The true cost of war: When Johnny comes marching home again

I am a graduate of a military high school and military college, and I served as an officer in the army artillery. I love my country and believe that our nation should be strongly defended. I am staunchly supportive of our military and admire every member of our armed forces for each has pledged to honor the will of their government regardless of political conviction, and each has agreed to deploy to conflicted areas regardless of consequence. But, decades of misguided engagements have resulted in an economic and geopolitical quagmire that has devastated our economy and imposed great risks to our nation’s security.

Like many Americans, my emotions were mixed as I listened to President Obama’s speech on June 22. I was pleased that the withdrawal has begun, although the number seems a bit meager. And, like many Americans I too, question the President’s motives for the timing seems questionable; especially since this action could have been taken shortly after inauguration day or immediately following the death of Osama bin Laden. Regardless of the reasoning, America needs to end the two engagements and bring our troops home where reservists can be re-assigned to aid in the reconstruction of our decaying infrastructure and the tightening of border security.

As a child growing up in New London, Conn., I regularly attended weekend matinees at the local theater. Newsreel films preceded each feature; short films that vividly depicted the atrocities committed prior to and during WWII. Although disgusting and graphic, these films had a profound affect on my perception of good and evil, of war and peace, and of the fallibility of mankind. For me, the prevention of such a holocaustic reoccurrence was the foremost guideline for engaging in battle and the taking of life, and an inspiration for those who sought a military career.

But, America has deviated from the righteous path that provided the independence and liberties we enjoy today; a course that separated us from the tyrannical English rule of the 18th century and defined our nation’s principals for engaging in conflict.

America has engaged in many wars and conflicts since WWII; some justified, some not. We have lost American lives in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in countless minor struggles and numerous clandestine operations. And, currently, we have questionable mission creep in Libya, and arguably in Yemen.

Some argue that the war in Afghanistan was essential, while others believe it was not necessary to deploy ground troops to the area. Only history will tell us if this was a correct course of action, just as it has shown that Iraq was an unjustified war, for like Vietnam, the intelligence was fabricated. Sadly, many American lives have been lost due to flawed or falsified intelligence that was disseminated by unscrupulous elected and appointed officials to engage us in wars that were not our concern and posed no immediate threat to our country.

Since WWII the world has continually looked to America for leadership, financial aid, and military intervention. However, the time has come for America to reassess its role in world affairs for we are no longer in a position to provide for all in need of assistance and to be policemen to the world. The cost is too great.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed over 6,000 American military personnel, and 250,000 other men, women, and children. More than 355,000 have been wounded by combat, and, it is estimated that over 400,000 of our military personnel have, or are at risk of developing, trauma related conditions. The economic consequences are equally substantial. It is estimated that America, upon final withdrawal, may have racked up a debt of over three trillion dollars when interest is included. And, the cost in lives and resources does not end when our troops return home, although the aftermath often becomes the forgotten tragedy of war. The cost to care for the wounded may exceed one trillion dollars and will last several generations as will the economic consequences of loss resources and expended borrowed capital. Sadly, the outcome in both countries is questionable.

America needs to stop engaging in the affairs of others and concentrate on the needs of our country and our people. Otherwise, in the future we will be unable to aid allies, and may very well be unable to adequately protect ourselves from the growing dissention from within, the spreading anarchy abroad, and the lengthening tentacles of China that pose a growing economic and military threat that we have yet to comprehend.

We can no longer continue to rebuild abroad, while our infrastructure is in decay at home. Nor can we continue to provide financial assistance to other nations while Americans experience cuts to essential services. And, we should never absorb the costs of providing armament and protection that enables other economies such as Kuwait, Germany and South Korea to prosper as our defense budget is cut and our economy falters.

Yes, there are times that conflict is unavoidable. But, we should never go to war: because we favor one faction over another; to gain access to a country’s natural resources; to support a nation that seeks to remove tyrannical rule; to overthrow regimes that fail to provide accommodating economic policies: to expand foreign markets; or to impose our will on governments that do not share our geopolitical or economic views. Nor can we condone the fabrication of fictitious events such as Vietnam’s Bay of Tonkin incident, or Iraqi’s weapons of mass destruction to justify military intervention.

Why is it that can we learn to perfect weaponry and tactics, yet fail to learn from our errors and from the blunders of others such as the Russians in Afghanistan, and the French in Vietnam?

In the past, Americans have been wary of major engagements, as exemplified by our hesitation to begin our Revolutionary War, and our reluctance to enter WWI, and WWII. But, when we did engage, it was with steadfast resolve, with clear objectives, and with the full force of our military might.

America needs to reflect on the attributes that made us a great nation and the traits that differentiate us from all others in order to strengthen our economy, unify our people, and regain the respect of our friends and adversaries. Our public, private, and government leaders must inspire others through action and example, for integrity and accountability are attributes that all Americans admire and other nations wish to emulate. And, our citizens need to deviate from self-centeredness in order to regain a sense of nationalistic pride.

Five weeks ago we celebrated Memorial Day, the day set aside to remember the soldiers who have fallen in combat. And, on July 4th, we celebrated our Independence Day, the day marking the signing of our Declaration of Independence; the day that we as a nation openly expressed our opposition to and separation from, the tyrannical rule of our English ancestors who coerced our men to fight on their behalf during the French and Indian Wars, occupied colonialist’s homes without due process of law, implemented a fiscal policy that strained the colonialists coffers to pay a massive debt incurred during decades of prolonged warfare that was not of the colonists’ making, and levied burdensome, unfair taxes without colonists’ consent or representation. Many of these actions are not too distant from those we experience today.

When you attended a firework display this Fourth of July holiday weekend, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the exhibition, did you take a few moments to reflect on the holiday itself, what the day represents; the significance of the presentation; the conditions under which our anthem was written by Frances Scott Key; and, the millions of men and women in uniform who, like Key, have witnessed “the rocket’s red glare” from an entirely different prospective; from that of a field of battle?

As we celebrate these reverent days and remember our fallen heroes, the most honorable actions that we as a nation can take to immortalize their sacrifices are to remember the ideals for which they fought and died. As Americans, we are obligated to express opposition to any form of tyrannical governorship that represents interests that vastly differ from the will of our people. We must ensure that future taxes are fair, necessary, and not punitive in scope. We must demand burdensome debt is reduced and that future expenditures not exceed future revenues. And, we must make certain that engagement in conflict is limited to those forces that threaten the sovereignty of our nation and the freedoms of our citizens.

President Eisenhower, former commander of military allied forces in Europe reminded all Americans of the danger of war profiteering when he said “Beware of the military industrial complex.” Sadly, we have not heeded his advice.

When you were with you family this holiday weekend, did you take a few minutes to think of those less fortunate who have lost love ones in combat; sons and daughter who will never return home for they have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country? Did you consider the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been forever altered because they bear the physical and emotional scars of war?

Graphic television, movies, and video games have inoculated and desensitized our youth to the true horrors of war by diminishing its repulsiveness through an array of visual affects and unrealistic heroes and heroines that glorify the taking of life and dilute the perception of death, often equating it to that of a fallen action video game figure. We must never forget the anguish and misery of war for it is real and devastating.

Although we are presently a polarized nation, I sincerely believe that we can agree on one subject: War is absurd, destructive, and the greatest waste of life and resources. And, a species that continuously engages in such activity will surely not remain the dominant form of life on our planet.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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