Following President Trump’s decision to pull back US forces from a potential conflict with Turkey in parts of Syria, he’s come in for fierce criticism from many quarters. I support his decision, as I stated yesterday. In that article, I said:
I’ve been on the front lines of a war like that – a war that the political masters on both sides kept going for years longer than it need have lasted, solely because of their intransigence and blinkered vision. Many paid for those shortcomings in blood; but it was never the politicians who paid. It was always the men in uniform. I don’t want to see any more American service personnel have to pay such a futile, pointless, yet permanent and irreversible price.
A few days ago, the Washington Post published an extraordinarily painful and poignant article describing the price paid by the families of servicemen for such adventures. I think it adds weight to President Trump’s decision.
I was 22, married only two years and gingerly rubbing my beloved’s stump as we watched “Sopranos” reruns from a box set that Rudy Giuliani had given us on one of his visits to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where Cleve was being treated. We’d been living at hospitals on and off in the three months since he had been wounded. I thought about how we’d gotten there. Both of us had come from families who were too busy working to help us with schoolwork and too broke to pay for college. We’d done the best we could with the options given to us, and this was the result: a war hero and his caregiver, two young people who had chosen to serve their country. Or at least that’s how the military wanted us to think of ourselves. The reality was much more complicated. Yes, we were proud of his service. But ending up in that hospital, me feeding him cans of Ensure as he lay in his bed after surgeries, felt more like a stumble than a choice. We huddled into each other, and I felt around for bone spurs – fingerlike growths that commonly form at the end of amputated bones. It was soft like dough. “Does it hurt?” I asked, and he told me he’d just taken an OxyContin. “I can’t feel anything anymore,” he said.
. . .
Three years of pain medications – Dilaudid, morphine, Lortab, Percocet, OxyContin, fentanyl – meant he became an addict, which isolated him further. For me, his addiction quickly became scarier than his war wounds. When the military couldn’t figure out what to do with him after his first overdose, in the fall of 2008, and then a failed rehab attempt, in the spring of 2009, they retired him: Let Veterans Affairs figure it out. Where the doctors were skilled at treating gnarly wounds, they seemed ill-equipped to treat the addiction that many experienced as a result. Less than a year after his retirement, Cleve died.
Technically, he died of an overdose, but I also think it was isolation and loneliness. It was the summer of 2009, August or maybe July, when he finally retired. It had been two years since the amputation of his leg and a little more than three since the bomb. By January 2010, he’d grown violent. Without the comfort of the hospital and the friends he’d made there, he seemed to have lost his ability to control his temper, a symptom of PTSD that had shown itself in waves since he was wounded. He was pushing me away. In an attempt to save our marriage, he went to what we thought was an inpatient PTSD facility called Project Victory in Houston. There, he was kept in a hotel room across the street from the hospital. In it, he decided to smoke the medicine on his fentanyl patch. I assume he was bored. Maybe he craved the feeling of being high. There was no one there to stop him. He died there, alone.
. . .
I imagine myself as a little girl, born to a young woman and her soldier husband who struggled to make ends meet. Pink cheeks, large blue eyes and loose brown curls to my shoulders, I wait a year at a time for my father to return home from Korea and watch as my mother struggles to feed and clothe us. I say to my little-girl self: “One day, you will have all the money you ever wanted, but it will come at a price.” I am angry for her, at this country for sacrificing us, for sacrificing the working class, to wars and deployments for unclear reasons.
There’s more at the link.
Cleve, a Marine, served in Iraq. As of June 2016, there had been 4,424 US military deaths in that country, and 31,952 wounded in action. Many others served in Afghanistan, where to date, 2,433 US personnel have been killed. The dead all had families who mourned their loss, and mourn them still. The question has to be asked: were their deaths worthwhile? Was their suffering, which in many cases is ongoing, justified? I have to answer that it wasn’t.
Both countries were “liberated” from sadistic, vicious regimes, but in neither case was there a plan – or the political will to pay the price – to rebuild them and “win the peace”. As a result, both countries are still chaotic, disorganized, riddled with terrorists, and catastrophically unstable. The sacrifice of so many US lives and service personnel has accomplished very little for the people of those nations, and done relatively little to keep us safe at home. Oh, one can argue that by fighting over there, they prevented terrorism from becoming an entrenched problem over here; but that’s impossible to prove. It’s a panacea argument, advanced by those with an interest in “exporting war” as a means to the end they want to accomplish. General Smedley Butler (who was awarded two Medals of Honor for heroism in combat) would have spat on them in contempt.
War is costly, in lives and broken families as much as any other way. Despite that, there are times when it’s necessary; but that should be determined in every case by asking, up front, whether the cost is sustainable and worthwhile. In some wars (e.g. World War II) that’s pretty clear, right from the start. In others (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) it’s anything but; and the sober hindsight of history demonstrates that all those who died or were maimed in those wars, and their families, paid a terrible price for wars that could not be won, and were not worth winning even if we had.
Once again, I think President Trump made the right call – and I speak as one who still carries the scars of war on his body, and some of its shrapnel deep in his flesh. If his critics can’t say the same, or have not served in combat, let them shut up. They’re playing games with American lives.