War is no longer made by simply analyzed economic forces if it ever was. War is made or planned now by individual men, demagogues and dictators who play on the patriotism of their people to mislead them into a belief in the great fallacy of war when all their vaunted reforms have failed to satisfy the people they misrule.
Ernest Hemingway – “Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter” Esquire (September 1935)
I cringe when I hear or read about “honoring our veterans,” not because I don’t think we should, but because I know that, for the most part, that’s just hot air. As far as I can tell, with the possible exception of the original Afghanistan mission, every war fought during my lifetime – that’s going back 60 years – has been a senseless and often callous and cynical waste of the courage, skill, and lives of tens of thousands of service men and women. Then, they return home to find “honoring our veterans” is often limited to being allowed to the front of the line on airplanes or being offered free wings at Hooters on this day.
Health care – especially mental health care – is often delayed or denied. Recall, for example, how shoddily veterans who returned from the first Iraq war suffering from the combination of diseases collectively referred-to as Gulf War syndrome. Remember the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Washington Post series on the scandalous conditions at Walter Reed hospital.
Jobs can be hard to find. The unemployment rate for Iraq/Afghanistan veterans is 11.6 percent, or nearly 50 percent higher than the population at-large.
For my entire life, Americans have been in thrall to the military. Raised on John Wayne movies, I used to “play Army,” running through my neighborhood with a toy M-14 rifle and wearing the “Castro hat” my brother-in-law, who served in Germany and later in Viet Nam, had mailed to me. Read Ron Kovic’s autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July, and you’ll get a taste of what all that meant to a kid growing up in 50s and 60s America.
Politicians and ideologues love to fawn over the military, using service members as a psychic shield from uncomfortable questions or accountability. Question or oppose a decision to go to war or the manner in which the war is prosecuted, and they will pillory you as not supporting our brave men and women in uniform, even though most of them were never part of those ranks.
As a general proposition, war is a lie, a cheat, and a scam, even, as Hemingway put it in another instance, a crime. That’s why, with each speech, every parade, I have to shake my head and wonder if, as the song said, we’ll ever learn.