MY NEW ADDRESS--COME VISIT!
Guys, I have a new address, and I'd like you all to come visit me--I won't be making any more posts over here at blueinkblots.blogspot.com.I've gotten my own domain name; a suggestion from computer-savvy friends as well as experts in the field. In a few months, I'll be setting up a website over there, but for now, I'm just continuing on with Blue Inkblots, which is now called, "Deanie's Blue Inkblots."We've already gotten some new friends at the new location, where I've already made four or five new posts, including an explanation as to what the new House bill does and does not say about the war in Iraq, as well as a deeply personal post called, "After Four Years of War, It Doesn't Get Any Easier."I've also left a provocative post, in which I gave my opinion as to why the (very small minority of) far-left of the Democratic party is wrong, in my opinion, about a quick pull-out, called, "I Want the War to End, Too, But the Troops Are Warriors, Not Children."Most of my military family, as well as some new folks, have joined me. I'll be making my posts shorter, and as the presidential race swings into gear, I'll be expanding my commentary to include more on politics and less on the war, depending upon how things go in the next few months.As my readers well know, we've sent both my son and my nephew over to Iraq for a total of FIVE deployments into the bloody Anbar Province with the Marine Corps, and now I would like to ask for your prayers for yet another nephew, who is due to deploy to Baghdad with the Army in a few short weeks for a very long deployment.Also, one of our Blue Inkblots family-members, Kathy Sweeney, will be sending her son to Iraq with the Marines this month. And another, Jamie Woodard, needs some serious prayers, because the powers that be have made the decision to release her severely brain-injured Iraq vet Marine son, Ben Hardgrove, from his rehab, with no medical benefits, very soon. She does not know what they are going to do, and as they have five other children, including three pre-schoolers, their situation is fairly desperate.It was interesting, what Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said about how the "sacrifice" of the war has been worth it.It seems some of us are doing all the sacrificing. Seems we should be able to decide whether it's "worth it" or not.Come join me, over at: http://deaniemills.comI look forward to seeing you guys.
"Imagine all the people, living life in peace
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one."
--"Imagine," music and lyrics by John Lennon
"My kids went to public school, and one day they came home and said there was going to be a concert. We said…What songs will you be singing? And they said, 'One of them will be, 'Imagine.'
"And we said, 'Fine, then. When it gets to that song, stand there and don't sing.'
"And they didn't."
--G. Gordon Liddy, muscle-man for Richard Nixon, convicted felon, popular conservative talk-radio host, famous for telling survivalists in the 90's to "aim for the head-shot, because they wear body armor" should federal law enforcement officers approach.
"NATALIE MAINES WILL BE SHOT DEAD SUNDAY JULY 6 IN DALLAS, TEXAS"
--Death threat delivered to the Dixie Chicks lead singer before a concert in Dallas in 2003. The F.B.I. revealed to the band's security team that this person--and others--had made other threats against their lives but that the F.B.I. had chosen not to tell their security people.
"I know how scared I am, and I can't imagine how Natalie must feel. Standing up there on stage…you feel so naked."
--Martie Maguire of the Dixie Chicks
I just watched two of the most powerful documentaries I have ever had the privilege to view.
One, The U.S. vs John Lennon, documents the systematic and relentless campaign of the Nixon administration, aided and abetted by J. Edgar Hoover's F.B.I., to silence the globally popular singer/songwriter and his avant-guard artist wife, Yoko Ono--(because of their tireless efforts to work for peace and an end to the Vietnam war, especially after 18-year olds got the vote and presidential primaries were coming up)--and, failing that, to force them out of the country by any means necessary, legal and otherwise.
The second, Shut Up and Sing, chronicles what happened to the most popular female band in the history of recorded music when the lead singer, Natalie Maines, uttered twelve words on-stage in London to protest the pre-emptive war in Iraq: "I'm ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas."
The fact that Maines made the comment because more than one million protesters against the war had flooded London streets that day was irrelevant to what happened after her remarks were quoted on a right-wing website with accompanying vitriol.What followed was a systematic and overwhelming campaign by conservative activist groups and right-wing radio and television, tacitly encouraged by the White House--and aided and abetted by the CEO of an organization that owned 200 radio stations and ordered them all not to play their records--not just to shut them up, but to destroy them completely.
The over-the-top hatred directed at the band by country fans whipped up into a frenzy by such people as Bill O'Reilly, who called them the "Dixie Twits" and said they, "deserve to be slapped around", which culminated in serious death-threats that forced the young women--all of whom had babies under the age of three--to live in terror as they traveled to do concerts and promotional appearances and eventually forcing them to move from their homes to another state, was so beyond the pale when juxtaposed next to the offense that provoked it in the first place as to defy description.
Forty years ago, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono begged the world to "give peace a chance," Richard Nixon responded by ordering J. Edgar Hoover to start a file on the couple, which means that their phones were tapped, they were openly followed by F.B.I. agents, and a bogus case was opened in the immigration courts to deport Lennon back to England.
Documents released since Lennon's death by the Freedom of Information Act, show a deliberate chain of command going through every major cabinet office in the administration and eventually to the desk of the president.
But John Lennon--like Natalie Maines and the Chicks--WAS NOT READY TO BACK DOWN. He fought the administration in court, appealing every decision, over and over again until he won and was permitted to remain in the United States.
What strikes me is not so much that creative artists are the first--ALWAYS--to speak truth to power, the first to exercise their right to free speech in verse and prose and song and speech. That is a given. Creative artists don't worry so much what people think, are not constrained by polite society, and also feel a sense of responsibility to use their gifts and their celebrity to speak out against injustice and the abuse of power.
No, what strikes me is that, in both cases, we had an administration that ruled by fear and intimidation, creating paranoia among their own followers and accusing dissenters of not just disloyalty, but TREASON, while all along, they were prolonging a war long beyond the point where the majority of the American people even wanted it--
--But THINK ABOUT IT.
The same architects of this war and this administration and this policy of faux patriotism and paranoia and the relentless persecution of dissent in 2006 are the ones who served Richard Nixon in 1968.
Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld both worked in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and Henry Kissinger, who is a close advisor to Bush, was of course, the chief mastermind of the Vietnam war.
Richard Nixon got himself elected by promising that he had a "secret plan" to end the war, and then allowed tens of thousands more boys to die while he dragged out the so-called "plan" until it was politically advantageous to get him re-elected.
With Cheney and Rumsfeld calling the shots, and Kissinger whispering in his ear, Bush deliberately used the run-up to war to whip up his supporters and guarantee a Republican majority in 2002, and then used the weapon of All-Dissent-Is-Disloyalty to get himself re-elected in 2004. His whipping boys fanned out and managed to make a decorated Vietnam war combat vet look like a wimp, while, he, the draft-dodger, came across as a star-spangled hero.
Both presidents used the power of the presidency to paint any opponent as an enemy and to destroy anyone who dared defy them. They both ran secretive, paranoid administrations that sought to pervert Constitutional freedoms in order to garner for themselves more power.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THIS: We are fighting the Vietnam war all over again because it's the same damn people in power. And they are using the same playbook to silence dissent.
Nixon tried to silence John Lennon. But by the time Bush came around, he and his minions had learned a far more sinister and sophisticated way to manipulate the media (yet come off looking like choir boys) while they tried to destroy the Dixie Chicks and anybody else who dared to defy them.
"They should just strap Natalie Maines to a bomb and drop her on Baghdad."
--caller to right-wing radio program
"They should just shut up and sing."
--host of right-wing radio program
"DIXIE TWITS: WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION."
--sign outside a concert
"If people don't want to buy their records, they shouldn't get their feelings hurt."
--President George W. Bush, in response to a question about the Chicks, giving his tacit permission for the onslaught against them.
"Toby Keith hasn't been banned for that."
--Natalie Maines, referring to the country singer's habit of flashing a gigantic "photo" of her in the arms of Saddam Hussein at his concerts, then singing, "I'll put a boot up your ass."
"The war is going great. The president's ratings are sky-high. Trust me, in two weeks, the looting will be over and the reconstruction of Iraq will be underway."
--Business manager to the Chicks, warning Natalie that her words would haunt her because the war was going so well. She had already apologized for her remarks--the day after--but it was little-reported in the media and drowned out by the howls of protest from such conservative organizations as FreeRepublic.com
Watching these great artists fight for their right to speak out in a free democracy--a right granted to them by the Constitution--watching them struggle to survive the tidal wave of hysteria directed toward them while they continued to create and to care for their families, made me weep.
You can't begin to imagine the stress such courage can cause, the toll it can take, not just on body and soul, but on career and livelihood.
Receiving hate mail and death threats, having radio stations refuse to play their music, watching steamrollers plow over their records and CD's even as the news media knocks each other down for an "exclusive" story--and doing it all while trying to maintain a marriage and care for young children--is a strain that us mere mortals can only, well, IMAGINE.
All of the Dixie Chicks had toddlers and infants underfoot while they were debating whether to require metal detectors to screen fans at concerts in case anyone might be carrying a gun.
John Lennon was a stay-at-home dad to his cherished child, Sean, who was five years old when Lennon was gunned down outside his home in New York City in 1980.
The fear is real. The hatred and the threats are real.
And so is the courage.
And here's the thing that oppressors can never quite GET. People respond to courage.
The WORDS that haters and oppressors try to kill?
People listen. And they hear.
In the midst of the most terrible oppressive tactics of the Nixon Administration to run John Lennon and Yoko Ono out of town on a rail--they released "Power to the People," and "Imagine," songs which not only went on to become the anthems of the peace movement, but which were also multi-million dollar top-forty hits.
After waves of hatred had been directed at the Dixie Chicks, in a concert in front of thousands, Natalie Maines offered the crowd fifteen seconds to boo the band.
And the rafters nearly blew off from the deafening thunder of cheers.
When the Dixie Chicks went back into the recording studio--out in Los Angeles because they'd had to leave Austin due to the threats and atmosphere there--Natalie Maines was asked if they would, in essence, be asking for the forgiveness of their country fans in the words of their songs.
She said, Hell, no.
"I'm not ready to make nice
"I'm not ready to back down
"I'm still mad as hell and I don't have time
"to go round and round and round.
"It's too late to make it right
"I probably wouldn't if I could
"I can't bring myself to do what it is
"You think I should."
--"I'm Not Ready to Make Nice," words and music by Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines (the Dixie Chicks), and Dan Wilson
"Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way," debuted at not only Number One on the Billboard charts, but also Number One on the Country Charts.
And much to the chagrin of the haters, the Dixie Chicks swept the Grammy Awards, winning five, including Best Song, Best Album, and Best Country Entertainers, defeating such industry darlings as Carrie Underwood.
After Richard Nixon was forced to resign following the REAL national shame of Watergate, a reporter asked John Lennon what he thought about that.
He said, "Time wounds all heels."
In 2006, when the Bush administration had finally been revealed to have manipulated intelligence and misled the nation into an endless bloody wasted war, when 75% of the people polled hated the way he and his people had managed this war and a majority of the U.S. military now felt we never should have gone in, when Natallie Maines and the rest of us who disagreed back in 2002 were proven right--the Dixie Chicks returned to the same London arena where Natalie Maines had first uttered the 12 words that nearly destroyed them.
Standing in front of an on-their-feet cheering crowd, she commented that she had often been asked what she was going to say upon her return to, as she called it, "the scene of the crime."
And with a saucy, non-repentant twinkle in her eye, just before launching into their Number One hit to thunderous roars from the crowd, she said, "I'm STILL ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas."
The ultimate irony of those who would silence voices of dissent in a free democracy--particularly in time of war--by calling into question the patriotism of those who question an unjust war, is that the men and women in uniform who bravely march into battle do so to DEFEND that very right.
"John Lennon would be opposed to the Iraq war. He would say, "The war on terror has become the war OF terror."
--Ron Kovic, author of "Born on the Fourth of July," who was paralyzed by a sniper's bullet in the Vietnam War. Tom Cruise was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Marine who went on to protest the war.
Again and again, people ask me why I write so obsessively about this war. Is it because my son is a combat Marine who has done two deployments to Iraq? Is it because I come from a proud military family (with yet another young nephew heading into harm's way soon)? Is it because I protested this war from the beginning, and had my OWN patriotism questioned?
I am a writer. A writer is who I am. It is not what I DO. It is WHO I AM.
As a writer, every cell of my being cries out against injustice and against the abuse of power, and protest runs through my veins and out my fingertips onto the computer keys.
It is who I am. I cannot be anything else.
You see, any time a powerful society attempts to crush the creative voice of protest, they fail.
The conservative-run McCarthy era blacklist did not silence Hollywood screenwriters. They just wrote under pseudonyms.
Jewish dissident Elie Wiesel was not silenced by Nazi concentration camps.
Russian dissident Alexander Solzenitzen was not silenced by Soviet Communist gulags.
John Lennon and the Dixie Chicks were not destroyed, and their voices have not been silenced. Even 27 years after Lennon's death, his words and his music live on in protest to war and injustice everywhere.
My one tiny voice is not heard so much as Lennon's or Natalie Maines's. And that's fine.
Those of us out here in the hinterlands will raise our voices together into a mighty chorus, and we will cry out in unison until we can no longer be ignored. We will not be silenced.
It is our duty, our responsibility, and ultimately, our burden.
And we carry it with joy.
"We shouldn't confuse dissent with disloyalty. The dissenters are the true patriots because they are speaking out. Dissent is the only way to correct mistakes."
--John Dean, former chief counsel to Richard Nixon and the first to voluntarily testify against the president during the Watergate hearings.
"Dissent is the essential handmaiden of freedom."
--Gore Vidal, quoted in "The U.S. vs John Lennon"
TOM RICKS IS MY HERO
Tom Ricks is the Washington Post's military correspondent. He has humped it with the grunts many a time, won the Pulitzer Prize twice, and is the author of the bestselling masterpiece: FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.
Nobody, but nobody cuts through the bullshit smoother and quicker than Ricks, and you can trust that his reporting is truth--not something filtered through White House "leaks" to willing stenographers.
He is highly respected by those in the military, at all levels, from the Pentagon to the infantry, and it shows in his reporting.
This is a piece he published in "Tom Ricks's Inbox," for the Washington Post, on February 25, 2007. He literally means that this comes from an e-mail he received. I'm going to publish Ricks's words as well, in full:
Subject: What affects morale?
There has been much debate recently about whether congressional resolution of disapproval for the U.S. troop increase in Iraq would undercut the morale of forces there. Here an officer who has served two combat tours in Iraq reports on what has affected his morale:
1. getting blown up
2. buddies getting blown up
3. re-securing a town we secured year before last
5. the "catch and release" detainee program
6. colostomy bags
7. civilian young men who won't look me in the eye when I'm in uniform
8. any scene from any shopping mall anywhere in America
9. editorials pointing out that casualties are "light by historical standards" 10. lies
1. Iraqis willing to fight for their country
2. good sergeants
3. clean, dry socks and T-shirts
4. cigarettes and chai without body armor
5. the USO at the DFW airport
6. meeting an Iraqi leader from my last tour who's still alive
7. "nothing significant to report"
8. sleep and KBR macadamia nut cookies (tie)
9. dead generals (this one is hypothetical, at least for the past six years, but Ridgeway said, "It's good for the troops' morale to see a dead general once in a while.")
"Tom Ricks's Inbox," Washington Post, February 25, 2007
Guys, tonight at ten p.m. eastern time, nine p.m. central, ABC will air, "To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports."Many of you may remember the handsome news anchor who was "blown up"--as the troops call it--by an IED while out searching for good news stories in Iraq to report for ABC Evening News.Woodruff was gravely injured, with some 200 rocks embedded in his face and skull, his skull crushed, jaw broken, and so on, resulting in Traumatic Brain Injury that kept him in a coma for some 36 days.When he awoke, he could not remember his children's names or anyone else's, for that matter; could not identify simple pictures of items such as scissors or cup; could not speak except in gibberish. His family was told that he would possibly never talk again, and his ability to walk was also in doubt.The father of four children, ranging in age from six to fifteen, was taught language by his little girls, and brought back to where he is today by the love of his family, and by--it must be stated--the very best medical care, the cost of which was paid in full by the network.The reason I think this is so important is that Woodruff came to know, and care for, other "TBI" patients during his recovery period, all of whom were soldiers and Marines. Woodruff points out that, although the official count is more than 23,000 injured in the war in Iraq, there are probably far more who have suffered brain injury that have not been included in the count, simply because their injuries did not appear that bad at the time.In fact, his cameraman was also bleeding after the bomb, and thought he was all right. He remembers smoking two cigarettes, and then waking up in the hospital after major brain surgery.It has become a cause dear to Woodruff's heart, and he wants to draw attention to this sub-class of injured war veterans, even as he continues to struggle with short-term memory and other problems from his brain injury. On "Good Morning, America," he could not remember the words for the Vietnam War and had to ask Dianne Sawyer to remind him.Some years ago, I spent many months researching traumatic brain injury--particularly closed-head brain injury--for a book, "Freefall."I learned then the insidiousness of this terrible injury. For one thing, in the less serious cases, a patient can walk around and appear to be normal to people who do not understand. They're called the "walking wounded." But the frustrations they face on a daily basis, just trying to recall words, things they knew only a few minutes before, and so on, can severely cripple their ability to work and to support themselves.Most people are unaware that, say, a simple whiplash, can cause brain bruising when the brain smacks up against the skull. Swelling can result and that is where the problems begin. (In high school, I had a friend who had a fender-bender and banged his forehead against the rear-view mirror. He seemed okay, but told his family that night he was tired and went to bed early. They found him dead in bed the next morning, from the concussion.)This is why I am so rabid on the subject of seat belts and motorcycle helmets. People just do not understand how easily the brain can be injured and how lifelong problems can result. One common repercussion, for instance, can be personality changes. The family knows their loved one is "different" but can't explain it to doctors. They may be very irritable and quick-tempered when they never were before. Depression is a very serious concern, as frustrations mount. I studied one case of a minister who came out of his coma cussing like a sailor and could not seem to quit.In my opinion, it's even possible that some post traumatic stress symptoms are actually, at least in part, the result of brain injury.These are serious, sometimes crippling problems that people need to understand, especially when we demand that Congress make certain that, as long as they're going to pony up a couple trillion bucks to FIGHT wars ,then they'd better fork over funds to help these returning vets cope with these injuries.My point is that it has become almost routine for combat soldiers and Marines on patrol in vehicles to get "blown up." My own son survived such an IED explosion during his last deployment. He was medivacced out, checked over, sent back into combat.Who knows how many soldiers and Marines have suffered long-term problems because of the brain injuries they survived?And that does not even count the numbers of soldiers and Marines who were horribly, terribly injured and survived, but who languish in hospital and rehab centers, unable to speak or feed themselves.Woodruff says that science is learning that, whereas the accepted wisdom has been that you can see improvement in patients for eighteen months to two years before a plateau occurs, they now believe it is possible for improvement to go on for years--maybe even life.Distraught military families who are dealing with the same challenges faced by the Woodruff family must also, at the same time, fight an indifferent bureacracy over the money to treat their loved one's injuries. They must fill out scores of forms and deal with their loved one being transferred from, say, one facility where he or she is receiving good care to one where he is not, simply because it is less expensive. They have to fight and fight for the help that, let's face it, came easily to the Woodruff family. I suspect that, during this entire time, he has been on the ABC News payroll--and while I have absolutely no problem with that at all--my point is that, for soldiers whose families depend upon them for their livelihoods, they may never be able to adequately support their children again due to these problems.As pointed out in the series of articles published in the Washington Post, many vets with very serious brain injuries--one comes to mind, who had to carry around a pad with him at all times to write down words to remember--are turned down for veteran's benefits. In that soldier's case, the doctors maintained that because he had that little pad, he was okay.In another case, doctors claimed that one soldier--who had done poorly in high school but not too poorly to be admitted into the Army--was rejected for benefits because they said his severe memory problems were basically caused by his being stupid--not by the truck door that crushed his skull in Iraq.This is a matter that should concern every single American citizen, not just those of us with loved ones directly affected.We can't just support our troops with yellow ribbon magnets and care packages while they are at war.We MUST support them during the long, arduous, journey home.
NEWSPAPER FORCES PENTAGON TO NOTICE NEGLECTED WAR-WOUNDED
They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially--they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1--that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years…
… Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va), who headed the House Government Reform Committee, which investigates problems at Walter Reed and other Army facilities, said, "…There's vast appreciation for soldiers, but there's a lack of focus on what happens to them," when they return. "It's awful."
…One case manager was so disgusted, she brought roach bombs for the rooms. Mouse traps are handed out. It doesn't help that soldiers there subsist on carry-out food because the hospital cafeteria is such a hike on cold nights. They make do with microwaves and hot plates…
…"I hate it," said Spec. George Romero, 25…"There are cockroaches. The elevator doesn't work. The garage door doesn't work. Sometimes there's no heat, no water…I talked to doctors and medical staff. They just said you kind of get used to the outside world…My platoon sergeant said, 'Suck it up.'"
--"Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration at Army's Top Medical Facility," Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post, February 18, 2007
The conflict in Iraq has hatched a virtual town of desperation and dysfunction, clinging to the pilings of Walter Reed. The wounded are socked away for months and years in random buildings and barracks in and around this military post…
Bomb blasts are the most common cause of injury in Iraq, and nearly 60 percent of the blast victims also suffer from traumatic brain injury, according to Walter Reed's studies, which explains why some at Mologne House wander the hallways trying to remember their room numbers.
Some soldiers and Marines have been here for 18 months or longer. Doctor's appointments and evaluations are routinely dragged out and difficult to get…
--"Hotel Aftermath: Inside Mologne House, the Survivors of War Wrestle with Military Bureaucracy and Personal Demons," Anne Hull and Dana Priest, Washington Post, February 19, 2007
For the past three years, Michael J. Wagner directed the Army's largest effort to help the most vulnerable soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His office in Room 3E01 of the world-renowned hospital was supposed to match big-hearted donors with thousands of wounded soldiers who could not afford to feed their children, pay mortgages, buy plane tickets or put up visiting families in nearby hotels.
But while he was being paid to provide this vital service to patients, outpatients and their relations, Wagner was also seeking funders and soliciting donations for his own new charity, based in Texas, according to documents and interviews with current and former staff members. Some families also said Wagner treated them callously and made it hard for them to receive assistance.
--"Hospital Investigates Former Aid Chief: Walter Reed Official Had Own Charity," Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post, February 20, 2007
If you listen to the PR operation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the U.S. military's gleaming flagship hospital offers veterans the best treatment available. What doesn't get mentioned is the bureaucratic contempt and physical squalor that too often await badly injured outpatient soldiers on the Walter Reed campus, the subject of a four-month Post investigation detailed in articles published Sunday and Monday.
Reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull and researcher Julie Tate spent hundreds of hours inspecting conditions and interviewing injured troops and their loved ones at Walter Reed outpatient facilities. Their findings: Veteran's rooms were rank; bureaucratic hassles and paper-pushing make the process of repairing buildings, redressing patient grievances and providing veterans with basic goods depressingly distressing, many veterans leave Walter Reed without the compensation they clearly deserve for their sacrifices.
The walls of one soldier's room were covered with black mold, and the ceiling of his shower had a large hole. Soldiers who lost their uniforms while undergoing emergency treatment on the battlefield have had to present their purple hearts to get replacement clothes. Amputees and patients on taxing drug regimens are required to report for formation early in the morning, even if it means trudging over accumulated ice and snow. ..
Most infuriating are reports of official efforts to deny disability benefits to discharged fighters…lowball settlements may leave soldiers and their families impoverished for life.
--"Rotten Homecoming: This is No Way to Treat a Veteran," editorial, Washington Post, February 21, 2007
First of all, just let me say: GOD BLESS REPORTERS DANA PRIEST, ANNE HULL, AND RESEARCHER JULIE TATE--and the WASHINGTON POST.
I hope they receive the Pulitzer Prize for this groundbreaking--and heartbreaking--story about the TRUE fate that awaits those brave men and women who leave parts of their bodies and brains--as well as blood, sweat, and tears--behind in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not so photo-oppy, is it? But then, reality and truth--as opposed to politics and propaganda--seldom are.
The Washington Post and its fine reporters have done exactly what a free press in a functioning democracy SHOULD do--tear back the pretty-colored government band-aids to reveal the gaping wounds of truth hidden beneath.
When I first started to read this series on conditions for so many of our war-wounded right there within television-camera distance from the White House, it made me, literally, sick to my stomach. I didn't even show the articles to my combat-vet husband because I knew it would upset him too much, nor will I show them to my combat-vet, active-duty Marine son.
There is so much to take in. Printed up, the first two articles, alone, ran nine pages apiece.
Page after page of documented cases--quoted by name and rank--of horrifying neglect, dreary, daily misery, families under almost unimaginable stress, and war-wounded soldiers kicked to the curb with virtually no benefits or protections.
In the Post editorial, the case of Cpl. Dell McLoud was recounted:
The Army tried to deny disability compensation to Cpl. Dell McLoud, who suffered a head injury that left him aimless and unable even to count change at the cafeteria. Army officials' argument: Because he had done poorly in high school, his current mental state might not have been caused by the steel door that smashed his skull in Iraq.
The only way these reporters were able to get this true story was by simply not telling the Army that they were doing it. They knew that if they went through official channels, they'd be sent to the show-case wards at Walter Reed where amputees are first taken--sparkling, state of the art facilities that are nothing less than what our men and women deserve.
But here, as Paul Harvey would say, is the REST OF THE STORY.
After a few weeks, when they are wheelchair-bound but not yet fitted for prosthetics, when their claims are being processed, they are assigned to housing there on the base, in buildings scattered far and wide over the campus.
And there, basically, they are left to rot.
The thing is, the U.S. military was not and has not been, prepared for the FLOOD of wounded from this war. Fully ninety percent of war-injuries are survived, and patients missing as much as three limbs, or half their brains, are sent to U.S. military facilities to recuperate.
Not since the Vietnam war has the system been so overwhelmed, only back then, they had TEN TIMES the staff available to handle it.
Now, it's nothing but a bottle-necked nightmare. Mologne House, which was mentioned in the second article of the series, was built only a few short years ago, primarily as a nice hotel that was to be used to house family members of wounded soldiers and Marines, as well as the disabled vets who were retired.
But Iraq and Afghanistan sent so many waves and waves of grievously wounded troops that soon the hotel was completely given over to house them. At least those who live there don't have to deal with cockroaches and black mold.
However, even though all of them had suffered terrible wounds--some traumatic brain injuries--and all were suffering varying degrees of post traumatic stress, the Army refused to allow psychologists or even social workers on the premises.
Consequently, there have been suicides and cases of drug overdoses and even alcohol poisoning as despairing and desperate war-wounded take their own lives.
At any of dozens of other buildings on the premises, the squalor is horrifying enough, but these guys are still in the Army. They are expected to "fall out" at 5:30 a.m. for formation. They have to make their way over ice-covered sidewalks on crutches and in wheelchairs, zonked out on medication, to report for duty.
When their uniforms are slashed off of them by medics in the battlefield, they then have nothing to wear in the hospital. They manage to make do with sweats and tee shirts, but in at least one case, an amputee was refused permission to attend the memorial service of a good friend who was killed in Iraq because he did not have a uniform to wear to the event.
Others have to prove that they are even IN the Army, especially if their paperwork gets lost, which it frequently does. Some have to bring photographs of their time in combat, or show their medals, in order to have access to basic facilities.
And that does not even approach the vast numbers who are being refused lifetime access to medical care. In an obvious attempt the cut spending, time and time again, the grievously wounded are kicked to the curb.
According to the Army Times, one 20-year old soldier--who has a titanium plate in his skull to replace missing pieces from a bomb blast that also ruptured his spleen, tore out his colon, and tore away the ligaments from his knee--was turned down for medical benefits post-discharge.
One case of thousands.
GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS HE DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS UNTIL THE ARTICLES APPEARED IN THE PAPER, BUT IN HIS PAST THREE BUDGETS--ALL RUBBER-STAMPED BY A REPUBLICAN CONGRESS--THE V.A. BUDGET HAS BEEN SLASHED BY TEN PERCENT--THAT'S A 30-PERCENT CUT IN FUNDS TO THE V.A.--JUST WHEN THE WAR-WOUNDED ARE SWELLING ITS RANKS BY THE THOUSANDS.
When the reporters interviewed Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, he said that one of the reasons the claims were being dragged out as long as they were, was so that the Army could hold onto soldiers as long as possible, "because this is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution."
Bush and the Pentagon are scrambling to cover their asses on this one, and although they all say they HAD NO IDEA UNTIL IT APPEARED IN THE PAPER, the truth is that, as of March, 2006, a Government Accountability Office report documented many of these same outrages, according to the Army Times.
So somebody, somewhere, knew.
Just nobody in the Bush administration.
The outrage and the outcry has been loud and long. As soon as the articles appeared in the Washington Post this past weekend and on through this week, Congressional and White House offices have been flooded with phone calls, e-mails, and press queries.
Television network news crews showed up at the same places mentioned in the articles and put out some B-roll that proves every word to be true.
By first thing Monday morning, the Pentagon was racing to instigate big-time damage control. By the time the news crews had arrived, Army work-crews were already ripping up foul carpeting and removing black mold. Soldiers who'd called those sad quarters "home" for months on end had already been moved--presumably--to better rooms.
Social workers have suddenly been put in place to help with the emotional and mental stresses of the patients
The trouble is, they are expecting a "troop surge" of more and more waves of war-wounded as a result of Bush's big surge plan in Baghdad, and the problems will only be compounded then.
The secretaries of the Army and Navy are launching their own investigations to go along with a Pentagon probe instigated by the news articles, and Congress is falling all over itself to find answers and fix the problems.
Several senators, including presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-Ill) and former presidential candidate John Kerry (D-Mass), announced they are co-sponsoring legislation to simplify the paperwork process for recovering soldiers and increase case managers and psychological counselors. The bill would also require the Army to report more regularly to Congress and the inspector general about the living conditions of injured soldiers.
--"Swift Action Promised at Walter Reed: Investigations Urged as Army Moves to Make Repairs, Improve Staffing," Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post, February 21, 2007
Tucked away in this president's defense budget are billions that have been allocated for high-tech defense systems, unneeded jet airplanes, and other boondoggles designed to keep K Street and its defense industry lobbyists fat and happy.
Meanwhile, the men and women who are actually doing the FIGHTING in this war, have been horribly mistreated, neglected, and even abused because, basically, the military does not have the money it needs to take care of them.
This is criminal.
Jeff Miller (Fla), the ranking Republican on the House Veteran's Affairs subcommittee on health, said, "The neglect being experienced by some wounded service members is outrageous. The Defense Dept. is never shy about asking for supplemental funds for operations and equipment; I cannot imagine why housing for recuperating wounded would not be a similar high priority."
Taped to my computer stack is a post card that I bought at a little independent bookstore in Brooklyn, NY.
TO READ IS TO EMPOWER
TO EMPOWER IS TO WRITE
TO WRITE IS TO INFLUENCE
TO INFLUENCE IS TO CHANGE
TO CHANGE IS TO LIVE.
What reporters Dana Priest and Anne Hull, and their newspaper, the Washington Post, did is to change the lives of those who have given the most to this country.
This is what good journalism is. It is what good journalism does.
It's just a damn shame that it took a newspaper article to do what this administration should have been doing all along, considering how many elections they won by surrounding themselves with waving flags and cheering troops.
HOPE--& HELP--IS ON THE WAY FOR THE WAR-WEARY
"All these extra troops start coming into Baghdad, you'll start reducing the anti-American violence. That way, it will show quick results for the Bush administration. And that way, 'Hey, we won the war, let's get out of here,'" said Pfc. Daniel Gomez, 21, a medic. But he said of the forces opposing the Americans: "They're like the Viet Cong, they can wait it out. We're not going to be here forever, and they know that. And then we're gone, and it's all theirs."
--"U.S. Unit Walks 'A Fine Line' in Iraqi Capital," Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, February 6, 2007
"Once more raids start happening, they'll (insurgents) melt away," said Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Gill, 29, of Pulaski, Tenn, who serves in the 1st Infantry Division in east Baghdad. "And then two or three months later, when we leave and say it was a success, they'll come back."
Soldiers interviewed across east Baghdad, home to more than half the city's 8 million people, said the violence is so out of control that while a surge of 21,500 more American troops may momentarily suppress it, the notion that U.S. forces can bring lasting security to Baghdad is misguided.
…"We can go get into a firefight and empty out ammo, but it doesn't accomplish much," said Pvt. 1st Class Zach Clouser, 19, of York, PA. "This isn't our war--we're just in the middle."
Almost every foot soldier interviewed during a week of patrols on the streets and alleys of east Baghdad said that Bush's plan would halt the bloodshed only temporarily. The soldiers cited a variety of reasons, including incompetence or corruption among Iraqi troops, the complexities of Iraq's sectarian violence and the lack of Iraqi public support, a cornerstone of counterinsurgency warfare.
"They can keep sending more and more troops over here, but until the people here start working with us, it's not going to change," said Sgt. Chance Oswalt, 22, of Tulsa, OK.
--"Soldiers in Iraq View Troop Surge as Lost Cause," Tom Lasseter, McClatchy Newspapers, February 3, 2007
Outgoing Army chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said yesterday that the increase of 17,500 Army combat troops in Iraq represents only the "tip of the iceberg" and will potentially require thousands of additional support troops and trainers, as well as equipment--further eroding the Army's readiness to respond to other world contingencies…
…He could not guarantee the combat units would receive all the translators, civil affairs soldiers and other support troops they request. "We are continuing today to get requests for forces that continue to stress us."
--"Iraq Troop Boost Erodes Readiness, General Says," Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, February 16, 2007
Field upon field of more than 1,000 battered M1 tanks, howitzers and other armored vehicles sit amid weeds here at the 15,000-acre Anniston Army Depot--the idle, hulking formations symbolic of an Army that is wearing out faster than it is being rebuilt.
…the depletion of major equipment such as tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and especially helicopters and armored Humvees has left many military units in the United States without adequate training gear…Many U.S. units are rated "unready" to deploy…
…Despite the work piling up, the Army's depots have been operating at about half their capacity because of a lack of funding for repairs.
--"U.S. Army Battling to Save Equipment: Gear Piles Up at Depots, Awaiting Repair," Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, December 5, 2006
The success of the Bush administration's new Iraq strategy depends on a series of rapid and dramatic political and economic reforms that even the plan's authors have little confidence will work.
…Several sources expressed concern that the administration…has not left itself a fall-back plan in the event of failure.
…Some officials worry that the expanded U.S. presence will repeat the mistakes of the past…undermining the goal of turning the country over to the Iraqis themselves.
"It's the same old problem as in 2003," cautioned one official. "The same impatience that if they can't do it we'll step in and do it. There is a bit of that creeping into this dialogue."
--"Doubts Run Deep on Reforms Crucial to Bush's Iraq Strategy; Even Plan's Authors Say Political, Economic Changes May Fail," Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, February 4, 2007
You know, I wasn't going to do a blog post on all the reasons why this escalation of troops into Baghdad will not work. I'd written some on it before, and I figure those of you who are interested in the subject have already heard a lot of the arguments, pro and con.
And in fact, that is not the subject matter of this post.
But I thought it was essential to point out that military officials from the top down--as well as some administration officials who actually worked on this harebrained scheme--have deep and serious doubts about it.
And in fact, we are already seeing on the ground, in the first raids and sweeps of the Stryker Brigades in Baghdad, the truth of what the troops on the ground predicted--the bad guys "melted away," prior to the beginning of the so-called "surge."
Consequently, newspapers are reporting that many Iraqi families are actually leaving their front doors open for the American troops.
And let us be perfectly clear. AMERICAN TROOPS.
Out of a force 2,500 strong, only 200 were Iraqi Army. So don't kid yourself about any KIND of joint operation.
At any rate, the people open their doors, say, Come on in, look around.
Some who live there and fear their neighbors have complained that the Iraqi Prime Minister made such a big deal, publicly, about the security sweep--giving clear warnings for at least a month in advance--that all the bad guys not only had time to get out of town, but time to pack a bag and make a nice picnic lunch to boot.
This, of course, gives a false reading of the true success of this operation. On the one hand, here comes the American cavalry, so to speak, riding to the Baghdadi rescue--only to sweep into a town empty of bad guys. They throw their weight around and pull back.
This may give Bush/Cheney time to tout GREAT SUCCESS, just in time for the upcoming elections…but don't be so sure. Because the guy running the show in Baghdad now wants the troops to remain for THREE TO FIVE YEARS, and we just can't do it. Don't have the troops, don't have the equipment, don't have the will.
So, what then? So what do we do? Babysit a civil war for the next TWO GENERATIONS, as my Special Forces Brig. Gen. brother-in-law says it would take?
How long are our guys expected to be the SOLE SUPPORTER of Iraqi security? And when we do pull out--and we will have to pull out--what do you think will happen then? They're going to go back to doing what they do best--killing each other.
No, we come up with a different strategy altogether. Now, later on in the week, I am going to do a serious analysis of what the best minds--other than the Iraq Study Group--have suggested for successful ways we can end the American occupation of Iraq with the least amount of chaos in our wake.
But right now, I want to concentrate on how help, and hope, is on the way, and it starts with Iraq war vets.
In the United States Congress, where decorum usually holds sway, Iraq war veteran Jon Soltz and his small band of veterans are saying things many Democrats would like to express but can't.
…The veterans are selling a blunt message: The Bush strategy on Iraq is a failure, and adding troops sends more young men and women to their deaths. If you care about the military, they told lawmakers, vote against the troop increase. Legislators who are stalling debate on the matter are "cowards," they said…Soltz, chairman of the group, VoteVets.org., called President Bush and Vice President Cheney "draft dodgers."
…"We are not fighting the war on terrorism, we are in the middle of a civil war," he said, referring to Iraq. "Meanwhile, the guy who attacked this country on 9/11 is living in a cave in Afghanistan."
…Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz)…dismissed VoteVets.org as a "handful of veterans" not representative of the military.
But VoteVet.org has 20,000 members, including 1,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan…The veteran's group raised just over $1.3 million in the last election cycle.
--"Veteran's Group Speaks Out on War," Lyndsey Layton and Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, February 8, 2007
VoteVets.org is an organization originally sponsored by Gen. Wesley Clark, who spearheaded the incredible job ending the turmoil in the Balkans in the 90's and who then ran for president on the Democratic ticket. I remember vividly, back in 2002, when war-frenzy was at its peak, Gen. Clark went on national television and insisted that, within days of the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, he got a phone call from administration officials wanting him to find a way to tie the tragedy with Saddam Hussein.
He refused, and went public.
They accused him of being crazy. Or at the very least, of lying.
We now know, of course, that he was not crazy; he was right. You can draw your own conclusions as to who was really lying or crazy.
So then for the mid-term elections, Gen. Clark went on a crusade of sorts to recruit as many Iraq, Afghanistan, and other vets as he could find who would be willing to run for Congress or the Senate on the Democratic ticket, with the full backing of the Democratic Party. Consequently, a dozen combat veterans ran for office and something like eight of them won. On the Republican side, they could only scrounge up one Iraq vet to run, and he lost.
VoteVets.org was the organization that tirelessly raised funds to help get these veterans in Congress, and over time, the organization grew to include thousands of veterans from all over the country who have been outraged at the manner in which this debacle of a war has been handled, and now, a rotating phalanx of them are haunting the halls of Congress--taking turns as their time allows--lobbying--HARD--for Congress to end this war.
They're pissed, and not being politicians themselves, they speak truth and they don't sugar-coat. Oh, how long I have waited to hear someone actually refer to Bush and Cheney as "draft-dodgers."
And some in Congress are listening.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill)…cited news articles that said some of the new troops being sent to Iraq are going without adequate training or equipment. "Now who is standing behind the troops?" he asked.
…Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) asserted that Mr. Bush cannot simply ignore Congressional opposition to his plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.
"I would respectfully suggest to the president that he is not the sole decider," Mr. Specter said…
…Mr. Specter read the results of a survey of service members conducted by the Military Times, which found that only 35 percent of respondents approved of Mr. Bush's handling of the war. The senator suggested that in that light, the military might be "appreciative of questions being raised by Congress."
--"Senators Assert Right to Block Bush on Iraq," John O'Neil, New York Times, January 30, 2007
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) yesterday linked her support for President Bush's war-funding request to strict standards of resting, training, and equipping combat forces, a move that could curtail troop deployments and alter the course of U.S. involvement in Iraq.
…"If we are going to support our troops, we should respect what is considered reasonable for them: their training, their equipment and their time at home," Pelosi said in an interview with a small group of reporters. "What we're trying to say to the president is, you can't send people in who are not trained for urban warfare…who are not prepared to contend with an insurgency."
…Congressman John Murtha, (D-PA), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, outlined his plan for restricting the administration's use of war funds in an Internet interview released yesterday. Under that legislation, troops would be required to have one year's rest between deployments, combat tours could no longer be extended, and the Pentagon would have to halt its "stop-loss" program, which prohibits some officers from leaving the military when their tour of duty is complete.
The idea is to neutralize political charges that the Democrats plan to starve war funding. The party would still slow the war effort by other means, Murtha said in an interview aired on the new Web site MoveCongress.org.
"What we're saying will be very hard to find fault with," he said. "We're supporting the troops. We're protecting the troops. On the other hand, we're going to stop this surge."
--"Pelosi Backs War Funds Only With Conditions; Equipment, Training for Troops Would Face New Standards," Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post, February 16, 2007
God bless John Murtha. Conservatives like to demonize and vilify him, but by God, he is the FIRST member of either House of Congress to even BRING UP the reprehensible practice of "stop-loss"--preventing retirements when they come due, stopping people from mustering out who have served their full terms and then some, with multiple deployments, and the crusty old ex-Marine and Vietnam combat vet is the ONLY member of either chamber to even MENTION that these so-called "fresh troops" that the media keep touting aren't fresh at all--they are troops like my nephew, whose Army Stryker Brigade company is being shipped out two months in advance, and who was told, "Don't even think about coming home," which meant that they could count on having their deployment extended way beyond the usual one-year hitch.
SO WHO'S REALLY SUPPORTING THE TROOPS?
And just in case Congress continues to hide in the closet and avoid dealing with this, almost half of the states have taken up the cause to goad action from the federal government.
…State legislatures across the country, led by Democrats…are pushing forward with their own resolutions.
Resolutions have passed in chambers of three legislatures, in California, Iowa, and Vermont…Maryland…urged opposition to the increase in troops to Iraq.
Letters or resolutions are being drafted in at least 19 other states. The goal is to embarrass Congress into passing its own resolution and to provide cover for Democrats and Republicans looking for concrete evidence back home that anti-Iraq resolutions enjoy popular support.
--"Democrats in State Capitals Push Antiwar Resolutions," Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times, February 16, 2007
This is not just some lame peace-activist protest going on here, and it's not just some Democratic political maneuvering. THIS IS A SOUNDLESS WAVE OF PROTEST, MOVING FROM STATE TO STATE, ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY, A SILENT NO.
I wrote this on Friday but was unable to post it until Sunday morning, with news programs over my shoulder discussing every single one of these points.
So, what difference does it make? I mean, REALLY? Who cares if the House and/or the Senate pass resolutions that are non-binding anyway? Can't the King--er, the president, I mean--do whatever the hell he wants to? Can't he order up any kind of war action he wants? What does he care whether Congress approves or doesn't approve?
Turns out, contrary to what he may be posturing before the cameras, he DOES care. He HAS to.
And a non-binding resolution is, after all, only the first step.
(a former) Assistant Attorney General, Walter E. Dellinger III (1996), said, "Although it does not become law, how can it possibly be considered meaningless for each house of the Congress to exercise the view in a formal recorded vote that a planned addition to U.S. forces is a mistake?...I think that the framers of the Constitution would be astonished that a president would proceed to increase U.S. involvement in a foreign war over the expressed objection of both houses of Congress."
…Dellinger said there is a "striking consensus" on both the left and the right that Congress has the power to limit the scope and duration of a war--not only through the power of the purse but through other war powers.
--"Bush, Congress Could Face Confrontations on Issue of War Powers," Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, February 16, 2007
"I think the constitutional scheme does give Congress broad authority to terminate a war," said Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who was a White House associate counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003.
…the other experts said that while the Constitution makes the president commander-in-chief of U.S. forces, Congress' constitutional power to declare war and fund U.S. forces also gave it the power to stop what it had set in motion.
…Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Judiciary Committee until the Democrats won control from Republicans in November, said, "The decider is a shared and joint responsibility."
--"Congress Can Stop Iraq War, Experts Tell Lawmakers," Susan Cornwell, Reuters, January 30, 2007
The bottom line is this.
George can't run around playing with his toy soldiers until after dark any more without some responsible adult around to tell him it's time to come in.
He can bluster and pout about the "war on terrorism" all he wants, and his minions can yelp about how we're not "supporting the troops"--but at this point, even the TROOPS aren't listening any more.
George Will said on This Week With George Stephanopolous that even if the funding bill passes with Murtha's caveats, Bush can just do one of his famous signing statements, ignoring it.
May be. But with opposition growing more and more vehement, and more and more Republicans in Congress getting pressure from their own constituents and the presidential election looming…there will be some back-door meetings at the White House from Republicans saying to their fearless leader: END IT.
And if not, well, we can do in '08 what we did in '06. Don't think they don't know it, and with primaries running quicker than ever, they're all under pressure to do SOMETHING before the American people revolt.
And in the meantime, although we may not be able to stop the escalation into Iraq, at the very least, we may be able to stop escalating the war into Iran.
At long last, thanks to a message sent loud and clear from voters in November, We the People may be able to stop King George.
A COMBAT MARINE MOM'S OBSESSION
"It's like living with death, even though he's still alive."
--Susan, a Marine mom, whose son did three combat tours to Iraq
"If this president's two daughters had to be deployed, he'd think twice about sending any more troops to Iraq."
--Kay, a Marine mom, whose son did three combat tours in Iraq
"No one in my family has a child in the military. I would feel better if just someone next door--or even down the block--knew what I was going through."
--Kathy, a Marine mom, whose son is about to deploy for the first time to Iraq
"I'm a therapist by profession, and I am surrounded by caring and supportive professionals who often pull me into their office and encourage me to talk about this. But nothing in my professional training or experience can possibly prepare someone for what this is like, and I can't explain to my good colleagues that they can't help, either--not unless they've been through it."
--Bob, a Marine dad, whose son was on his first combat deployment to Iraq at the time.
I've been accused--many times--of being obsessed by the war in Iraq, by members of my family, and people who think they know me.
I have never, however, been accused by another Marine mom.
It's a helpless feeling, trying to explain to someone, why the way you feel is NORMAL--when compared to others who are going through the same thing.
We are all obsessed--check out any military family support website that allows for back-and-forth commenting--to see that, it doesn't matter whether we have thriving careers or five other children still at home, whether this is our firstborn or the baby of the family, whether we are married to our warrior or related otherwise, whether we come from a military or a civilian background--this war and the toll it takes on our family is all-consuming.
All I can do is point to two women I know, one a progressive and one a conservative, both of whom had sons who served four years active duty in the Marine Corps and both of whose sons served three combat tours to Iraq, and both of whose sons have recently mustered out of the service.
One is a gifted artist who found herself unable to paint for the entire four years her son was in the Marine Corps. Within weeks of his getting out, she went through a creative renaissance--a frenzy of painting--and emerged so profoundly happy she could hardly contain herself. Before long, she was talking about writing a book, and taking up marathon-running again.
Another channeled her energies into USO activities during the years her son was in the Marine Corps, preparing hundreds of care packages and sending off Army troops from DFW airport every Sunday, along with other activities designed to "support the troops." She endured her son's deployments with a sort of manic energy, going into overdrive with the care packages and other coping tactics, festooning her house with Marine Corps paraphernalia and so many bumper stickers and yellow ribbons on the back of her Tahoe that it's almost covered solid. (Her son said that, at one point, she'd sent him so many care packages that he built himself a wall out of the boxes.)
She still spends every Sunday afternoon at the airport and still sends out packages, but now that her son is home and enrolled in college, she has been set free, laughing and chattering around the house like a happy little magpie, out from under--at last--the dreadful anxiety and ongoing resistance to the idea that she could bury her child at any time.
Part of my friend Bob's duties as a therapist is to counsel veterans who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and he and I have discussed the idea that, in a sense, the parents of those in the military endure a sort of post traumatic stress of their own.
Survivor's guilt, as well.
Enduring such unmitigated stress for months on end, knowing that friends of your son or daughter have died--sometimes right in front of them--writing letters of condolence to bereaved parents even as your own child is still in terrible danger, knowing that your beloved child is going to be asked to do terrible things and may even kill other human beings--and then live with it--trying to remain strong for that child and keep from them the toll their deployment is taking on you--is a stress that can take months, if not years, to come to terms with.
There is a phenomenon I've noticed among the Marines I've known who've returned alive and in one piece from combat--I've observed it firsthand.
They seem to understand.
My son and my nephew, both, have been quick to hug their moms. Not just when they leave the house, but most any time the two of you are in the same room together, like, say, standing at the kitchen sink. They'll reach over and give us a manly quick-hug, and sometimes say, "I'm glad to be home."
They appreciate, so much, everything that their loved ones do to support them during their deployments, and they know--more than anyone--how close they came, time and time again, to never being able to hug their loved ones again.
This Christmas was the first time in years that my son had been able to be home for the holidays when he was not due to deploy soon or, was actually in Iraq. Every now and then, I would think of the mothers of his buddies who did not make it back, and my breath would catch in my throat, and my eyes would well up, and I'd have to creep out of the room and weep in private so he would not know where my thoughts were.
But I knew that he had similar thoughts.
When I talk about Marine parents--it's not that I don't include Army or Air force or Navy parents in that mix--but I do want to distinguish between COMBAT troops and SUPPORT troops.
In this terrible war, there are no safe havens. There is no "front line." There is no "rear area." Just getting from, say, the Baghdad airport to their bases is fraught with danger.
Even big bases get mortar rounds lobbed into them at random, and I know of troops who've been killed while "inside the wire" by such mortar rounds. We also remember terrible events in the past, in which some Iraqi security personnel within that wire betrayed their American allies and allowed explosives or other attacks to be carried out within the base confines.
These are terrible events, to be sure, but they are random.
But for those troops ensconced in large military bases, let's face it, their lives are different. They have access to e-mail, for instance--some of them can even post their own blogs. They have better living quarters, air conditioning, plenty of water for bathing, a fully-stocked mess hall and PX. On some of the huge sprawling bases, there are even fast food franchises, gift shops, gyms for working out, internet cafes, and other amenities.
Many of those troops are housed in air conditioned storage containers that hold only two, and it becomes a home away from home, a place to put, say, a teddy bear sent by their child. Sometimes they get up base touch football or basketball games or holiday parties.
Now, I must also be fair and state that there are plenty of troops who live on those huge bases who still must go out on daily patrols, and I do not wish to disparage their own dangers and service and sacrifice.
But the simple truth is that, generally speaking in military terms, for every ONE combat troop, there are TEN in support of that troop's work--either in supply, or transportation, or headquarters command, or intelligence interpretation, or tech support, or base security, and so on. And these troops can send daily e-mails home, can even call home every day sometimes.
Their families can be reasonably assured that they will get to come home.
With combat troops, though, and especially for Marine Corps infantry troops, and the Navy medics who hump with them--these young men and women are DAILY exposed to the most bloody and dangerous of jobs in the worst areas of the war zone.
As I've stated before here, the Marines I know, and the parents who e-mail me in our own little support group, live a far different life than those on big bases.
Their "FOBs"--Forward Operating Bases--are often housed in abandoned buildings with no water or power. There is no mess hall and no PX. Once every seven to ten days, they are transported to a real base where they can get a shower and a hot meal, and sometimes, depending upon their CO's, they have hot meals trucked out to them once a day. But for the most part, they live on MRE's and on stuff their folks or spouses send to them in care packages.
As far as phoning home goes, a platoon will lug around a battered satellite phone, and in relatively quiet moments--while up on a rooftop watching for snipers, say, or around a desert campfire--they will pass the phone around so everyone can check in at home. The phones are usually so beat-up that the connection gets cut every two minutes or so, and once the satellite is out of range--so is the phone call. There is only time to tell them we love them, to ask if they need anything and if they've received any of our packages, to tell them we miss them and pray for them daily, to reach out through the cosmos for that quick hug.
It's not the same thing as lining up in an air-conditioned call center for a half-hour conversation with parents or spouses on good phone lines. Not the same thing at all.
Combat parents and spouses do get those types of calls as well, usually once every ten days or so when our guys get to spend a night on a real base, and we cherish them because in those few minutes, we can feel at peace, because they are safe.
For 24 blessed hours, they are alive and well.
Even so, when a combat troop calls home, their loved ones always live with the knowledge that this may be the last time they ever hear their child's voice.
How would you speak to your child or sweetheart if, in every conversation, you knew it could be your last?
What would YOU say?
Usually, combat troops often go out on lengthy patrols that require them to sleep in abandoned houses or out in the desert. And everywhere, wherever they go and whatever they do, they are surrounded by the enemy.
Children playing in the street beg for candy from the troops, then act as scouts, and run in to tell their elders when the American convoys or patrols are coming.
Men who pretend to work with the Americans by day are the same ones who creep out under cover of darkness and set the IED's that they explode with remote controls as soon as the children alert them that the Americans are coming, and then they disappear into the labyrinth of dusty Iraqi streets to try again another day.
So many vehicles are hit by these roadside bombs that it has become commonplace for patrols. Not all of the bombs are lethal. Not all of the bombs kill. They don't even all go off. But enough do to disable many of the vehicles needed for those patrols, and foot patrols are even tougher. In some neighborhoods, such as Ramadi, the troops have to jog down the streets, zigzagging as they do so, because the snipers are so bad.
People die. People get parts of their bodies blown off. People sitting next to them walk away unscathed on the outside and scarred for life within.
Sometimes, your child has to pick up body parts left over from an explosion, and not just of fellow servicemembers, but from children and families caught in vicious sectarian fighting.
It has been thus throughout the history of warfare, but in the past 40 years, whenever a troop has been sent into combat, when his tour was over, he was done.
Not so any more, not in Bush's war.
Now, a combat troop can be sent to the most horrible places in the entire war, come home alive and well, then a few months later, get sent back again, come home, then get sent back…
Every time they get sent back could be the last time. They know it and their families know it.
And every time that they are home, this oppressive dark cloud hangs over their heads with the same question pressing down on them: AM I GOING TO HAVE TO GO BACK? Or…IS MY LOVED ONE GOING TO HAVE TO GO BACK?
I can't tell you the accounts of combat deaths I've read or heard about that occurred two weeks before they were due to come home, after multiple deployments.
We combat parents know it and the combat troops know it. And we have to live with it for the entire time our children or loved ones are in the service. A Marine Corps commitment is four years, and after that, four years in the Reserves.
An overstretched, overstrained, overstressed military trying to fight every war Bush wants to fight, must depend heavily upon its reserve forces.
So for FOUR MORE YEARS, we have to live with the knowledge that our children or loved ones could be yanked out of their civilian lives and sent back to war again, only this time, when they are not at their peak physical condition or training, possibly led by inexperienced superiors.
This war has gotten so deadly, so dangerous, that many of the news media reporters covering it cannot leave the large bases or relatively secure areas where they are housed. Many times, on issues like the congressional debate over the war, they interview those troops who are housed on these large bases, many of whom have not even been on combat patrols. It is these troops who are the ones most likely to comment on-camera that their morale is being hurt by this debate.
But for those intrepid souls who leave those bases and go out in the field on the deadliest of patrols--such as Lara Logan of CBS evening news and Richard Engel of NBC Nightly News--those reporters who have themselves come under fire or experienced an exploding vehicle--those reporters are far more likely to hear from combat troops that they are growing weary of fighting, that they know it is a losing battle, that they think it is time for a complete change in strategy.
Those of us who are combat parents--especially those of us who objected to this war in the first place more than four years ago--know this, and yet we must endure outrageous schemes for "victory" from the so-called commander-in-chief, we must observe close-up and first-hand the futility and frustrations of those schemes for the troops on the ground, and we must live with the terrible good-byes when our precious children leave for war.
For so many thousands of us who do not have access to the support offered on military bases--for the Marines, especially, who are not as large as the army and are a seagoing force--we have no one nearby who can possibly understand our agony. This nation was at peace for an entire generation. Many modern families don't have a single family member past World War II who has served in the military.
They send a cherished child off to war and they have no idea what that means, and whether they watch the news or not, whether they follow political debates and blogs or not, they are alone.
Online support communities can be blessed help, but the fact remains that when you put your child on a plane not knowing if you will ever see them alive again, or welcome them back and see that they are changed forever and there is nothing you can do or say that can take away their pain, and when you know that it's all going to happen again and again while politicians pose and preen in front of the flag your child may die to defend…
How can you NOT be obsessed?
How can you not search, each and every day, for some small glimmer of hope, from any quarter, that somehow, some way, the day will come when we will no longer have to live with this awful anxiety, this daily dread, this terrible terror?
Many of you reading this right now are unaware of the fact that I am a published author. I've had eleven books published by major New York houses--you need only check me out on Amazon.com to see that this is true.
I keep being asked if I am working on another book. Even my own family is impatient to see me back doing what I do best and what has always brought me such joy. They see me pouring my energies into this blog instead, and it worries them. They wonder if I will ever be able to write again. Sometimes I wonder that myself.
But my situation is no different from my friend Susan's--the artist who could not paint. The truth is that the relentless, ongoing, chronic stress of this situation so paralyzes those of us going through it that we can hardly turn our attention to creative pursuits that do not reflect that same anxiety. In those four years that Susan's son was in the Marine Corps and going through three combat deployments to Iraq, she was only able to complete one painting.
It was a peace sign.