Believe it or not, I like getting e-mails from military veterans. I do admit, though, that this might seem like the last thing anyone would expect after looking through my LRC article archive and reading all the negative things I have written about the U.S. military. I have termed U.S. soldiers invaders, occupiers, killers, destroyers, criminals, and murderers. I have placed the responsibility on them for their actions. I have charged them with helping to carry out an evil U.S. foreign policy as the president’s personal attack force. I have blamed them for putting their families through unimaginable and unnecessary suffering. I have said of the U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan that they died unnecessarily, duped, for a lie, in vain, and in vain again. Yet, in spite of this, most of the mail I receive from veterans is positive – and especially from Vietnam veterans. Most of them realize that they were young, ignorant, deceived pawns of the U.S. government and the military industrial-industrial complex, whether they volunteered or were drafted. Most of them also acknowledge that no American soldier had any business going to Vietnam in the first place. Many of them say they still have bad memories of the people they killed and the things they did that are known only to them and God. None of them have ever written to me and said they were proud to be a Vietnam veteran. I know there are some proud Vietnam veterans out there, for I have seen their hats and bumper stickers, but not the Vietnam veterans that have written me. It seems as though the further back the war, the more anti-war the veterans are. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a single note from any World War II veteran that expressed anything but disgust and/or regret for fighting in the “good war.” But this works both ways. Some of the most vile hate mail I have ever received has come from veterans or active duty military personnel who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. Although this type of e-mail more often originates from armchair warriors, red-state fascists, reich-wing nationalists, bloodthirsty conservatives, or war-crazed Republicans who have never been in the military themselves, there is nothing more pathetic or tragic than a self-righteous soldier who claims he fought in Iraq or Afghanistan on my behalf so I could have the freedom to write the anti-American attacks on the very military that is keeping me safe from terrorists.
I recently received a lengthy response to my article “Marines, Why Do You Do This To Your Families?” from a Marine veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan, I’m not sure which (he said one reason he joined the military was “for the Iraqi and Afghani people”). Because the writer was polite, didn’t threaten to do me bodily harm, didn’t tell me to “go f___ yourself,” didn’t call me unpatriotic or anti-American, and didn’t tell me to leave the country and go to North Korea or Cuba, I thought I would respond to something he said at the conclusion of his letter: So was it worth it? Ask the women who now have fundamental human rights for the first time. Ask the children who can now attend school and get an education (schools that groups of insurgents haven’t hidden a cache of weapons and explosives underneath). Ask the farmer who can now grow crops to feed his family, and his village, rather than poppy fields to create opium to line Al Qaeda’s pocket (because if he didn’t, they would systematically kill his family until he complied). Ask the people of Iraq who no longer have to worry about Saddam Hussein’s regime of terror. I have no doubt that most of the women who now have fundamental human rights, children who can now attend school, farmers who can now grow crops, and people of Iraq who were maltreated by Saddam Hussein think that the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were “worth it.” But for others it simply wasn’t worth it. First of all, I only said “most” people in Iraq and Afghanistan think it was worth it because some of them who lost arms, legs, or loved ones to U.S. bombs, bullets, or drone strikes, saw the dead bodies of people they knew missing body parts because U.S. soldiers took trophies of their kills, or saw photographs of smiling U.S. soldiers next to civilians they murdered for sport might not be so enthusiastic about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraqi and Afghanistan.
Secondly, thousands of American soldiers have lost arms, legs, and/or genitals. How many of them think their injury was “worth it” for the cause of women’s rights in Afghanistan? Thousands of American soldiers suffer from PTSD or a traumatic brain injury and will never live a normal life. How many of them think their injury was “worth it” so children in Iraq can attend school? Thousands of American soldiers are paralyzed or require constant medical care. How many of them think their injury was “worth it” so farmers in Afghanistan can grow their crops? Thousands of American soldiers can’t tell us what they think about women’s rights, children’s education, and farmer’s livelihoods in Iraq or Afghanistan because they committed suicide. More U.S. military personnel died by their own hand this year than in battle with “terrorists” or “insurgents.” Thirdly, the long-term costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will exceed $4 trillion dollars. How many American taxpayers think that restoring the rights of women in Afghanistan and educating children in Iraq was worth $4 trillion? How many of descendants of American taxpayers fifty years from now still paying the war bill will think it was “worth it”? Fourthly, there are 4,400 U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq and 2,100 who have died so far in Afghanistan. Each one of those dead American soldiers has a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a grandmother, a grandfather, a niece, a nephew, a cousin, and/or a friend who won’t see them this Christmas. How many of them think it was worth it? How many parents of dead American soldiers think that women in Afghanistan now having fundamental human rights makes the death of their son “worth it”? How many children of dead American soldiers think that children in Iraq now being able to attend school makes the death of their father “worth it”? How many grandparents of dead American soldiers think that farmers in Afghanistan now being able grow crops makes the death of their grandson “worth it”? How many friends of dead American soldiers think that because people in Iraq are no longer maltreated by Saddam Hussein that the death of their friend was “worth it”? And finally, there are tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who don’t think the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were “worth it” because they are now dead thanks to direct action of the U.S. military, sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S. military, or collateral damage courtesy of the U.S. military. It doesn’t matter what “good” has come from the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. None of it is worth an American soldier stubbing his toe or breaking a fingernail. And people question my patriotism?