Last week marked the deaths of 2,000 service members in Afghanistan. Combining the 4,486 killed in Iraq and the 59,515 wounded in both theaters of war and the number of dead or wounded Americans is larger than the population of Santee. San Diegans would notice if Santee’s residents disappeared. However, no one notices when it disappears halfway around the world.
It takes more than absent mindedly “liking” a meme on Facebook to support a veteran. Support means holding ourselves accountable for letting those veterans down. Our Constitution states “we, the people” form our government; therefore, when our heroes clad in camouflaged fatigues fall, it’s because we let them.
Today, we wave tiny flags in parades or pin flags to our lapels and call it patriotism. Those hollow acts are a far cry from the Vietnam era, when Americans watched raw horrors daily. The carnage incited protests, pressuring Washington to end the hostilities. It’s a far cry from today’s invisible war fought by invisible combatants.
In July, 38 invisible soldiers committed suicide. The rate of suicides in 2012 has heightened throughout the past couple of months. Suicide is now the U.S. military’s second leading cause of death. The tragedy is that suicide is preventable.
We weren’t prepared for the psychological trauma our returning military faced. We don’t have adequate mental counseling available. We allow backlogs at the Veterans Administration—often a veteran’s only medical recourse— because we won’t sufficiently budget it. Until recently, the media was prohibited from filming American flag-draped coffins. Those coffins are what we need to see to understand war isn’t as cool as watching a DOD-sanitized drone strike video.
Our neglect forced the military to undertake an overreaching role it wasn’t trained for. The nature of war demands unthinking, unfeeling automatons. Matters of the heart and mind must be subjugated to striking fast, striking hard. The military has long ridiculed those who cannot fight, coldly labeling all as malingerers. If the Pentagon has no need for those who are “sick, lame and lazy,” what will it do when a fighter says his brain is broken? Untreated mental illness doesn’t go away. It can eat away at the core of a man until he acts irrationally. We must take this burden away from the Pentagon by increasing awareness and acceptance of diseases, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
We failed them long before a first shot was fired on desert sand. They trusted us to not be led down a rabbit hole, but they were dragged down under false pretenses. The passion-filled days following 9/11 made us act irrationally.We gave too much power to an administration bent on using Al Qaeda as a catch-all justification for American imperialism. What we didn’t ask in our blind rush for revenge was whether or not we were unaware of mission creep.
Only eight months have passed since American troops in Iraq came home. In the ensuing months, the American-supported government in Iraq defied American-led sanctions against Iran. Financially aiding a country we consider an enemy calls into question the purpose of Baghdad’s liberation. It also threatens to render every American death on Iraqi soil as purposeless. President Barack Obama
and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ought to debate issues promoting the welfare of veterans instead of bickering about tax returns, as millionaires tend to do. They should pledge to stop placating the war industry by not engaging in missions without just cause. They must demand all veterans returning from combat undergo immediate mandatory psychological counseling and free post-deployment mental health care for a period of no less than one year—longer when deemed necessary by a physician.
We must stop pretending we aren’t still at war. We also must stop ignoring American heroes disappearing because of inadequate post-war care. It’s the least we can do for those who’ve selflessly placed their lives on the line on our behalf.