Another School Year, Another War Year

Classes have started again, and military recruiters are out in full force. Students spill onto the quad, the August sun blazes down on the sea of people rushing off to class or lounging in the grass. And there are my fellow students, standing tall in their uniforms, underneath a military tent where they pass out literature, start conversations, or just smile at passersby.

I was a sophomore in college when the Iraq War started. I remember when my generation was the first to ship off in that war, others sent to Afghanistan before that. I remember the first shock of realizing that war is something that is fought by people I know, working-class kids from my punk scene, youth of color from my high school, my little brother’s friends, kids who had no other way to pay for college or get out of our small town. Now, seven years later, I am a graduate student, and this is still sort of my generation’s war. But it is being inherited by a younger generation. They look like children to me – what I must have looked like then when the Iraq War began, what my peers must have looked like when they were first marched in lines onto the tarmac and boarded onto fighter jets.

A cluster of college bros walks by, talking loudly. Some people are playing hackeysack in the grass. Students walk out of class, speaking animatedly. This is normal life. And so too is war. Most of these students don’t remember when the first of their generation were shipped off. Because for most of them, the war has been going on since high school. Since junior high. Many of them do not even remember when people still believed in the Iraq War, when the flags were flying and the war drums pounding. War is the backdrop that simply is, the reality that intrudes into this scene of exuberance, the cause that picks off your classmates, the strangely consistent section of the newspaper.

I think of soldiers my age who returned from wars shadows of themselves, who wake up screaming at night, who can’t stay in one place, who can’t function. In my work supporting Iraq Veterans against the War and GI resisters, I’ve seen that survival is filled with ghosts, that it is a heavy load to carry when you are 19, 22, 27, or 34 years old. That it is a heavy load for your family and loved ones to carry. And then there are those who didn’t survive. Lost to combat. Or suicide. Last fiscal year, 239 soldiers killed themselves, 160 of them active duty, 146 soldiers died from high-risk activities, including 74 drug overdoses, and 1,713 soldiers survived suicide attempts, according to an Army report.

I think of war survivors in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine. People who are merely dark shadows in US media and public discourse. People who have suffered under shifting alliances and occupations, people who have had their villages and cities cut through with razor wires, tanks, and walls and exploded by bombs. The headlines are trumpeting that the Iraq War is over. But how long until the war is actually over for the Iraqi people? How long until the last “non-combat” soldier, or the last private contractor goes home? How long until the last oil profiteer packs up and leaves? How long until there is a semblance of self-determination for the Iraqi people, and reparations for the irreparable harm that has been done?

It didn’t make any sense then, when the government was sounding the war drums after 9/11, or when bombs exploded over Baghdad – eerie, flashing lights and burning buildings flashing across our TV screens. And it doesn’t make any sense now that the military, government, media insist that the wars are almost over. Or are over. Or are escalating so that they can get the job done and then end. They have been saying that for years. An admission that the wars and occupations are no longer justifiable in the public eye, that politicians must find ways to make it seem that the wars are constantly on the brink of conclusion, even as they persist.

And it is the same pool of soldiers fueling both wars. Some having faced two, three, four, even five deployments. Sent from Afghanistan to Iraq then back to Afghanistan. How long before the war is over for these soldiers? How long before their minds and bodies have begun to heal? The Vietnam War was marked by skyrocketing homelessness, PTSD, and suicide once troops returned. And now our troops are facing record deployments. Who knows what the long-term effects will be? Already, we know that rates of PTSD and traumatic brain injury among troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been disproportionately high, with a third of returning troops reporting mental problems and 18.5 per cent of all returning service members battling either PTSD or depression, according to a study by the Rand Corporation. And how long until the war is over for Iraqis and Afghans suffering from PTSD? While no statistics are forthcoming, some have estimated PTSD to be near universal in these societies.

Soldiers were plucked off from my generation. And now it continues, in this new school year, filled with expectation and energy. After nearly a decade of wars and occupations, leading nowhere, creating nothing good, we’re still looking to our youth to fill the ranks. The recruiters stand and smile, handing out literature, making eye contact, the grays and greens of their uniform mixing with the colorful clothing, people walking, back backs and school books, brick buildings with regal inscriptions on the walls. And hanging in the background, a giant banner reads “Welcome back.”

SARAH LAZARE is a project coordinator for Courage to Resist. She can be reached at: sarah.lazare@gmail.com.

More articles by:

Sarah Lazare is an independent journalist and anti-war organizer.

Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
Domenica Ghanem
Is Bush’s Legacy Really Much Different Than Trump’s?
Peter Certo
Let Us Argue Over Dead Presidents
Christopher Brauchli
Concentration Camps From Here to China
The Progress of Fascism Over the Last Twenty Years
Steve Klinger
A Requiem for Donald Trump
Al Ronzoni
New Deals, From FDR’s to the Greens’
Gerald Scorse
America’s Rigged Tax Collection System
Louis Proyect
Praying the Gay Away
Rev. Theodore H. Lockhart
A Homily: the Lord Has a Controversy With His People?
David Yearsley
Bush Obsequies