Do you know that a US serviceman or woman still is killed every other day in Iraq? That an Iraq War veteran takes his or her own life nearly every day?
The people I spent this weekend with in Washington, DC know these facts, up close and personal.
We are the members of Military Families Speak Out (www.MFSO.org). We keep “speaking out,” but it seems like no one is listening anymore. Our soldiers languishing in Iraq are forgotten amidst news of bailouts, economic stimulus packages, and talks of escalation in Afghanistan.
We came from across the US – from California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama, Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and other places I can’t recall.
We held a briefing downtown for the media and Congress. Practically no one came.
We walked in solemn procession from Arlington Cemetery to the White House, carrying flowers for all the Iraqi dead, US military casualties, and surviving veterans. No one came.
It wasn’t a protest or demonstration. It was a gathering. It felt more like a small church meeting than a political event. People told stories about their loved ones who served or are still serving in Iraq.
One man told of having to cut his son down from the rafters in their home where he hung himself to death, another victim of untreated PTSD. The night before his death, his son asked this man to hold him in his arms. The father rocked him in his lap. The next morning, he held his dead body on his lap. The government does not recognize them as a Gold Star family because their son did not die in the war.
Then there was the young veteran who told of having to photograph dead bodies every day as part of his job in military intelligence. He described what it felt like when he unearthed his first mass grave. Images that will remain seared in his consciousness for the rest of his life.
We listened to another young veteran who unsuccessfully tried to end his own life after he came home from the war. The army treated this as a criminal act, discharging him without honor from the service. After three tours in Iraq, he has no veterans benefits – no VA healthcare, no GI education, no disability. He was a highly decorated soldier, who advanced swiftly through the ranks. Now, he carries a service record that will prejudice him with prospective employers for the rest of his life.
The stories go on. More than I can bear. The sad reality remains. When the US goes to war these days, only the people in the military, and their families, pay the price. For everyone else, life goes on. We don’t even pay for our wars anymore. We just put them on the credit card for future generations.
The MFSO symbol is a yellow ribbon on a black peace sign. Do you remember when yellow ribbon decals and magnets sprouted everywhere throughout the land? If people have grown tired of this war, then let’s end it. No one would welcome that more than the military families who bear the lasting cost.
Meanwhile, if you want to show genuine support for the servicemen and women who we sent to fight this war (and others before it), perhaps the single most important thing you can do is to realize that PTSD is real, and to help our government, the media, and our neighbors understand that it is real.
Current estimates are that nearly 20% of Iraq War veterans are returning to us with PTSD. This is just as much a combat injury as if they came back missing a limb or wounded from a bullet or mortar. A veteran who commits suicide died from the war as much as one that lost their life from a roadside IED.
For those of us who are interested in ending war – this one in particular, and all war in general – there is no more powerful “argument” than to face the full cost of war. Besides the economy-crushing financial costs of war, the human cost to soldiers and civilian victims is nearly incalculable.
In fact these costs are so high that if we ever really faced up to them we would never go to war again. We would invest billions in searching for alternatives to war and consider it one of the best investments we ever made. Far better than the trillions we are now spending to prop up a handful of corporations.
Bill Scheurer is the Executive Director of Beyond War (www.BeyondWar.org), Editor of PeaceMajority Report (www.PeaceMajority.org), and the author of “us & them: bridging the chasm of faith”, a small book of interfaith inquiry.