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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 11:43 pm | Fair 51º


Ken Williams: Our Modern Warriors Suffering the Physical, Mental Scars of Combat

An Imperial Congress is just as much a threat to America as is an Imperial president. We have already seen the damage that an Imperial president can inflict on our nation and the world.

Between 2003 and 2015, 6,700 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 150,000 Iraqis have been killed in those insane wars. The result: Iraq torn apart. More than 1 million refugees have flooded other countries, adding to their instability. More than 2 million have been internally displaced, adding incredible social tensions and breeding grounds for extremists.

Al-Qaeda had no presence in Iraq until the American invasion. But because of that, al-Qaeda in Iraq was born, a particularly gruesome and barbaric terror group. Subsequently, equally savage Shiite militias engaged in their own torture and wholesale slaughter of the innocent.

A few years later, al-Qaeda in Iraq changes its name to ISIS, and feeding off the social decay in Iraq and Syria launches a war against civilization itself. But let us not forget that their barbarity and cruelty were born in the civil war in Iraq that was the direct result of an Imperial president.

Without hesitation, 47 senators in a rush to war take sides with Iranian hard-liners with attempts to conduct their own foreign policy betraying the only chance of avoiding war. It is, of course, unlawful for a private citizen to engage a foreign country’s government in a challenge to wreck negotiations such as this. But these 47 senators, believing that they are above the law, did so.

Can you imagine what would happen if you did this? If you had engaged the Ayatollahs? You would be immediately arrested. But you and I are not privileged to be part of the ruling elite. They operate under a different set of rules. After all, who was held responsible for lying about weapons of mass destruction that launched a war sending our children into harm’s way? Who has faced the courts for torture and other violations of international law?

In the meantime, the casualties of the lies and deceit of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and, before that Vietnam continue to mount. Every day, 22 veterans kill themselves, a higher percentage than nonveterans. The ugly legacy of Agent Orange and PTSD from the Vietnam War continues to claim lives, destroying not only the veterans of that war, but their families as well.

PTSD is not confined to Vietnam veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs' own records, 30 percent of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans suffer from this horrifying disorder. Another 20 percent suffer from traumatic brain injury.

Homelessness is a national disgrace. Adding insult to injury, 12 percent are veterans and 50 percent are disabled.

The disgraceful treatment continues: The unconscionable scandal within the VA keeps unfolding and now affects the Central Coast. According to CNN, the VA stated in front of Congress that veterans treated at the VA Greater L.A. Health Care System were seen within four days, yet internal documents show 12,700 veterans had to wait over 90 days to be seen, and thousands even longer. This includes veterans from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, and the applications for service-connected disabilities, in particular for Agent Orange exposure, continue to lag or, even worse, be denied.

Is the government playing a waiting game, hoping that disabled veterans will either smoke their own guns or die from combat-related trauma before they pay out, thus saving money at their expense? Yet 47 senators, learning nothing from history, wish to rush us yet again into war. Of course they will say otherwise, but what happens should the talks fail and Iran begins to walk down the nuclear road? Does anyone really think these hawkish senators will simply shrug their shoulders and walk away? Or will they be the first to yell the loudest, to again send our children as cannon folder to yet another Middle Eastern war?

I have heard the dark mumbling of some, usually stated when veterans aren’t around, that perhaps it is their own weakness, their softness that is to blame for the epidemic of mental disorders coming out of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, they darkly mumble, World War II veterans didn’t suffer in those numbers. First point of rebuttal is that, of course they suffered, but their mental wounds were mitigated by a grateful nation — a country where all families were touched by the war. Their war was against an aggressive Japan and an evil Germany. Their war touched all and had moral clarity. It was so unlike the wars of our generation when a select few were called to serve. And those who did serve in Vietnam were cast aside as untouchables, tainted by the moral horrors of that war when they returned home.

There is another wound that many modern warriors suffer from. It is the moral wound of seeing not only their comrades die needlessly, but also witnessing innocent women, children and old men suffer the grievous injuries of war. After all, what do you say to a child whose face was melted by napalm? To a woman whose face was forever disfigured by blast and burn? These memories do not fade with time.

This moral injury is seldom talked about. Instead, we are called heroes. But we are not. We know the terrible things done in war. We know the fear we felt and the shame we lived. Action in combat is chaotic and confusing. Bombs and mortars come out of nowhere and shred living flesh to pieces. Rifle fire is capricious and arbitrary. I did not survive because I was a better Marine. I was no more heroic or emboldened than the next Marine. I survived simply because I did so — nothing courageous nor Rambo-esque.

For those who have not served, please don’t call those of us who did heroes. Just know we live with the memories, wounds and disabilities of war, and try to understand the hell our country puts its children through when it sends them off to a foreign conflict. And honor the moral contract the country made to veterans who answered their country’s call.

And by all means, let the 47 senators be the first to engage the new enemy in actual combat when they take us yet again into another deadly war.

Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years, and is the author of China White, Shattered Dreams: A Story of the Streets and his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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