I write this on a Memorial Day, a day of not-so-sweet-remembrance, and am reminded that not all deaths are equal. The last American war (and only 20th century conflict) I would have willingly participated in was WWII; the evil was clear-cut, our choices equally unambiguous.
America is not well served by its leadership, by Republicans as well as Democrats. Right now there is a folderol over the Veterans Administration and its treatment (or lack thereof) of America’s servicemen and women. The appropriate questions, to me, are seldom asked.
The VA has been chugging along, dealing with mostly aging Vietnam-era veterans. Abruptly, thousands of wounded and damaged servicemen from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts began flooding the VA with their maladies and mental health (PTSD) issues. Not surprisingly, the VA, unprepared, failed its mission.
Here’s a recap of the dead and wounded from Vietnam (58,209 dead, 153,303 wounded), Iraq (4,488 dead, 32,222 wounded) and Afghanistan (2,229 dead, 18,675 wounded). Three wars of choice with tens of thousands dead and more than 100,000 wounded. But that is merely the tip of the iceberg. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one in four of the 2.4 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, some 633,000 men and women, have a service-related disability. The numbers of Vietnam veterans with disabilities is staggering, by some estimates 1,015,410 are receiving compensation today.
The true costs of war are seldom calculated with veracity in mind. Our political leaders, in the name of national security, willingly sacrifice American servicemen. None of these wars that America, by choice, entered warranted the death of one American. We have presidents on tape (see: Lyndon Johnson) commenting on the futility (hopelessness) of the Vietnam War. We know, unequivocally, that the George W. Bush administration immorally ginned the reasons for the Iraq War. What should have been a “surgical strike” or short-term offensive to kill Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan deteriorated into a long, meaningless conflict.
By some estimates, the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts (pointless wars of choice) will end up costing the United States over $3 trillion. By 2050, when the veterans of these wars are middle-aged, medical costs will skyrocket. It won’t be some patriotic July 4th bursts of fireworks commemorating the unfortunate sacrifice Americans made propping-up Middle Eastern despots, no, it will be the sky-rocketing explosions of red-ink funding overwhelming the VA and America by 2050.
Imagine if America had had enough wisdom to resist the tar baby of Vietnam, had not checked-its-collective-brains at the door and stayed out of Iraq and Afghanistan? We would not today be having this conversation about an under-performing, inadequate Veterans Administration. Oh, I can hear the umbrage now. Jepson, you’re dissing the sacrifice our veterans gave on behalf of America. No, these men made choices (serving in illegitimate, ill-conceived wars) that I did not make (or have to make). That is not the issue to me. It’s one thing to take orders, it’s quite another to be giving them.
We elect men (essentially) who are historically illiterate and gullible. Too many are susceptible to jingoistic nonsense or they lack the backbone to call a spade a shovel (that that conflict “over there” is none of our damn business). Want to really fix the VA long term? Make the choice to stay the hell out of war. It will save both lives and money. American.