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Ken Williams: Heroes of War Should Not Be Forgotten

It's time to bring our service men and women home and to begin the healing

We grow tired of war. We compartmentalize it so we no longer have to think about it. We put it in a small place at the back of our minds, all the easier to forget.

War is a drag to think about. Somewhere along the line we decided as a country to move on — to forget all about Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, we have a wounded economy to think about, a disastrous unemployment rate to deal with and a tanking house market that threatens to erase the beginnings of a fragile economy recovery.

We tire of the war — the wars, endless war. We have more important things to think about. But wait, we’ve left something behind: tens of thousands of Marines and troops and hundreds of thousands of veterans — millions of family members. Somehow we’ve forgotten to bring them home, and when we do we’ve forgotten, again, to threat them right. Instead, the government offers them drugs and society — apathy.

During the last election, where was the passionate debate on the wars? Nobody from either side brought them up. We pretend all is well, but disturbing statistic says otherwise: Current members of the armed forces are more likely to die by their own hand than at the hands of the enemy. A new study by the Department of Veterans Affairs finds that veterans are “50 percent more likely to be homeless than other Americans.”

Since 2007, the Pentagon line budget for antidepressants, sleeping pills and antipsychotic medicines have doubled or tripled. But drugs can’t heal the horrors of war. At best they can delay symptoms, but for only so long — and never when the sound of choppers or the bark of weapons fire fill our minds. And the disquieting quiet of a hospital ward is ever present. It’s where the true costs of war hide while lacerating false ideals of glory.

Everyone talks about consequences of our actions. What are the consequences of abandoning our sons and daughters to endless war?

An update on U.S. Marine James Blake Miller, better known as the Marlboro Man: He was made famous when his photograph was taken during the Battle of Fallujah. The tiredness of war, its bleak and haunting imprint, were captured in his soulful eyes. Blood and dirt streaked his face. A cigarette hung loosely from his lips. Friedrich Nietzsche’s saying is clearly etched in his face: “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

To see the inhumanity that we as a species are capable of severely tests and in some cases breaks our spiritual belief and sense of self. The terror of combat and the searing pain of dying dreams and betrayal shred speeches by those who have never been there and don’t know — and will never know.

Ironically, Miller left Iraq only to do duty in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Upon being discharged, survivor’s guilt, depression, flashbacks and terror ran his life, as they do for so many combat veterans of far too many wars. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he now collects disability. His marriage crumpled, he lost his job and he still suffers greatly.

Betrayed dreams bitterly coat his life — an innocent life that took a disastrous turn in a faraway city known as Fallujah. Miller knows better than most the true costs of war, and all the medications and drugs in the world will not change that.

Before we totally forget Afghanistan and Iraq, lets bring our sons and daughters home and begin the healing process. They are not in this alone. They are part of us — who we are, as we are of them. We sent them as a country, and as a country we need to bring them back, welcome them home and together heal the nightmare of their time served.

We owe. We owe it to ourselves to fulfill this moral obligation. We own them no less.

FILM SCREENING

Please join us for the showing of the film Poster Girl, about a woman veteran who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq, at 7 p.m. Friday, March 4 at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St. in Santa Barbara.

This free community screening of Poster Girl, nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary — Short Subject, is co-sponsored by The Fund for Santa Barbara. Filmmaker Sara Nesson and Robynn Murray (subject of the film) will be present for a question-and-answer session. Click here for more information about the film.

— Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years. He is the author of China White and Shattered Dreams, A Story of the Streets. He has just completed his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor.

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