The Occupy movement did a great deal to cause us to sharpen our focus to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans who have tremendous economic and political power in this country, but that is another subject for another time. Right here and now, in this moment of reflection about the anniversary of the war in Iraq, let’s concentrate on the other (less-talked about) 1 percent.
According to the 2010 Census, the population of the United States is 308,745,538. Including active duty, National Guard and reserves, the population of Americans in uniform is 2,317,761, meaning that less than 1 percent, .75 percent to be exact, of the country’s population is a member of the military.
It’s not difficult to see how, with very small numbers of participation, the issues and concerns of many servicemembers and veterans are invisible to the vast majority of Americans. Many discussions have taken place in regard to and in commemoration of those honored dead who occupy far too many cemeteries (and pieces of land) around the country and around the world. Yet, there are other deaths that we don’t talk enough about.
The death of physical wholeness
If one mentions the figures of 320,000, 31,922, 12,450, 1345, and 19 devoid of context, they have little or no significance. So, let’s put those numbers in perspective: 320,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war soldiers have been diagnosed with TBI (traumatic brain injury); 32,922 soldiers wounded in Iraq; 12,450 wounded in Afghanistan; 1,345 of these service members have had major or partial limb amputations as a result of injuries sustained in war and 19 months is the average number of months a seriously wounded soldier needs a caregiver.
To be sure, these men and women prepared, as best as they knew how, for any eventuality, but that doesn’t negate the pain and anguish that they’ve sustained as a result of their injuries. There is a grieving that takes place when two arms are down to one or even none; the death of certain hopes and plans, not just for them, but for all who have invested love and care into their lives. We’ve done a great deal to highlight the nobility and heroism of their sacrifice, but that has had a curious side effect — it seems we do a poor job of extending ourselves to the heroic and noble.
Our memories are short and after the CNN profile is done or the grand speech is over, we are onto something else. Let us remember the sacrifice of those who have suffered the death of physical wholeness.
The death by a thousand mental cuts
With more veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are seeing more evidence of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and depression. These diagnoses often overlap and are sometimes connected to traumatic brain injury. These are the invisible wounds that have been inflicted on the soldier that they themselves find it difficult to give voice to. Recent studies show an increase in alcohol and substance abuse in our returning war vets — these studies indicate some causal link with mental illness.
Many soldiers suffer in silence, dying little by little each day. Afraid of being viewed as weak if they ask for help; distrustful of mental health services and left to a U.S. mental health workforce that lacks the capacity and sometimes the necessary skills to give them the care they need. The mind that they could once count on as a retreat from the stresses of life is now, in a sad and strange way, working against them. Let us have a moment of silence in memory of those who suffer in silence.
The death of marriages
The toll that our over-a-decade long wars have taken on our troops is usually measured in human casualties in regard to the dead and wounded. However, we haven’t the number of military divorces as we saw last year since 1999. At the end of fiscal year 2011, there were approximately 30,000 divorces amongst service members. With each successive deployment, the probability of marriages dissolving rose as well.
The stray bullets of absence; the IED’s of disconnectedness, have left the homes of our military men and women broken. Many are coming back to empty houses and divorce papers and after putting their lives in harm’s way, it was the marriages that suffered the harm. This lamentable collateral damage of our wars has exacted upon military families a huge price, which regrettably, I believe we will still be paying in the years to come. Let us remember the death of unions torn apart by the ravages of war.
The death of hope
It is altogether fitting and appropriate that this be the last area of focus because this is the last stop for too many recent war veterans. There are (and were) those who braved gunfire and bombs; landmines and rockets on foreign soil, only to be killed by a much more lethal weapon when they returned home … hopelessness. From 2005 to 2009, 1,100 servicemembers committed suicide — that’s about 1 every 36 hours. An Army Times article from 2010 states that when all veterans are factored in that number rises to 18 a day.
What depths of torture of the heart, mind and soul took place inside of them — we will never fully know. Many of their loved ones speak of profound personality changes; a spark that went missing; uncontrollable tears and inconsolable depression. A mother of an Iraq veteran who committed suicide explained it this way: “So this mother got woke up Sunday morning at 6:30 to tell me that my son was dead, that I had let my guard down, ’cause he got back on Monday, he’s back in the United States, he’s safe …”
There are more veterans returning with this potential for taking what they must feel is the only way out. Our task is to help them to see find a better way or other mothers, wives, husbands and fathers will be receiving that same 6:30 a.m. phone call. Let us fly our hearts at half-mast in memory of those whose bodies made it home only to become casualties of despair.
And those who beat the war drums are nowhere to be found; the false prophets of preemption have gone on to “bigger” and “better” things and can’t be bothered with trivial things such as life and death; pain and suffering.
The powers that be in Washington have proven time and time again that they are not averse to “little” human collateral damage, whether it be foreign or domestic. A vote for war isn’t just a vote for the objectives of a conflict, but it is an acceptance of the consequences as well. Let us look forward to the day when we lay down our swords and shields and study war no more.
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