The Unremembered Dead

Monday was Memorial Day and, as usual, we “honored” those who serve with patriotic flag-waving and nationalistic chest beating. And, as usual, we ignored those whose service has caused them nothing but pain. Last December, the Department of Defense reported that veterans were committing suicide at a rate of about one every 36 hours. Why is this happening? Why are the men and women that we say we support suffering so badly? The short answer is we’re failing them miserably.

Okay, the “we” in that answer is collective, not individual. I mean “we” as a society. In an article on Huffington Post, Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini say:

” When we send men and women into the atrocity of war, they must violate the core moral values of civilian society. We usually welcome them home with a “thank you for serving” or a parade and then expect them to put the war behind them and to get on with their lives. Our society has failed, thus far however, to take responsibility for supporting moral recovery, and, hence, many who served in war die later, as its moral costs sink in.”

Although I served, I never went to war, never heard a shot fired in anger. I have no idea of the mental and moral trauma carried by those who have. But, it’s obvious that trauma exists. You can tell just by listening to combat veterans talk about their experiences; or,in many cases, not talk about them. All too many veterans have come home haunted by what they’ve seen and done. After some of the scenes from Iraq and Afghanistan, I think we can all understand why. Unfortunately, these scenes aren’t new. There are numerous stories of American soldiers and Marines mutilating Japanese war dead. There are parallels between now and 70 years ago. In both instances, highly trained young people were thrown into battle against a hardened, implacable foe who did not view their enemy as their equal. In both situations, that enemy did not treat captives the same way we did. In both situations, manpower shortages caused soldiers and marines to spend a lot of time in combat situations that can only be described as hellish. As a result, those highly trained American soldiers and marines became desensitized and viewed their enemy as their enemy viewed them: as subhuman and not worthy of respect or even common decency. And, in both instances,when it was over, we brought them home, had a parade and said “Okay, boys and girls, get on with your life”. Truthfully, I’m surprised more of them aren’t killing themselves

How should we deal with this catastrophe? The answer is two-fold. First, we must do more to help these men and women achieve the moral healing they so desperately need. Congress needs to get off its ass and start taking care of these people. If that means raising taxes, then raise taxes, damn it. Second, stop fighting. In the last 150 years, the sovereignty of the United States has not been threatened and the times we’ve gone to war in those years have been to rebuff an insult or to build an empire. Neither cause is worth one life, American or otherwise, so the fighting needs to stop. If neither of those happen, then every American needs to stand up and tell their elected representatives that if you’re going to send our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives, our mothers and fathers into physical, mental and moral harm’s way, then you are honor bound to care for them afterward. We will no longer allow you to use them, then sweep them under the rug while you wave the flag for your next campaign.