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Reversing long-standing policy, President Obama will now send condolence letters to the families of U.S. military personnel who commit suicide in combat zones.
That’s nice. But he could prevent future suicides by bringing all the troops home and ending America’s interventionist foreign policy.
“They didn’t die because they were weak,” Obama said. “And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change.”
But the help they really needed was not to be sent to invade foreign countries in the first place and to fight senseless wars, like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Repeated combat tours in behalf of imperial policies are intolerable. But even one tour is one too many. For the last 10 years the U.S government has fought aggressive wars by choice. They were not defensive but rather a continuation by other means of American intervention in the Arab and Muslim worlds. The criminal attacks on 9/11 were not the cause of that intervention but the consequence.
Wars of aggression such as the U.S. government has pursued since 2001 have many costs. First are the lives lost and ruined among the foreign population. Presidents Bush and Obama undoubtedly are responsible for more than a million deaths, many civilians among them, including those in Pakistan and now Libya. The U.S. government calls many of its victims “insurgents” and “militants,” but that may mean only that they objected to a foreign occupier. The cost also includes destruction of water and sanitation facilities and power generation, jeopardizing the health and lives of people, especially children and the elderly.
Another obvious cost is the money sunk into imperial missions. The occupation of Afghanistan costs $10 billion a month. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have now cost more than $1 trillion, and these money pits are still in operation. Let that sink in: The government has a $14 trillion debt. Annual budget deficits are running at more than $1 trillion a year. Congress and the president are wrangling over whether to raise the debt ceiling. And the government is spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan alone.
If this were a movie, you’d dismiss it as ridiculous beyond belief. Yet our “leaders” expect us to accept this as reasonable, reassured that wise people in power know what they are doing. If it seems screwy, you must be an “isolationist” or uninformed.
Finally, there is the personal cost to the U.S. troops. Here we have a horrifying lesson in the old saying “talk is cheap.” Politicians love nothing better than to pay tribute to “our troops,” especially those who have made “the ultimate sacrifice.” Yet those words stink of hypocrisy when one realizes that the same politicians create the conditions that then are used to justify invasions, occupations, and war in foreign countries. Despite all the nonsense about valor on the battlefield and sacrifice for one’s country, war wreaks havoc with the lives of those who physically survive it. Some are wrecked bodily, others psychologically. Their marriages and families are disrupted if not destroyed. Some will return home permanently scarred, perhaps to live on the streets as beggars. Others will take their own lives.
The Indianapolis Star reports, “By 2008, the Army suicide rate surpassed the national average, reaching a rate of 20.2 per 100,000, compared to the national average of 19.2 out of 100,000.” The New York Times notes, “There were more than 295 suicides last year among active-duty personnel, a majority outside combat zones.” How many were waiting to ship out?
Suicide is a chosen act, of course, but the politicians and war planners share in the responsibility because of the horrors to which they callously subject young people.
Apologists for the empire will laud American military personnel for “serving their country” and for “fighting for our freedom.” Nonsense. They, like the public, were duped into believing that. In fact, their lives were destroyed serving the political and economic interests of empire-builders and contractors. There was nothing elevated in what the troops were ordered to do. Their mistake was in trusting the people who claim to be “leaders.”
Support the troops, we’re told. Here’s a better idea: Don’t “support” them. Bring them home now.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation and and editor of The Freeman magazine.