There are some things you just can’t un-see or un-read. Memes like the one below are a perfect example of that phenomenon.
It’s not that the image is graphic, or the language coarse. This meme is heartbreaking because it’s true. I saw it when checking out the page “Stop The World The Teabaggers Want Off,” and it really hit home. It reminded me of something I’d read before.
Last year, The New York Times ran a piece by Timothy Williams in which a shocking war statistic was revealed. As it turns out, our soldiers are killing themselves at a higher rate than their enemies are. Let that one sink in for a moment. Our soldiers are committing more suicides per year than we’re experiencing casualties in the field.
I’m a good liberal. I hate war. Despise it. Of course it’s not really controversial for anyone to be against the idea of killing each other off this planet one soldier at a time. But even if you’re hawkish, even if you find yourself completely okay with warfare in most situations, this fact, that more of our young boys and girls are choosing to take their own lives has to raise about a million and a half red flags. No? Not raised yet?
Okay, how about we get into the fact that the math works out to be about one veteran killing themselves every eighty minutes. Look at your clock, count an hour and a half up from now, and you can count on one Marine, one Navy seaman, one Air Force pilot killing themselves. These are men and women that volunteered to surrender the better part of their young adult lives dedicated to fighting our wars for us. Whether you supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or not, these are our wars. And these men and women went into battle for us; now they’re coming home and ending their lives.
The “why” of it all is of course the biggest question. Why are these people killing themselves when they come home from war? Maybe it’s the lack of employment, or the sudden shock of being taken from a war zone and plunked back down into civilian life. We train these barely adult aged people to become killing machines. They fly airplanes, drive tanks and carry real assault weapons into battle, fearing for their lives every single day. Well, I’m sure the fear is trained out of them, but you get the point. Every single day these people are exposed to the worst humanity has to offer, and the sad part is that many of them were sent into harm’s way needlessly, by a group of people half of which would rather not spend a dime more to help them once they’ve served their use in combat.
The Republican Party – let’s just be completely honest here – dragged us into the Iraq War. For many reasons I just don’t lump the Afghanistan War in with Iraq when I criticize Republicans because I remember what it was like in the days, weeks, and months after 9/11. We were all shocked. We were all devastated. And going after the bastard responsible for the deaths of over 3000 Americans that day was justifiable to me. In my estimation we had no business in Iraq, but instead should have kept our laser-like focus on Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan. Maybe it still would have taken us over a decade to find Osama Bin Laden. Maybe not. But regardless, there is no denying that the Iraq War was a redux of Vietnam, a war with unjust cause that cost us obscene amounts of money, and far too many lives both American and Iraqi.
It was the GOP’s darling cowboy president, George W. Bush, who helped sell us, with the aide of Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Condie Rice that we not only should go into Iraq, but we had to. So into Iraq we went. Spending trillions of dollars (that magically wound up in Cheney’s defense contract company’s coffers) and putting thousands of American men and women in harm’s way, inflicting many with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It’s the reason that vets speak of having flashbacks. It’s the reason so many of those who fought in the second World War hardly talked about their experiences. War changes a person. And as we’re seeing now, it can break them. For good.
It’s precisely because of the psychological damage that every war does that so many of us are champions of peace, but peace isn’t a left or right issue. Soldiers who go to fight and die or come back mentally exhausted or far worse come from all around the political spectrum. Our armed forces are as diverse in political views as the general populace is because our armed forces comes from our populace. Perhaps it is naive for any adult to actually think world peace is a possibility. So why not at least get together as a nation and decide together we will not let our returning veterans fall into the cracks?
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre we heard a lot about how these mass shootings underscore a need for mental health reform. Regular readers know that while I support that endeavor, I also am a strong proponent of reexamining our gun laws as well. But if we think we have a problem addressing mental health issues now, and we’re just seeing for the most part suburbanite kids with mental health disorders perpetrating these crimes, imagine the kind of carnage and devastation that could arise when someone who is an actual trained killer uses that expertise. That’s not fear-mongering. That’s looking at the facts and determining there’s a chance that these events could become much larger in scope. If these soldiers who are taking their own lives snap and go the other way, where they want to inflict harm on others, who knows how nightmarish the outcome will be?
This is not an issue we can continue to ignore. We can’t let Congressional Republicans continue to block bills that are supposed to help veterans find jobs or get the health care they need. We need to ensure that veterans’ health care includes free psychiatric treatment for life. The least we can do is give these young men and women the peace of mind knowing that they’ll never be charged a dime for talking about and working through the atrocities they were exposed to in combat. And until those provisions are in place, every single American is failing to truly support the troops.
What good does a magnet on your car do against PTSD and suicidal tendencies?