Support Our Troops?
by Fred Samia
April 7, 2003
Now that the United States has invaded Iraq, I have been told that, regardless of what I think or feel about such an invasion, I should support the troops that are in harm's way. As someone who was a "troop," I have some thoughts on what it means to be "supported."
Support them how and to what purpose? Do I hope that no harm comes to those mostly young and innocent women and men? Of course, but who put them in harm's way and why? Do I want them to forgo experiences that will change forever who they are? That will rearrange the very core of their being? Yes, most assuredly. Do I want them to not see, first hand, what it's like to be the best and the bravest before, exalted and cajoled by recruiter and politician, only to return to indifference, lies and neglect? (The Bush Administration cut billions from veterans' benefits the same day the invasion began.)
Do I want their bodies to remain free of wounds and sickness, and their minds free of scars? Certainly. Do I want them to enjoy their virility and sexual energy unperverted by the mantra that killing equals manhood? Do I wish them lasting relationships? And freedom from the waking nightmares of other families blown apart? To spare them the long nights when no amount of darkness will blot out what plays on the backs of their eyelids? To liberate them from being the walking dead unseen in a blind society? And to never have to realize what being a pawn really means? Yes, without question. Do I want them to not be the tragic statistics of their generation as we are of ours, comprising the largest minority in prison, and greatest percentages of homeless, and drug and alcohol addicted? Estimates of Vietnam veterans who have taken their own lives since their return range from 100,000 on up, or at least twice the number that died in combat.
The Department of Defense for years ignored Vietnam veterans' pleas for help with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Agent Orange-caused illness, denying that there was any connection to their service, much the way they ignore Gulf War vets' complaints about the many depleted uranium-induced and other illnesses that have plagued them. As many as 10,000 vets may have died from Gulf War Syndrome, while another 160,000 have been diagnosed with related problems.
If this is what is meant by supporting our troops, then yes, count me among the staunchest. I would have been very happy, at nineteen, to have had such an ally in 1967, before the Marine Corps sent me to the killing fields of the "demilitarized zone" in Vietnam.
If, however, supporting the troops means that I should condone their being sent 7,000 miles to attack a sovereign nation that has not attacked or threatened us, no matter how reprehensible its leader, to invade a country already decimated by twenty years of war, and twelve years of punitive sanctions, then I have to say no, I don't support the troops. (The Gulf War never ceased for the Iraqi people who were bombed almost daily during those years. The United Nations documents more than a million deaths directly attributable to the sanctions, including 500,000 children.)
If supporting the troops means letting them be used to secure "cheap" oil (unless you count lives per barrel), for our one-person-per-SUV life-style, and the obscene profits of corporations who bankroll candidates and influence elections, then I say no again. If it means letting them subordinate their humanity to the techno-fix of weapons, which Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld actually called "humanitarian," (Even Orwell never envisioned such perversion of language.) then no again and always. If it means making them unwitting (and, usually, uninformed) enforcers of a foreign policy that is as wrong as it is murderous, that uses brute force as a first resort, while ignoring the will of a majority of the world's people, then no, never.
Following your conscience and sense of morality is not un-American or unpatriotic, whether a citizen on the streets protesting an unjust "optional" war, or a soldier refusing to carry out what he knows is an inhumane order.
The Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals at the end of World War II, established that, "I was just following orders," is not a legitimate defense. Civilian casualties have increased with each succeeding war or conflict since the last century. A million Vietnamese non-combatants died in "my" war. And contrary to Pentagon propaganda, the use of "smart" weapons has not decreased the ratio of civilian to soldier deaths. Recent studies show that the percentage of civilian casualties in Bosnia and the Gulf War actually increased with the greater use of guided munitions. As of this writing, two weeks into the invasion, Associated Press is reporting that 1250 Iraqi civilians have already died in the bombing and fighting. (Contrary to the media image, Iraq is not just Saddam Hussein. There are 23,999,999 other people living in that country. More than half of whom are under eighteen years of age.)
Having barely survived several B-52 raids that dropped their "payloads" too close to our positions, I can testify that carpet bombing is anything but pinpoint accurate. And two thousand-pound bombs will never be "smart"! Our much-touted satellite-guided Cruise and Tomahawk missiles have proven slightly less than accurate--some of them not only missed their targets, they missed the entire country of Iraq, landing in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran! The Pentagon claims to not keep figures of Iraqi civilians and soldiers killed, which is untrue. They won't publish those figures because it would highlight the overwhelming mismatch of technologies and weaponry, and give lie to the myth of a "clean" war.
No one, individual or nation, escapes war unwounded. It is just a matter of how visible and deep the wound and how and if it ever heals.
Support our troops--stop the killing now.
Fred Samia is a Vietnam War veteran whose seven decorations include a Purple Heart.