Saturday, December 04, 2004

When Johnny Comes Marching Home...

The Bush Administration hides it dead and wounded. No pictures are allowed of their caskets arriving at Dover from Iraq, no journalists are allowed to interview wounded soldiers at military hospitals without express written permission of the commander. In order to ask for permission, journalists must know the name of the soldier they want to interview. The names of the wounded are, of course, hidden from journalists as confidential "to protect the privacy of the soldiers."

Figures for the number of injured soldiers returning from Iraq go from 9000 to 30,000. The military's released figure is 9,000 -- they only count those wounded in battle, not the otherwise injured or ill. Figures from hospital personnel in Germany for treating all those coming from Iraq amount to 30,000. Neither of these figures include the massive number of returning soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder, who may or may not ever receive diagnosis and treatment. This is the illness that can potentially kill or injure entire families, such as the Georgia soldiers who killed their wives and then themselves. The soldiers' injured families are not counted at all in the statistics, but they are there.

Basic training is intended to turn otherwise peaceful people into killers. Most frequently it works, and thus we see on the evening news, tapes of soldiers killing the wounded and helpless. The military has no program for turning the killers back into peaceful citizens at the end of their hitch. The killers are returned to their home communities and left to fend for themselves. Many seek solace in suicide, some murder. Some receive the medical treatment and other assistance they need, some don't. But this has been true throughout American military history:

The Way Our Country Treats Returning
Soldiers is a National Shame

. By Tim Pluta, T he Asheville Citizen-Times, excerpt from
In 1917, Congress authorized disability compensation, insurance and vocational rehabilitation to help support the 200,000 wounded and 5 million returning soldiers from World War I.

On the other hand, in 1924, these same World War I veterans were promised a bonus payment of $1,000. In July of 1932, during the Great Depression, between 12,000 and 15,000 veterans and their families marched in Washington, D.C., to demand immediate payment of their bonus. They camped in shantytowns along the Anacostia River until their numbers grew to 25,000. At one point, 20,000 veterans walked slowly up and down Pennsylvania Avenue for three straight days protesting the government decision not to pay their bonus. By late July, riots began after police shot two of the marchers. Gen. Douglas MacArthur then led a machine-gun squadron, troops with fixed bayonets and a number of tanks to destroy the shantytowns and disperse the marchers with tear gas, injuring hundreds of veterans in the process.

In 1944, the GI Bill of Rights was enacted. Veterans were supported by providing money for education, low-interest mortgage loans and $20 a week while looking for employment.

While some of these benefits are still available today, nearly 300,000 current veterans can be found homeless each night, and more than 500,000 veterans will experience homelessness sometime during the year.

Korean and Vietnam veterans received little of the support and recognition that previous veterans received. Thirty years after being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and suffering numerous medical problems, a neighbor of mine finally began to receive compensation from our government's admission that Agent Orange is toxic.

Because of situations like this, nearly three times the number of Vietnam veterans died after coming home than died during the war.

Today, there are reports of U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, being secretly transferred from Andrews Air Force base, under the cover of darkness, to military transport planes and dispersed out to military hospitals across the country. Why? So that we do not see them.

Coffins of dead U.S. soldiers cannot be photographed returning home. Why? So that we do not see them.


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