Bring the Troops Home

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

You know where you were.

Chances are if you’re over the age of 30 you not only remember where you were but how you felt that tragic day. There was no escaping the images of pluming smoke clouds encompassing New York City, flames exploding from the windows of the twin towers, 767’s disintegrating on impact, and people leaping to their deaths to escape the inferno cooking the flesh from their bodies. Most of America observed helplessly as television cameras captured the chaos and death in real time.

I remember where I was. Basic training; Ft Benning, GA; C Co 2-47 – Charlie Rock.

The morning began like any other. I jumped from my bunk at 0500, tucked in tight hospital corners and smoothed down any lumps that appeared in the bedding, dressed for PT, brushed my teeth, and ran to formation. We engaged in a series of exercises (PT), then off to shower and prepare for breakfast.

Wide awake and ready for the day ahead the platoon of my 64 fellow recruits showered and slipped into BDU’s, but before we could make our way down to formation for chow a pair of drill sergeants burst into the barracks violently. All chatter stopped instantly. You could hear a pin drop as the entire room snapped to parade rest in unison. Tension grew thick in the open barracks. Trouble was coming. We’d witnessed this scene before… or so we thought.

“Men,” one drill sergeant boomed. Sweat gleamed on his forehead, his tight jawline clenched in anger, and he seemed at a loss for words.

The second drill sergeant looked around the room. His large brown eyes welled with tears as he placed a hand on the speaker’s shoulder.

“We’ve been attacked,” he continued.

After this, I don’t remember much of what was said. It didn’t seem to matter. We entered formation more robotic than ever, and we marched to the chow hall for breakfast. I wasn’t more than a foot in the door when I noticed the rarely used televisions displaying a news channel. I read the updates scrolling across the bottom of the screen for a moment, then turned away. Within moments the room gasped. My eyes lifted to the TV again. An instant later the screen framed a large airliner crashing into the south tower.

We all knew immediately; America was at war.

I later found out about the other two planes: one successfully targeting the Pentagon and the other downed in an abandoned field.

There are many memories of that morning, each story delivered with an extraordinary amount of detail.

Everyone was impacted that day; the day a ragtag bunch of terrorists successfully out flanked our intelligence agencies, took 3000 American lives, and altered the New York skyline forever – altered America forever.

Soon after the attacks, as one might expect, the US Military was deployed to Afghanistan to find and kill the 400 Al Qaida fighters responsible for planning, funding, and carrying out the attacks on 9/11.

The story would have long been over, families remaining intact and thousands of heart-aches avoided, had it ended there.

 

17 Years Later:

So much has changed at home – bulk Metadata collection, no privacy, militarization of police around the country, whistle blowers are in more danger than ever, due process is all but dead, and politics is center stage as the Democrats and Republicans wrestle each other over ever expanding powers – while in Afghanistan there seems to be no progress despite al Qaida being destroyed, and in Pakistan Osama bin Laden being killed.

United States foreign policy, true to its history of Manifest Destiny, began invading, intervening, and interrupting countries throughout the Middle East and Africa.

Not long after setting up shop in Afghanistan the Taliban became a target. That was followed by a war in Iraq that successfully removed Saddam Hussein and empowered Iran. Interventions in Syria, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, and Sudan finally created enough of a vacuum that a new organization rose to prominence – ISIS.

In 2008 the country spiraled into an economic crisis. To date, many regions of the nation have yet to recover completely, but still the US has spent upwards of $5.6 trillion in the Middle East.

Despite the continued suffering of Americans still in recovery, the wealthy suburbs of Washington D.C. have flourished. Between bailouts and military contracts, the lobbyists and friends of elite politicians have centered most of the wealth of our country in and around the capital city.

One must ask, how did this happen?

Are these wars being used to enrich arms dealers, lobbyists, and politicians?

Is the $110 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia small potatoes compared to what’s been happening behind the scenes since 2001?

Are American soldiers being used as resources to enrich the elite brokers in and around DC?

If that’s not the case, why continue to send our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends to fight, die, and be maimed in meaningless conflicts?

If that is the case, I find nothing more dispassionate and inhumane than shuffling men and women that volunteered to protect our nation around like resources fit for disposal so that foreign nations, defense contractors, arms dealers, and politicians are made rich on the back of their sacrifice while the soldiers themselves are left dead, maimed, disfigured, or destroyed in many cases. I find it disgusting to consider; and given the devastation of the family due to these wars I don’t think we should stand by and take it anymore.

 

Continued Aftermath:

In a study published in the Jama Network August 15, 2012 Charles W. Hoge, MD and Carl A. Castro, PhD

conclude, ” Before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the incidence of suicide in active duty US service members was consistently 25% lower than that in civilians.” And, ” Between 2005 and 2009, the incidence of suicide in Army and Marine personnel nearly doubled.”

Doubled! In four years!

Since then, the CDC has released findings that upwards of 20 troops a day are committing suicide. In an article entitled VA Reveals its Veteran Suicide Statistic Included Active-Duty Troops published June 21, 2018 on Military.com the VA’s most recent National Suicide Data Report reveals that out of 20.6 veteran suicides reported each day, “16.8 are veterans and 3.8 are active-duty service members. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 servicemembers who died by suicide in one year.”

For what?

To what benefit?

That’s 7,519 families broken each year by the ominous effects of a series of feckless wars in which a small minority of wealthy men and women in the country benefit. That’s 7,519 children without a parent; parents without children; siblings lost forever… Each year!

In researching the subject, I didn’t want to repeatedly cite the same suicide statistics everybody uses. I wanted to go deeper, and in doing so I found an Oxford study that I couldn’t ignore.

On August 29, 2018 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Diagnosis is Associated with Reduced Parasympathetic Activity During Sleep in US Veterans and Military Service Members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was published. The study’s purpose was to measure and compare high-frequency heart rate variability in veterans with and without PTSD symptoms. What they found is that subjects suffering from PTSD have lower high-frequency heart rate variability leading to a greater risk of cardiovascular events that could prove to be fatal.

In another Oxford study published March 26, 2018 it is observed “cardiovascular disease and cancer accounted for about 1/3 of deaths” of service members that have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. This study measured 24,206 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans giving us a total of 7,987 young veterans dying from either cardiovascular events or cancer after returning home.

That’s 7,519 multiplied over a series of years plus another 7,987 families without a loved one, and that doesn’t account for those that have died in the line of duty.

How many more men and women are we going to lose to these senseless wars?

November 6, 2016:

The election of 2016 came as a surprise to many. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College while speaking frankly on many issues that shocked the established Washington elite. One of these very issues was the withdrawal of American troops from the Middle East.

Many argue that Trump’s attacks on American policies in the oil rich countries was instinctive rather than well informed. The idea that having the correct instinct despite lack of information disqualifies your chosen policies rings absurd in its hubris.

Trump had been clear in his public statements and tweets in regard to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq war 2, stating several times leading up to his campaign that it is “time to get out” of Afghanistan and “rebuild the U.S.” first, and that entering Iraq was “one of the worst decisions in the history of the country.” Unfortunately, Trump’s administration was soon polluted with rank and file interventionists that have since convinced Trump that if the U.S. were to withdrawal, he’d be the sole heir to the devastation left behind. This is not true.

Mr. President, I implore you, aim your comments at Bush and Obama. Tell the American people you cannot, in good conscience, continue the brutal assault on the people of the Middle East, and the psyches of American soldiers in the name of saving the reputations of two of the worst presidents in the history of our country.

Al Qaida has long been destroyed. ISIS came to existence on our watch, and they’ve been decimated in the last two years.

Americans are suffering. Spouses are suffering. Children are suffering. We are all suffering.

It’s time we end the intervention in the Middle East and bring our service members home before the rising body count includes a generation born after the horrific attacks on 9/11.

 

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan