When our soldiers who had fought in the civil war in Vietnam came back home, many of them were treated shamefully. If today’s military veterans are not being welcomed with jeers or worse, they may be fairing just as badly at the hands of an indifferent nation. It is not war-weary civilians who are degrading them today but the Veterans Administration. The fundamental job of this agency is to see that those who have fought our nation’s battles are welcomed back into a society which honors their service. Some of these men and women have been sent back into the war zone four or five times, and when they come home there is inadequate medical care, joblessness, the loss of families and a despair that too often leads to suicide.
There is a compounding problem. How do we avoid blaming those we sent with the responsibility for the war? While these American heroes are continually told they are the guardians of our freedom, is that really the truth?
As unappealing as it may be, perhaps we need to take one more look at the results of the war against Vietnam. In that desperate conflict 58,000 brave Americans were killed and another 211,000 wounded. And we lost a war we should never have gotten into! If you have any doubt about the outcome, remind yourself of the very last picture taken in the war zone, depicting desperate hoards scrambling to board the last helicopter to escape from the roof of the American embassy. Paste over the facts if you may, but that is called losing the war. Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City.
Did these thousands of patriots die in vain? That is a tragic question only history can answer. They were sent by a government that made a catastrophic mistake for which these honorable Americans paid in blood. Those who did return should have been treated more honorably despite the war’s fallacy.
We are currently facing a similar problem. We went to war against Iraq for false reasons. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and more than 4,000 of our brave sons and daughters have been killed defending that lie. Yet the blame for the war does not lie with them but with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others who so easily shed a younger generation’s blood. Or consider Colin Powell’s humiliation when he offered a collection of what turned out to be lies to the United Nations. There were no WMDs, nor other devices our government tried to foist on the world.
When it became obvious that our duplicity was costing the lives of thousands of both Americans and Iraqis, we doubled down on our ignominious bet by what we called “the surge.”
Obama both promised and hoped to get us out of this nasty quagmire, but as a result of America’s withdrawal Iraq is now sunk even deeper into the pit. Whatever the situation was a dozen years ago, Iraq is far worse off today than it was before we launched our shock and awe campaign or listened to Bush in a military costume declaring victory. We left a nation in tatters, and all we now know to do is send in a handful of military trainers whose job is to salvage an unsalvageable situation.
Heroes? Certainly there are those who have performed heroic acts, mainly in efforts to save their fellows, but the hard truth is they may really be victims of a war fever gone from bad to worse. It is duplicitous to suggest that criticizing the war is to dishonor the troops. These are separate issues. Nevertheless, when they return home mutilated and broken, we must do everything we can to repair the remnants of their shattered lives. The war is not their fault. That disgrace must lie with those who sent them. And a broken Veterans Administration remains part of the problem.