War IS a Women's Issue, Senator Clinton
I spoke with Senator Clinton back in 2006, when I spent almost three months spearheading Operation House Call, a daily vigil in the summer sauna of Capitol Hill, with a growing number of combat boots representing what Congress's decision to "stay the course" in Iraq was costing our troops. The Senator is smaller and softer in person than she is on TV, but I guess that's the benefit of living in the political and financial Green Zone that affords the luxury of denial; that insulates and isolates an elected official from having to face the human and domestic costs of war.
In an effort to cement herself as the candidate of choice for working- and middle-class women, Senator Hillary Clinton is reaching out to those constituencies by touting issues like child care, Social Security and health care. Speaking to audiences of women political activists, she focuses almost exclusively on domestic policy, framing her presentations in terms of family, health and home, rarely, if ever, addressing foreign policy. Perhaps Hillary thinks women shouldn't worry their pretty little heads about things like war; that women should just leave that up to the men folk. Or perhaps it's because the Senator has no real grasp on precisely how the seemingly-interminable occupation of Iraq and the repeat, extended deployments are destroying the American home front.
As the (separated) wife of an Iraq war veteran, and a card-carrying member of Military Families Speak Out, I have no buffer. I live daily with the fall-out from this war, I hear regularly from the women who are suffering in silence, rambling e-mails dripping with the psychic blood that is being shed all over this nation, long phone calls from weeping wives, worried about their children, their husbands and their families, but rarely, if ever, themselves. We are America's uncounted, unrecognized collateral damage, left to fend for ourselves in a system that denies our experience and dismisses our existence.
Our numbers include: the mother in Seattle who is caring for - and bearing witness to - the grief and despair and suicidal thoughts of her young son who left blood, brains and body parts in the sands of Iraq; The wife of an Iraq war veteran who held her at knifepoint in front of the children while speaking in Arabic in a PTSD-induced disassociative fugue; the wife and child who are living in the dining room of a friend's house because her husband, a veteran, is in jail after bringing home weapons (not unusual) and the military has cut off his pay; the wife who has endured multiple violent assaults by her husband, whom the VA has discontinued treatment for because he's been issued orders for another tour in Iraq; the sister who is taking care of her brother with severe traumatic stress on a waitresses salary because his parents kicked him out and the VA won't help and he's got nowhere else to go.
Among the "acceptable losses" is the wife who asked, "How do you grieve for someone who isn't dead?" She is the primary caretaker of her Marine, suffering severe polytraumas, while also taking care of their three children and her elderly mother. Another casualty is the wife of Oregon Army Reserve Supply Sergeant Matthew Denni, whose PTSD contributed to him butchering his bride and stuffing her corpse in a footlocker.
We're branded "unpatriotic" if we talk about this in public. When we dare to tell the truth, we are slammed and slandered for being anti-military and not supporting the troops. Our loved ones are the troops. Without them - and, make no mistake about it, us, the women who were drafted when our loved ones enlisted and are serving without pay, support or recognition on the home front - there would be no military. And now we've got a female Presidential candidate who is trying to secure the women's vote by talking to women about "women's issues," like family, and children and health care, but refuses to address the domestic disaster that is descending upon military families across this country as the direct result of America's foreign policy. Senator Clinton, aren't we women, too?
Stacy Bannerman, M.S., is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, 2006). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.