America pauses to remember veterans - and cost of war

Veterans Day is an annual US holiday that honors military veterans, and with the United States military hunkered down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the holiday has taken on new significance.

In towns and communities around the United States, people are taking a break from their everyday routines to remember the 22 million veterans who have defended their nation.

The American holiday, known as Armistice Day in other parts of the world, commemorates the end of hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when German forces signed the Armistice.

Although the holiday pays tribute to those individuals who performed military service in some capacity, the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has given the day a slightly new interpretation.

For example, The Providence Journal wrote on its editorial page that the United States should reintroduce a military draft to reinforce its democratic tradition, as well as address glaring economic equalities, aggravated by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“Having the military draft…would probably make for a politically and psychologically healthier country by strengthening Americans’ sense of mutual obligation and shared experience. It would be democratizing for a country where economic and class mobility is slowing.”

The editorial then made the interesting argument that military conscription would possibly work to lessen the frequency of US military interventions abroad.

“It [a military draft] would also probably make our foreign military expeditions less frequent. It’s easier to promote such actions if you or people in your circle of family and friends face no perils in the fighting (except for having a larger national debt; we tend to pay for much of our armed forces with borrowed money rather than straightforwardly, with higher taxes). In any case, such interventions abroad continue to evoke the old American tension, present since our Founding, between isolationism and a sometimes near-messianic internationalism.”

For many US veterans, the memory of recent combat has become a daily nightmare that they must live with.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette ran a Veterans Day report on one veteran, Derrick Earley, 23, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the horrors he witnessed as a 19-year old serving in Iraq.

The article paints a grim reality for the thousands of returning veterans from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

“No longer is he the confident, skilled Marine in the picture, the warrior who went to Iraq to fight. Today he is a young man terrorized daily by the images in his mind – the horrific memories of what he saw, what was done to him and what he did himself during his service to America halfway around the world…

There are no Purple Hearts given for the images, the sounds, the actions of war that swirl in their minds, causing anger, guilt, anxiety, bitterness, confusion, insomnia, nightmares, hyper-arousal, flashbacks and, not insignificantly for someone so young, a loss of hope.

Often they self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Some end it all with suicide.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is an anxiety disorder that some former military personnel acquire after experiencing an event that causes intense fear and horror. The scientific community has not been able to explain why some people experience the disorder and others do not.

For Derrick Earley, “He can't go into a house – even his own – without checking every room,” the Post Gazette report continues. “If he goes to a restaurant, he has to sit in a booth with his back to the wall so he can see who's coming at him. Sometimes, when driving, his heart beats out of his chest if he spots a trash bag or other litter along the road that he thinks could be an IED. There are nightmares and flashbacks.”

There are many other US veterans, however, who are carrying the baggage of foreign wars that is far more difficult to detect.

On the website Democratic Underground, one blogger reminded not to forget the thousands of veterans of Operation Desert Storm who were exposed to chemicals and vaccines that triggered a lethal chemical cocktail inside of their bodies.

As Veterans Day 2010 arrives, the blogger, a member of the action committee Veterans for Common Sense, wrote, “let’s remember one group of veterans who seem to have disappeared…I have promised the veterans of Operation Desert Storm/Operation Desert Shield that they won’t be forgotten by the nation they served.”

The activist wrote that over 524,000 troops were deployed to Iraq and Kuwait from Aug. 7, 1990 to April 11, 1991. In this period, only 137 troops were killed in action during this time – a number considered “acceptable” by military staff.

"The war was viewed in a positive fashion by all," she wrote.

Over the next few years, however, over 200,000 troops began getting sick. These veterans began experiencing the same mysterious symptoms – “profound fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders, joint and muscle pain and neurological symptoms (memory loss, depression, dizziness).”

As the veterans entered the Veterans Administration system, they were informed that their illnesses were “psychosomatic” and did not warrant disability payments. This was despite the fact that many veterans WERE disabled by their symptoms.

It was eventually determined that Gulf War Illness was due to exposure to chemical or biological warfare agents, pyridostigmine bromide prophylaxis, and vaccinations against many lethal diseases, including anthrax.

The combination of these chemicals created a toxic environment inside these troops … one which took almost two decades for the DoD and VA to admit.

With each passing Veterans Day, America is beginning to understand the human, economic and social cost that war is having on the nation. No country can afford such sacrifice from its people for so long.

The Veterans Day National Ceremony is held each year at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremony commences at 11:00 a.m. with the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and continues inside

the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors hosted by veterans’ organizations.

Robert Bridge, RT