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War, Not Deserting, Is Demoralizing


The May 31 prisoner of war exchange of five Taliban officials held unlawfully at Guantánamo Bay, in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has moved several Republicans to attack the exchange as “demoralizing.”

Rep. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said, “It’s got to be demoralizing for our allies. It’s got to be demoralizing for our soldiers.”

Mr. Sessions seems to know from demoralizing. He evidently believes that providing health care to US veterans is an “entitlement” that the United States cannot afford. In response to calls for improvements at VA hospitals — after news of sometimes deadly appointment delays for 57,000 veterans (and complete inattention to 64,000 other vets) — he said, “I feel strongly we’ve got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don’t think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program, now.”

Sen. Sessions may be right about demoralization among our GIs, but morale has not been crashed by the five-for-one POW transfer, which in any case was inevitable in wartime and a military tradition dating to the Revolutionary War. Dozens of warring states make POW exchanges. Israel traded 1,026 Palestinian prisoners for a single one of its own, and another time swapped 1,150 Palestinians for three of theirs.

The obliteration of military morale in Iraq and Afghanistan is a direct result of the launching of both illegitimate and unconstitutional wars of aggression.

A short review of US militarism over the course of our Quagmires Squared does more to explain devastated morale among US troops, and disillusionment among US allies, than a simple POW swap. Consider:

– The absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the subsequent incursion by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria;
– Iraqi and Afghan civilian war dead in the hundreds of thousands;
– Flabbergasting numbers of suicides by returning and active-duty US soldiers;
– Thirty-two thousand US soldiers wounded in Iraq, and 19,000 wounded in Afghanistan;
– Abuse and torture of detainees by US troops and interrogators in Iraq, Afghanistan and at secret sites;
– Staggering numbers of rapes and other sexual assaults in the ranks;
– Hundreds of tons of toxic, radioactive depleted uranium munitions contaminating civilians and veterans alike;
– Mass unwarranted wartime national security surveillance of “free” Americans’ phone and email records;
– “Green-on-Blue” murders of US military trainers by their own Afghan trainees;
– Desecration of enemy corpses by US commandos;
-Abuse and indefinite detention without charge, due process, or Geneva Convention protections at Guantánamo;
– Cash bribery of Afghan President Karsai with US millions;
– Defilement of sacred Islamic texts; and
– $25 billion in US funds spent training the Iraqi Security Force which has totally collapsed in the face of attacks by the “Islamic State.”

These criminal outrages of occupation and the current chaos they’ve ushered in are truly morale busting. They have reaffirmed the US’s singular status as an Uber Rogue State, turned our own forces into outlaws, and chased away allies.

Of course the mistaken bombing and killing of our own people — don’t call it “friendly” — most recently five commandos blown up June 10 by a B1 bomber, is demoralizing for our soldiers in the war.

40,000 desertions ignored over possibility of one

Chest-thumping over the possibility that Sgt. Bergdahl may have deserted his post June 30, 2009 … has to be compared to the relative silence over the tens of thousands of desertions that preceded Berghdahl’s unauthorized absence.

The Air Force Times and the Chicago Sun Times reported July 5, 2006, that “Since 2000, about 40,000 troops from all branches of the military have deserted, the Pentagon says.”

I couldn’t find more recent figures. But those 40,000 deserters would rather face a life of exile or risk court-martial than go into or return to Afghanistan (or Iraq up to Dec. 2011).

These 40,000 human beings decided that the mass destruction, criminality and corruption of the US military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are too meaningless to justify — and chose not to incriminate themselves.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, confused cause and effect when said to the Sun Times about mass desertions among our soldiers, “None of us can choose our wars. … They’re letting their buddies down and hurting morale — and morale is everything on the battlefront.”

No Joe. Morale is destroyed by war. War’s objective reality always blows to smithereens not just the civilians it is supposed to protect, but the political, economic and chauvinistic rationalizations that get soldiers to kill in the first place.

John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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