Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Go easy on the Patriotism, please!
Travelling through the South many years ago, I was struck by the Civil War Memorial one could find in almost every town large or small. Many wars later, our towns are dotted with military memorials honoring the soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and many other military conflicts. Soon we will get a rash of new commemorative monuments, by which, we think, we honor the soldiers who died and those who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Such memorials are, however well-meaning, no more than evasions. We put some money in the basket to help pay for the monument. We may even attend the unveiling. But then we are done dealing with the war and its aftermath.
But the veterans are not and we should pay attention to that.
Here are some uncomfortable facts.
According to the Army Times of June 1, 2012 the general US unemployment rate last May was 8.2%. Unemployment among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan was 12.7%. Veterans who returned in decent shape and able to go to work, will often find that work is not available for them.
There has been a great deal of controversy about health care for returning veterans. In 2007 some veteran groups sued the government for failing to provide adequate care for soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan injured.
The divorce rate among couples where one or both members are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is significantly higher than the divorce rate in the civilian population. The divorce rate among women veterans is more than twice that of men who returned from those wars.
Among these soldiers were, and are, 30,000 single fathers and mothers. When they go off to war they leave behind one or more children. What happens to them? A bronze statue in the middle of town will not help them grow up as happy and decent citizens.
Every 80 min. one veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars attempts suicide.
Why did they go? There is a great deal of talk about patriotism and defense of freedom. "In a time of retreat and collapse, when Americans were urged to maintain their routines and get on with their lives, a few people stepped forward and did just the opposite. . . . they epitomized a raw patriotism that bolstered the nation's spirit in the bleakest days since Pearl Harbor. " Thus USA Today of 9/8/2005. According to the Heritage Foundation, a significant number of enlistees in the current wars come from well-to-do middle class and other upper-middle-class families. (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2006/10/who-are-the-recruits-the-demographic-characteristics-of-us-military-enlistment-2003-2005)
But if you look at the facts, the reality is pretty distressing. According to the Washington Post, the bulk of new recruits come from rural areas, and from the people who are not doing well, who suffer from high unemployment rates and no prospects for getting to college.
Putting all this together, we get the picture of young men and women, finding themselves at a dead end, without any prospects for getting a job, let alone a good job, or the education they need to improve their lives. They enlist in the military in order to solve that problem and after one or more tours in the theater of war, they return to find themselves unemployed once again. If they are hurt, medical care is hard to come by. In many cases, their marriages fell apart, while they were gone. On their return, many of them are sufficiently discouraged to attempt suicide.
For women the situation is even worse than for men. A significant percentage of women who served in the theaters of war were raped by fellow soldiers. If they were married when they went, when they came home their marriages were likely to end in divorce.
The picture is thoroughly disheartening. Our veterans need a whole lot of support. Their legitimate needs are not met by another war monument or flowery talk about their patriotism.