpayer advocacy group. Founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1976 by activist and economist Jim Tobin, TUA works on behalf of taxpayers to reduce local, state, and federal taxes. Labell’s work has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox television, WBBM and WBEZ radio, and published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, other various newspapers, and the Future of Freedom Foundation.