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Regretting the Mission

Published on: November 18, 2019

Filed Under: Connections to Today, Featured

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Endless war can be wearying and takes a toll on our troops. We saw it in Viet Nam, and we’re seeing it in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In this photo, soldiers quickly march to the ramp of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter that will return them to Kandahar Army Air Field on Sept. 4, 2003. The Soldiers assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division were searching in Daychopan district, Afghanistan, for Taliban fighters and illegal weapons caches. [U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle Davis sourced from Wikimedia.]


O’Shaughnessy’s online published a commentary, authored by Fred Gardner, on the New York Times’ front-page story by Jennifer Steinhauer, “Trump’s Opposition to ‘Endless Wars’ Appeals to Those Who Fought Them.” Published November 1, the story reported a study done by the Pew Research Center poll that shows the percentage of vets deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who disapprove of US intervention there has almost doubled since 2011.

Steinhauer contrasts the anti-war views now coming from Iraq/Afghanistan vets and those expressed by Vietnam vets.

The regret over the wars among these veterans is distinct from the feelings of veterans of the Vietnam era. Many served in that war only because they were drafted, and it prompted widespread public protests. Veterans of all ages have soured on the latest conflicts, which unlike Vietnam have been fought with an all-volunteer force that seems proud of its decision to choose public service and feels embraced by American civilians regardless of whether they supported the wars in the Middle East.

Gardner goes on:

In Vietnam, draftees’ resentment contributed to some anti-war sentiment; but it was mainly what they saw in country that led them and the Regular Army GIs serving three-year hitches to conclude that they should not have been sent there —just as the volunteer-Army vets who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are now doing. Veterans of all three wars came to feel that US intervention was wrong after they were deployed and saw how the locals felt about the situation and the level of destruction being wrought.

Most so-called volunteers are driven to enlist by socioeconomic pressure. Steinhauer quotes an Iraq vet named Daniel Schick, who joined the military because “I wanted out of Podunk; I wanted upward mobility.” Schick lost seven members of his unit in one deployment. “I kind of developed a cathartic bitterness,” he said, reflecting on his service. “It was a waste of blood and treasure and destroyed what little infrastructure that the Iraqi people had.”

“Cathartic bitterness” is a brilliant description of the attitude that enabled Daniel Schick to deal with the trauma he lived through in Iraq. He now lives in Oregon and is working for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The second part of Gardner’s piece delves into a medical marijuana study involving US Military veterans. He shared Jennifer Steinhauer’s NYT article with the researcher, Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley, and:

…was disappointed to learn that the vets in her study had not been asked about their attitude towards the mission itself. If you feel the mission was truly to protect America people, then the impact of horrific personal memories might be tempered somewhat by a sense of having done some good. But if you feel the intervention was greed-driven and of no use to your people, there is no buffer when the nightmare images of death and destruction flood your brain. “Moral injury” is an apt term for the loss of that buffer. Cannabis might help veterans cope, and so might cathartic bitterness.

Amen.

Thankfully, we know a few veterans are willing to express some cathartic bitterness about our “forever wars,” and to demand their end, no matter who happens to be in the White House.

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