Unlike my good friend Paul Elam, who is himself a US Army veteran, I do not believe the majority of wars America has fought in the last 75 or so years (the real ones, not the phony ones like the War On Drugs) have been fought for commerce or imperialism or any of those other things we commonly hear asserted in “liberal” and libertarian circles. Indeed, I find it incredibly naive to believe that any dictatorship anywhere in the world will not seize the first opportunity it has to create far more bloodshed than the US ever has if we cease most of our overseas operations. The world is filled with mass graves in places where great powers had the ability to do something and washed their hands and sighed and said these things were bad but did nothing but talk, and it is filled with hundreds of millions of people who lived because the USA acted instead of refusing to act.
There are those who disagree with me and draw a moral equivalence between what we do and what the likes of North Korea or Iran or China do and have done. They’ll tell you that World Communism was going to fix itself due to natural economic collapse–to which I can only say: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Right, and National Socialism would have also ended itself due to its own economic inefficiencies if no one had bothered to try to stop Hitler.
I will not argue this point further here, although I believe such beliefs dishonor those who actually have fought. The notion that the average American GI is an automaton indiscriminately slaughtering is misandrist garbage, and the notion that he has done no good with his service also dishonors him and his fellows, whether he says it of himself or not. There are hundreds of millions alive today who would not be thanks to GI Joe (the real one, not that goofy cartoon).
As a veteran on A Voice for Men recently commented:
I am not a warrior of imperialism nor were the family members who literally DID die in a war over freedom and evil in Europe and Asia.
I will simply celebrate the memory and wash the head stones of my sacred bretheren today.
Of course there are veterans who disagree with this. There are others who agree strongly, nowhere near as often heard from in our maintsream media, but many of them are men (and let’s face it, it’s virtually all men we’re talking about here, although some women have served with honor) who are rightly proud of their work. The right to such disagreement and debate as to the causes and justifications for war are woven into the fabric of a free society, which we still are–although at times I wonder how much longer that will be, as enemies domestic not foreign eat away at the civil and human rights that should be the very core of our nation’s values.
In any case, today we have reached an unprecedented level of suicide among America’s veterans. As Paul Elam notes and Forbes Magazine confirms, America’s veterans are now killing themselves at a rate of 22 per day. This is a horror we seem not to wish to face as a nation: at no time in our history has such an epidemic of suicides (virtually all of them male, as suicide in general is primarily a male problem, especially in the military) among those who have fought for their country. Yet there are fewer veterans in total number than previous generations of veterans and they have frequently never experienced horrors as great as seen in conflicts such as World War II or Korea; indeed, they are generally better educated, better housed, receive better medical care, and are less likely to be killed in action than any generation of veterans ever has been.
These suicides of our veterans cannot be due to “the horrors of combat.” To be blunt, not only is that a horrific and sexist stereotype about men who have served in combat, but most combat veterans of previous generations saw far more carnage that the vast majority of our Soldiers today ever will. They are killing themselves because they come home to find lives of devastation, not because the horrors of war are particularly worse today than ever.
The numbers tell the tale: 22 a day at home, 1 a day abroad. Something’s wrong when they get back here, and that is one of our great national failings.
IF you are a veteran who is homeless, destitute, despondent, alone, and/or being crushed by our horribly misandrist “criminal justice” and our sexist, abusive, civil-rights-trashing family court system, and our deeply male-hostile economy and male-hostile social safety net, please know I honor you for your service, and I am sorry for what has been done to you when you returned home.
And regardless of your situation, whether desperate or good, and regardless of whether we agree politically or not, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service and your sacrifice. And I pledge to continue to work to try to make it better for those of you who have been so ill-treated when you returned.
Dean Esmay is the author of Methuselah’s Daughter. He has contributed to Dean’s World, Huffington Post, A Voice for Men, Pajamas Media. Neither left nor right wing, neither libertarian nor socialist.