Corporate America loves to proclaim its love and support for "our veterans." The persistent problem of veteran suicide has provided big firms with an opportunity to demonstrate their concern about the health and well-being of former military personnel, including those they employ. Unfortunately, at companies like Amazon, this performative patriotism does not involve improving working conditions or changing any management practices that might actually make them better employers, even while they pledge to hire more employees with military backgrounds.
I changed my flight back home to Hawai’i so I could be at the protest of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Houston on Friday, May 27 following the mass murder of 19 kids and 2 teachers at the Uvalde, Texas elementary school earlier in the week. The NRA callously refused to postpone its annual gun-selling convention in Houston despite the call for the organization to stand down in wake of yet another mass killing, the third in a period of three weeks with ten killed at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York and one person killed and five wounded in shooting at a church in Laguna Woods, California. Thousands of angry people of all ages jammed into Discovery Park across the street from the massive George R. Brown convention center in downtown Houston.
Military service in the U.S. and the U.K. promised more than it ever delivered for many post-9/11volunteers. As sociologist and Vietnam vet Jerry Lembcke observes, “this generation of veterans went off to Iraq and Afghanistan with more hoopla than any generation since World War II. But a lot of them, particularly the men, came back deflated and disappointed with the experience they had. It did not live up to the mythology of what war is supposed to be, because there is no glory in these inglorious wars.” Adding insult to moral injury, hundreds of thousands of modern-day veterans developed long-term medical or mental health conditions that were service related. If these afflictions affected their job performance while still on active duty, the Department of Defense (DOD) thanked many of them for their service by drumming them out in punitive fashion.
In recent years, both major parties in the U.S. have been recruiting former members of the military, the foreign service, or national security agencies to run for Congress. Almost all of these so-called “service candidates” are either conservative Republicans or corporate Democrats, who quickly become part of the bi-partisan majority on Capitol Hill which rubber-stamps ever larger Pentagon budgets and fails to get big money out of politics. Two years ago, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) bet heavily on four ex- military officers running for US Senate seats against right-wing Republicans in Arizona, Texas, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Despite much Super-PAC spending on their behalf, only one of them, former astronaut Mark Kelly, actually got elected.
The U.S.-based international organization Veterans For Peace has released its own assessment of the current global threat of nuclear war, ahead of the anticipated release of the Biden Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. The Veterans For Peace Nuclear Posture Review warns that the danger of nuclear war is greater than ever and that nuclear disarmament must be vigorously pursued. Veterans For Peace plans to deliver their Nuclear Posture Review to the President and Vice President, to every member of Congress, and to the Pentagon. With the first anniversary of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on January 22, the Veterans For Peace Nuclear Posture Review calls on the U.S. government to sign the treaty and to work with other nuclear-armed states to eliminate all the world’s nuclear weapons.
In recent years, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have backed privatization of services provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). As part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the VHA serves about nine million patients and operates the largest public healthcare system in the country. Since 2015, billions of dollars have been diverted from VHA care to private doctors and for-profit hospitals who treat veterans in costlier and less effective fashion. This cannibalization of the VHA budget began under President Obama, escalated during the Trump era, and continues under Joe Biden.
“If the military were to disclose its full carbon footprint and do so on a regular basis, that number would be deeply embarrassing and create a tremendous amount of political pressure on the U.S. military to reduce those emissions going forward,” former army officer and Afghanistan War veteran Eric Edstrom told Democracy Now! “We cannot make smart choices intellectually and strategically, until those numbers come out.”
Some 30,000 post 9/11 service members and veterans have been desperate enough to take their own lives. A real day for veterans would provide mental and physical support services that would seek to reduce or eliminate these self-inflicted casualties. There are 40,000 homeless veterans in this country. A real day for veterans would address their physical and emotional needs and help them access permanent housing. One of every 10 post 9/11 veterans has been diagnosed with a substance abuse problem. A real day for veterans would help them get treatment without stigmatization or shame. Fifteen percent of post 9/11 veterans suffer from PTSD. A real day for veterans would provide them with the mental health services they need to cope with the soul-damaging trauma they experienced.
Over one hundred years ago the world celebrated peace as a universal principle. The first World War had just ended and nations mourning their dead collectively called for an end to all wars. Armistice Day was born and was designated as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated." After World War II, the U.S. Congress decided to rebrand November 11 as Veterans Day. Honoring the warrior quickly morphed into honoring the military and glorifying war. Armistice Day was flipped from a day for peace into a day for displays of militarism. Veterans For Peace has taken the lead in lifting up the original intention of November 11th – as a day for peace. As veterans we know that a day that celebrates peace, not war, is the best way to honor the sacrifices of veterans.
Nearly 20 years ago, in July 2002, I sat behind then-President George W. Bush as he gave a speech to my Army unit, the 10th Mountain Division. Less than a year later I was in Iraq, on Bush’s orders, as part of the US invasion. Tonight as Bush spoke at a so-called “Distinguished Speaker Series” event in Beverly Hills--with the cheapest tickets starting at over $500--I again watched from the crowd, before confronting the event. Primarily, I demanded he apologize for the 1 million or more dead, who are only dead because of his lies and his crimes. When George W. Bush took the nation to war in Iraq, he did so with full knowledge that Iraq possessed none of the Weapons of Mass Destruction he told the country he knew existed.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks that were used to justify multiple Middle Eastern interventions is a fitting occasion to consider the ultimate cost of military combat. Thanks to advances in military medicine, soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a much higher survival rate, recovering from wounds that would have been fatal decades earlier in Vietnam. As a result, far more post-9/11 combat veterans carry wounds of war, both visible and invisible, for the rest of their lives. Many news reports cite the trillions of dollars that have been spent directly by the Department of Defense and related agencies on two simultaneous occupations and other global war on terror operations.
Iraq War veteran Mike Prysner has been an antiwar activist for fifteen years. He has been arrested demonstrating outside the Capitol building, helped active-duty soldiers refuse orders to fight in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and organized grieving families who’ve lost enlisted or veteran loved ones to war or suicide. Prysner founded the organization March Forward! in 2008. Today, he’s an antiwar journalist, having cowritten and produced multiple documentaries for the program The Empire Files, hosted by his wife, Abby Martin. He’s also a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. As US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Jacobin’s Meagan Day caught up with Prysner to talk about why the United States stayed in Afghanistan so long, despite knowing it was losing the war and destroying countless lives.
This summer, it seemed as if we Americans couldn’t wait to return to our traditional July 4th festivities. Haven’t we all been looking for something to celebrate? The church chimes in my community rang out battle hymns for about a week. The utility poles in my neighborhood were covered with “Hometown Hero” banners hanging proudly, sporting the smiling faces of uniformed local veterans from our wars. Fireworks went off for days, sparklers and cherry bombs and full-scale light shows filling the night sky. But all the flag-waving, the homespun parades, the picnics and military bands, the flowery speeches and self-congratulatory messages can’t dispel a reality, a truth that’s right under our noses: all is not well with our military brothers and sisters.
For Memorial Day week, Clearing the FOG speaks with David Swanson, the cofounder and executive director of World Beyond War, an international organization that is working to abolish all war. World Beyond War will hold its annual conference virtually from June 4 to 6. The conference, called "From Weapons Fairs to War Zones: Unraveling the War Machine," will bring activists together to share how they are stopping weapons corporation exhibitions, divesting from war, closing foreign bases and more. They will discuss what type of world they are working to create. David also speaks about his recent book, "Leaving World War II Behind," that debunks the myth of that as "the last good war."
We are tired of parades, memorials and pageantry. Take back your “thank you for your service” and 50% off sales. We want people to live without threats of U.S. bullets and bombs. We remember the enormous loss of civilian life that is forgotten in today’s memorials and hidden from view in the U.S. consciousness. America has no space on its calendar to memorialize these victims. We grieve the loss of friends and the death of veterans unable to forget the tragedies and forgive themselves. We are ANGRY that there is a holiday that glorifies nationalism and patriotism and ignores the trauma that U.S. militarism enacts all over the globe.