If you have served in any branch of the military, Memorial Day has symbolic and emotional meaning others can only relate to empathetically, but might never fully grasp. Today, we honor those who fought for the United States, dedicating a portion of their lives in defense of what we, as a nation, hold dear — often returning scarred and battered inside and out.
A mythos exists about the armed services — indoctrinated veneration of men and women in uniform, and a call to duty — where, by design, the people of this land aren’t taught to question war or the military, or the consequences reverberating into the past and future.
However, as a growing number of veterans will tell you in moments of bare honesty, taking up arms and donning a uniform isn’t exactly about fighting for freedom — and the wounds sustained in battle physically and mentally haunt many former service members for reasons that have little to do with glory and honor.
Our military, as many have discovered, entices young people not even old enough to buy a beer to risk their lives — and the Pentagon and recruiters propagandize service as a patriotic, educational adventure and opportunity to work with state of the art technology and equipment. But what they don’t explain are the horrors of the battlefield — and the truth about our government’s motives for war.
So, this Memorial Day, it’s imperative to examine military service for what it truly entails — what the government actually asks of service members — and why the last thing we should do is ask more youth to join up.
Inveigling young Americans to join the military by touting free college and patriotism is perhaps the most dishonest hoodwinks the government could make. Indeed, service members do fight in the name of the United States, but wars abroad in modern times are far more complex than just good fighting evil — and much of that surrounds our many proxy wars.
While the Pentagon claims the U.S. fights terrorists, particularly of the Islamic State, in Syria and many other Middle Eastern countries — and to a degree, that’s true — other terrorist groups are now considered our allies. In fact, certain offshoots of al-Qaeda — the exact radicals targeted by the U.S. in the years following 9/11 — receive funding and training from different agencies of our government.
This trick of logic benefits only the notorious goal of regime change — ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — while infuriating embattled local populations and the governments of other nations who don’t distinguish between the nefarious groups. To civilians victimized by military battles and belligerent radicals alike, a terrorist is a terrorist — no distinctions necessary.
Veterans who’ve experienced this duplicity firsthand agree with that assessment and many are furious with the government essentially employing terrorists to fight terrorists under the overarching mission to oust another nation’s leader. Discovering you’ve agreed to fight for reasons you not fully explained from the start — and should consider terrorists allies — has embittered countless veterans who honestly believed the military defends Americans’ freedoms.
Once you’ve fought for the government, it cares very little about your wellbeing.
Scores of fighters return to the United States in desperate need of expert healthcare to heal and rehabilitate minor to wholly incapacitating physical injuries — and mental and emotional trauma endured in witnessing the horrors of bloodshed. But the Veterans Administration tasked with that job falls criminally short on nearly every level.
Over two years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs had amassed a backlog of 900,000 applications for healthcare, but far worse — and deeply revealing of a systemic issue — at least 300,000 of those applicants died while waiting to receive the benefits which should have been immediate.
Post-traumatic stress disorder affects tens of thousands of veterans, leading many to take their own lives not to be haunted by horrific and agonizing images making daily life a continuance of war. Those considering suicide have the option of reaching out to the Veterans Crisis Line — but actually speaking with a trained counselor is a task in itself.
A report earlier this year revealed the Crisis Line is rife with inexcusable problems, leaving desperate callers on hold for over 20 minutes wasn’t rare — and some calls were even diverted to voicemail, which staff did not even know existed. An investigation was initiated after an Iraq War veteran got voicemail instead of help, and proceeded to take his life.
Disrespect for former service men and women doesn’t end even once they pass away — in September, a whistleblower revealed the bodies of veterans in one VA hospital morgue had been allowed to languish for a month, and had badly decomposed.
Issues continue to plague the VA to this day.
If you think the U.S. enters countless military conflicts to protect the security of the American public, you would be astonishingly incorrect.
In addition to the aforementioned conflict over regime change — which is a favored tactic of our government — most wars are battles to further establish U.S. hegemony and exploit the targeted nation’s natural resources. Oil is perhaps the most well-known motivation for war, but probably isn’t the most valuable.
Afghanistan, as seasoned U.S. veterans can attest, has the world’s largest opium poppy crop — courtesy of the American intervention.
In May 2001, a report by the New York Times said U.S. narcotics experts visited Afghanistan and discovered that Taliban rule “appears to have wiped out the world’s largest crop in less than a year.”
On October 7 that year, the U.S. conveniently invaded the country in the name of fighting terrorism, and shortly afterward opium poppy cultivation took off — increasing 35-fold from 185 tons in 2001 to 6,400 tons in 2014 — a veritable boon for Big Pharma.
And while pharmaceutical manufacturers enjoy skyrocketing profits from pushing opioid medications, the United States is now in the midst of a heroin epidemic. Veterans also suffer, as the VA doles out countless opioids rather than instituting reforms to actually care for those who served.
In addition to opium poppies, the U.S. discovered around $1 trillion in mineral resources in Afghanistan, as the New York Times reported in 2010:
“The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
“An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the ‘Saudi Arabia of lithium,’ a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.”
Afghanistan is, of course, only one of the countries the U.S. continues to exploit.
Countless additional arguments could be proffered to why we must inform young people about the true nature of military conflict — and many returning soldiers have made it their mission to stop people from signing up and bring an end to wars fought for less than noble reasons.
Veterans for Peace accepts former military members from around the globe, and as the group’s mission states, seeks to “increase public awareness of the costs of war, restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations, end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, seek justice for veterans and victims of war, and abolish war as an instrument of national policy.”
Honoring veterans with a day certainly provides a symbolic recognition of service — but it rings hollow for too many who served for what they believed was duty, only to discover the truth of war.
Instead, we must stop creating veterans — stop destroying the lives of people who join the military and those of millions of civilians victims in foreign lands — all in the name of U.S. imperialism.
It is our imperative to expose these insidious truths and inform those considering signing up to serve that patriotic duty is only an illusion to ensnare the uninformed into fighting, killing, and even dying for corporate profit, exploitation, and hegemony.
Ask the profiteers and politicians to send their own kids to fight — and we’d see how quickly peace would prevail.