Monday, November 12, 2012

On Veterans Day, don't thank us--join us in demanding justice

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On Veterans Day:
Don't thank us--join us in demanding justice
A message from March Forward! organizers

On Oct. 6, the 11th anniversary of the Afghanistan war, March Forward! led a shut-down of
a military recruitment center in Los Angeles, highlighting the loss of life abroad.
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“The point of public relations slogans like ‘Support our troops’ is that they don't mean anything. That's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody's going to be against, and everybody's going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That's the one you're not allowed to talk about.” –Noam Chomsky

Former infantry Staff Sergeant Kevin Baker,
co-author, spent 28 months in Iraq.

Throughout the day, we will be thanked for our service countless times from friends, family, acquaintances and strangers, all who feel a genuine debt of gratitude to those who volunteered to put life, limb and mind on the line in the name of service to country. There will be ceremonies, celebrations, parades, lots of free appetizer coupons, TV specials, sales, parties, and all sorts of honors to make us feel appreciated.

And the outpouring of thanks on this day shows that natural tendency of human beings to want to care about each other, sacrifice for each other, and bond together for the good of the whole society.

We understand and deeply feel the sentiment of those gracious enough to express their gratitude. But as a generation of new veterans that is struggling to be heard, as a growing group with our own litany of hardships and battles we are fighting, we want to add to the discourse how many of us feel on Veterans Day and the burning issues that affect veterans.

Many of us feel deep guilt and remorse. On a day full of praise and thanks, we are reminded of what we are being thanked for. We are reminded of the people who would never thank us for our service.

Many of us have become friends and developed close personal bonds and relationships with people from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many of us have family members, spouses and children from those countries. Many of us have become close colleagues with people from those countries, become brothers and sisters in common struggle, and have taken part in historic political actions side-by-side against the same enemy.

Our service in the U.S. military consisted of carrying out the greatest loss of life, destruction, and humanitarian crisis of our generation against those people who we hold so close to our hearts. That is why receiving "thanks" for what we did can be very difficult.

For many of us, our entire lives since have been defined by the solidarity we feel with the people hurt by the war, the people we encountered who changed the way we thought about everything, and the deep regret we feel for the role we played. On a day filled with fanfare and recognition, we feel especially remorseful towards our colleagues, friends and loved ones hurt by the military we served in.

For all those millions (yes, millions) of innocent people who watched family members killed, had their homes and livelihoods destroyed, their limbs blown off, given birth to deformed or stillborn babies, suffered psychological trauma, endured being tortured—we can only imagine what it must sound like to them for us to be thanked and honored.

Former Corporal Mike Prysner, co-author,
spent 12 months in Iraq.

Of course we know these are not the things our friends and family are thanking us for on Veterans Day, but it is a very real and painful trigger for the thousands of veterans who realized their commonality with the people we’re sent to fight.

The problem with Veterans Day is that the United States is an imperialist country. Our generation’s wars have been for the banks and the Military Industrial Complex. Despite many of our best hopes, we do not serve “our country” in the U.S. military. We end up serving a tiny sector in the United States—a very small, very rich sector that profits from defense contracts, access to untapped resources and regional economic control—at the expense of innocent people who are just like us.

No matter how good-intentioned we were, or how honorably we served despite the situation the politicians put us in, we will not let Veterans Day eclipse the fact that there were people on the other side of the wars, who are just like our friends and family, whose lives were destroyed.

We get the opposite of “thanks” from our politicians and officers.  Military service is looked at as the highest form of sacrifice to this country without ever questioning in which way the military is used, or how the military and political leadership views its service members. The reality facing veterans today is a crisis that this government would rather keep wrapped in an American flag and tied with a yellow ribbon hidden from the American people. The truth is the suicide rate amongst veterans is 18 a day—one a day among active-duty service members. The truth being that the VA and military hospitals on base are flooded with broken service members who are not only receiving inadequate treatment, but are being actively denied legitimate PTSD diagnoses, compensation and treatment. A recent Pentagon study found that the vast majority of soldiers who attempt suicide do not want to die and have tried unsuccessfully and painstakingly to get help, but “do not see any other way out of the situation they are in.”

And as much as our esteemed officers will stand at the head of Veterans Day “thank you” ceremonies, they are responsible for the historic neglect of wounded troops. This is how they see us: “I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act,” wrote Major General Dana Pittard, who commands Fort Bliss, one of the nation's largest military bases, in an official blog post. “I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess … be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.” This is the sentiment across the officer ranks—take Col. Dallas Homas, medical commander at Fort Lewis who ordered his psychologists to deny legitimate PTSD diagnoses to “save money.” These stories of intentional denial of care, and contempt and punishment for wounded troops, are the status quo in today’s military.

Veterans experience extremely disproportionate rates of homelessness, unemployment and mental health issues. There could easily be immediate relief for all of these veterans. But our elected leaders in Washington and our un-elected leaders in the Pentagon seem to only have funds to pour into the for-profit defense industry.

And, of course, the biggest issue facing U.S. service members is the constant, repeated deployment to the 11-year-long, wildly unpopular, failed neo-colonial project in Afghanistan. Our government cares so little about the bloodbath we’re being sent to, that President Obama and Mitt Romney collectively spent less than two minutes discussing it in the foreign policy “debate.”

This quote from SSG Matthew Sitton while serving in Afghanistan sums up just how much this government cares about the lives of service members:

“I know the threat of casualties in war and am totally on board with sacrifice for my country, but what I do not agree with is the chain of command making us walk through—for lack of a better term—basically a minefield on a daily basis.

As a brigade, we are averaging at a minimum an amputee a day from our soldiers because we are walking around aimlessly.

There is no end state or purpose for the patrols given to us from our higher chain of command, only that we will be out for a certain period of time.”

He was killed by an IED in Afghanistan on Aug. 2, 2012, just weeks after writing this message, leaving behind a wife and newborn child. How can we take serious the “thanks” from our politicians and generals while they continue to send us on completely meaningless missions?

So many of us lost friends, both in combat and to suicide. As we remember them, we must remember that the politicians and general officers standing at the front of ceremonies today are responsible for their senseless death through their lies and abuse.

If Veterans Day really meant anything to our political and military leaders, they would end the war immediately, bring everyone home, and provide us adequate care and services. Their attempts to use this day to highlight their own empty “support the troops” image means nothing to us—especially while they are sending our brothers and sisters in uniform to a completely pointless bloodbath.

Not all of us wanted this life. We are praised because we made a decision to sign a contract giving ourselves completely to a job that involves the worst kind of risk and danger for the so-called “greater good.” But many of us made this decision because we felt there was no other option to make ends meet.

Today, thousands of young people are flooding into the military because their prospects for being able to get an education have grown unaffordable and out-of-reach. Thousands of youth—in particular youth of color—are faced with upwards of 50 percent unemployment in their communities, with the only available jobs being low-wage and temp work. Thousands of parents go into the military because there is no other way to provide their family with adequate health care and housing. Thousands of undocumented immigrants—especially now with the new militarized DREAM Act—join because they have no other option for citizenship.

The reason that there is such hardship for poor and working people is because this system must maintain a massive military budget, occupying and bombing countries that U.S. banks and corporations want to dominate. Then we are sent to fight the very same wars that led to such crisis in our communities to begin with.

So many have lost their lives, their bodies and their minds out of the dedication and commitment to provide a decent life for their children. But nobody should have to choose between war and poverty. Veterans Day should remind us of the devastating economic conditions that our communities suffer to feed the Pentagon war machine.

Let Veterans Day inspire you to join us in struggle. We raise these issues not to criticize people who want to express sincere thanks for those who sacrificed in their name, but to help everyone realize the key lessons we can learn from our generation of veterans and inspire you to join us in the new war we are fighting.

Today, our generation of veterans is in crisis. We are sent on constant deployments to endless wars we have no reason to fight. We come home to criminally inadequate treatment and services.  Just like in the past, we have no choice but to organize amongst ourselves and fight this government’s complete disregard for our lives and the lives of innocent people abroad.

Veterans and service members have never been given rights. We have always had to organize together and fight against the U.S. government to get them.

From the WWI veterans in the Bonus Army, who occupied Washington, D.C. and were beaten, shot and killed by the police, who won us the GI Bill and the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act; to Black service members who organized against segregation in the military; to the widespread GI uprisings that stopped our lives from being thrown away in the Vietnam War and eliminated the draft; to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered service members who protested and got arrested in uniform to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; to female service members fighting for equality and against the scourge of sexual assault and the refusal of our leaders to address it; to service members today fighting for their right to conscientious objection—we have always had to organize and fight to win any respect for our lives.

This Veterans Day, let the gratitude for our willingness to die “serving our country” become more than slogans, thanks and celebrations. Let it evoke the real, lived reality for veterans and service members; let it recognize the pain of those suffering from U.S. policy around the world; let it become a catalyst for resistance to this system’s unwavering commitment to imperialist war and militarism at the expense of millions at home and abroad.

This Veterans Day, and in the days ahead, join us in demanding an immediate withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan, the punishment of the war criminal generals, politicians and Wall Street CEOs who created this suffering, reparations for the populations decimated, and real care for veterans.   

 Click here to learn about our latest initiative to fight against the Afghanistan war.

 Click here to make an urgently needed donation to help us carry out this important work.

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March Forward! is an organization of veterans and active-duty service members affiliated with the ANSWER Coalition.

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