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A Great Nation, Poisoned by War

William A. Collins

Gives our souls, An awful chill; Sending soldiers, Off to kill.

The full-page Army ad in the NAACP magazine reads, "You made them strong. We'll make them Army Strong." Besides focusing on these vulnerable minority parents, recruiters are nowadays even trolling homeless shelters, their lures baited with offers of $20,000 to leave "home." Further, enlistment standards have been lowered for intellectual capacity, emotional stability, and criminal record. These are our own homegrown mercenaries, sifted largely from among the poor.

And while such troops may sound expensive to muster, they're a bargain compared with the real live mercenaries we hire for Iraq and Afghanistan. American civilians over there get paid like generals, and foreign workers command princely sums compared to the scrabbly farms or brutal sweatshops back home. Like the Romans and British before us, our imperial military has become totally dependent on private workers. Halliburton and Blackwater are the new Hessians.

Here in Norwalk, a heroic-looking young man has just returned from early boot camp to start his senior year in high school. He wants to give something "back" to his country. His dad's not worried. After all, he survived war in his native El Salvador. His son probably will survive too.

Maybe. Battlefield care is surely outstanding now, and only 3,800 troops have actually died at the front. Unfortunately, we don't keep such close tabs on the wounded. Too depressing. If we did publish true figures of the emotionally maimed or the economically disabled, it might discourage some of our potential cannon fodder from enlisting. That in turn could undermine the $700 million we spend each year on recruiters and the $583 million for advertising and promotion.

But even recruiting has now gone mercenary. At the Veterans for Peace convention in St. Louis this summer, a group of Iraq vets stumbled upon an army recruiting team at the adjacent African American Expo. An impromptu peace demonstration ensued, where the vets discovered that the recruiters were not soldiers at all, but civilians looking military. Such is our shortage of troops.


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For Iraqis, of course, the war is infinitely worse. We don't even count their casualties. We just assume that everyone we kill is an al Qaida "suspect." This self-fulfilling prophecy has made plain just how sinister those blackguards really are, enlisting women and small children for their nefarious work. Iraqi wounded are simply assumed to die of their injuries in the privacy of their own battered homes. This is probably not a bad guess, since we have contrived to demolish their hospitals and water purification plants, and to chase their doctors abroad.

Our own wounded remain nearly as uncounted. The governor and Connecticut veterans officials have pleaded with the Pentagon and the VA for data on who will be returning in need of care. Unfortunately, such recordkeeping conflicts with a White House policy of downplaying the wounded, so as not to sap enthusiasm for the battle.

And now, verifying what we already knew in our hearts, Alan Greenspan, of all people, has confirmed that the war is actually just about oil. No kidding. Good thing our potential high school recruits don't read the financial pages. They might begin to wonder just what it is they're giving "back" to their country. Though it's possible, I suppose, that kids are in fact rooting for oil company profits. They'll root for almost anything these days.

But this poisonous oppressing of another country is quietly doing its insidious work on our souls. Even in progressive Connecticut, we're becoming hardened to dead and dying foreign civilians, homeless refugees, Muslim bashing, and destroyed cultures. Such forsaking of conscience is a heavy price for a little more oil and empire.

Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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