We went to a story in the Observer about grunt discontents. The story pointed us to a highly commendable site, run by the Veterans for Common Sense.
When Time magazine named the soldier the Man of the Year, there was something about the gesture reminiscent of Uriah Heep rubbing his hands together – an unctuous hypocrisy, if you will. Because, beyond the photo ops, the common soldier of America’s current war is being treated dismally by a government that pinches its pennies, when it comes to family leave for reservists, while throwing its billions away, when it comes to contracting with Halliburtan. It stinks.
The Veterans for Common Sense site has a compilation of articles about the collective dump the Pentagon is taking on Times Man of the year. For instance:
1. The wounded. Has there ever been an American war in which the censorship was so hamfisted, and the response of the press was so pussyfooted? In WWII, the press advocated for the GI; in this war, the press so far has advocated for a total of one GI, Jessica Lynch. The rest of them – the 2,841 wounded by offical count on January 7 – have somehow missed out on the Made for Tv movie, and the million dollar book deal. They are also missing out on their rights, not that this is going to make any headlines:
“Most service members severely wounded in Iraq and returned to the United States are treated at Walter Reed.
In a letter sent this week to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Dave Gorman, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, complained that the DAV is being blocked from carrying out its congressionally chartered mission.
Gorman questioned measures that require hospital pre-screening and approval of all visits, and full-time escorts during those visits, according to the letter a copy of which CNN obtained. Gorman said because of those escorts there is a lack of privacy over matters the counselors discuss with patients and their families at Walter Reed.”
2. Money. One of the great things about casting the soldier as a hero is that you don’t have to pay for heroes. I mean, Hercules getting a disability pension? Oh, forget it. It’s enough that Tom Cruise plays him in a cheesy Hollywood movie – one of those movies that, for the one millionth time, says NOTHING about the pay structure of the Army and the National Guard. So Times runs its suck piece; the Defense Department tries to “cut fat’ by cutting out the 300 million extra bucks that go to families for combat pay and family leave. And it isn’t an issue. We’d much rather see smiling dudes in camouflage hoisting a flag than think about paying them a decent salary. The gross inequalities that have become a structural part of the American system since the 80s have created a callousness that is most evident here. If you destroy unions and divert as much money as possible to the wealthiest, eventually the soldier – who is, after all the medals are taken off, another worker – is just going to have to take it on the chin. And there’s going to be more chin-taking as the war goes into its second year. Why? Because the deep, pervasive lying that took place as the Bushies organized this war meant that fighting it had to be done at the least political cost. No selective service here. No preparation for long term combat. Rather, we call up the Reserves – units that should, as the name implies, be Reserves. And as this AP article in the Army Times makes clear, that is the Rumsfeld policy. All military operations have to have a great code name: Operation Eagle, or Thunderbolt, or something. For this one I suggest "The Three Stooges come to the Defense Department".
“Back-to-back wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have stretched the Army thin. Nearly two-thirds of its active duty brigade-sized units are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. When the troops currently in Iraq rotate out this spring, the U.S. plans to lean heavily on the National Guard and Reserves for replacements. The Pentagon said Wednesday that the number of U.S. military reservists called to active duty jumped by more than 10,000 in the past week.
“What we’re trying to do is to manage the force now so that we don’t have a falloff in recruitment or retention a year from now, and then have a gap where we have to scramble to rectify that,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday.”
Ah, the gibberish just flows and flows from the Donald! He’s the Ed McMahon of bad planning!
3. Meanwhile, back on the home front. The Observer mentioned a Military Families Who Speak Out. The site has some interesting letters. An articulate and impassioned letter from Jessica D. Salamon to President Bush caught our eye. She makes a sensible suggestion: “Please do all of us a favor and don't talk about the sacrifices we are making until you know what they are.”
Pursuant to that request, she enumerates some of her sacrifices. Her husband joined the Ohio National Guard. This turned out to be a bad move, since “he thought being in a local unit would make the most difference in his immediate world. He also thought I would best accept his enlistment because traditionally the National Guard stays home to protect the US, our citizens, and our beloved Constitution.” And it does – normally. But Mr. Salamon wasn't calculating on the political cowardice stalking D.C., where the feel good rodomontade of the belligeranti is paid for by the blood of the citizenry. Ms. Salamon explains what her particular sacrifice is all about:
“When you speak of sacrifices, what do you picture? Do you picture apple-cheeked wives going out to sell war bonds or become Rosie the Riveter? Because that is not the reality of the sacrifices currently being made by military families. I welcome you to spend a day with me. It will be a long day, though, because I am unemployed and have trouble sleeping at night because I am under a lot of stress. I wait all day for my husband to call. I have to have my cell phone with me at all times because I am afraid to miss a call. I won't shop in the grocery store very long, because I don't get a signal in there and I'm afraid that he will call while I am in there. I cry every time I hang up with him because all of the joy and emotion is gone from his voice, he doesn't sound like the husband I married eight months ago, nor the man I have been with for nearly six years.
I spend much of my day writing him letters and printing articles off of the internet for him to read. I try to convince him that things will be better for us when he returns.
We haven't had a very good year, you see. We married in haste in April because we thought his unit was to be deployed then. My husband graduated with a degree in Computer Science and although he is a talented programmer, he was unable to find a job. In August, our home in Columbus was destroyed in a flash flood and we lost everything we owned. Our whole life washed away in one rain storm. We moved to northeastern Ohio to be near our families and try to rebuild our lives. We were both unemployed then. In November, we got the orders for my husband to report on Dec. 6 for mobilization. He was allowed to come home for Christmas, but our holiday was tainted by the fact that everyone had questions about his deployment and the fact that he was only allowed a three day pass. He didn't get to come home for New Year's, he will miss his birthday this month and our first anniversary in April. We may never get to go on a honeymoon. His orders are for eighteen months, so things are not looking up for us in the immediate future.”
Ms. Salamon obviously doesn’t realize what compassionate conservatism is all about – as you make the sacrifices, you store up your joys in heaven, not on earth! On earth, we have to sacrifice to make sure that people in Cheney's income bracket, poor pressed things, and those poor mutual funds investors, and especially those poor, suffering people in the energy industry don’t suffer the untold harm of taxation and regulation. Consequently, we don’t have the money for pesky little things like extending unemployment insurance. And we certainly can't take gravy out of the mouths of the numerous well entrenched military industries (Dyncorps, SIAC, Martin Marietta, Boeing) just to sprinkle some on the families of those who are really doing the fighting, can we? That’s going way too far.