Memorial Day: Among post-9/11 veterans, deepening antiwar sentiment
This Memorial Day the Iraq war is over and the Afghanistan war is winding down, but they're weighing heavily on post-9/11 veterans, 33 percent of whom said they weren't worth the cost.
Despite the end of the Iraq war and the scheduled drawdown in Afghanistan, this Memorial Day arrives against a backdrop of deepening â€“ and some say more troublesome â€“ antiwar sentiment among military veterans.
One of the most vivid and replayed images of protesters at the NATO summit last weekend in Chicago was aÂ group of some 40Â vets lined up to toss their war medals over the chain-link fence to protest what formerÂ naval officer Leah Bolger calls â€śthe illegal warsÂ of both NATO and America.â€ť
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 33 percent of post-9/11 veterans say that neither the war in Iraq nor the war in Afghanistan was "worth the cost,â€ť and this among a highly motivated cohort who chose to serve.
What this means, says retired US Army Col. Ann Wright, whoÂ resigned from a State Department post in 2006 over US policies in Iraq,Â is thatÂ there is aÂ widening gap between the government, military policies, and the soldiers that carry them out.
â€śMilitary personnel know America will always have a military, but there isÂ growing concernÂ over the way it is being used,â€ť says the 29-year veteran, adding that an increasing list of concerns include â€śthe use ofÂ torture, illegal detentions, and both soldiers and the public being lied to about the actual reasons for going into combat.â€ť
But in contrast to the extremely vocal and visible antiwar movements of the VietnamÂ War era, many veterans in the all-volunteer military have found it harder toÂ mobilize effective actions, says CameronÂ White, a former marine who served two tours in Iraq before joining â€śIraq Veterans Against the War.â€ť
The 32-year-old PasadenaÂ City college student, who enlisted in 2000, says, â€śitâ€™s harder to speak to fellow soldiers about their decision to join, as the onus is on us because we chose this.â€ť
Many of the post-9/11 veterans who have served in what is now Americaâ€™s longest-running military action, find that pressures that can fuel antiwar sentiment have ratcheted up with the all-volunteer Army.
According to the Pew study, only some one-half of 1 percent of Americans have served in the military in the past decade, the lowest rate in history. Even as anÂ unprecedented number of Americans â€“ some 80Â percent â€“ are therefore sheltered from the warâ€™s hardships because none of their relativesÂ are serving,Â the pressures of military serviceÂ have increased.
In order to meet troop-level requirements, many soldiers have been deployed asÂ many as six times â€“ a level unheard-of prior to the all-volunteer military, points out Mike Hanie, an Air Force veteran and founder and executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse UniversityÂ in Syracuse, N.Y.
This growing antiwar sentiment within the veteran community, he says,Â isÂ easily traced back to the fact that â€śthe men and women who have served are returning home to communities where they feel that their service doesnâ€™t matter.â€ť
The veteransâ€™ â€śfamilies, friends, neighbors, and colleagues do not understand, or seem to care about our all-volunteer military and the sacrifices they have made defending our freedom,â€ť he adds.
Veterans returningÂ to normal life are facing struggles that include uncertainty about possible redeployments, cutbacks in benefits, and an economy in recession. This has led to many troublesome results, including a suicide rate among post 9/11 veterans of some 18 veterans per day, says Dr. Harry Croft, a former Army doctor and a psychiatrist who has evaluated more than 7,000 veterans for combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and is author of the book â€śI Always Sit With My Back to The Wall.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s not clear anymore what the end result is of these wars,â€ť he says, addingÂ that in Iraq, for example, US troops are gone, but many vets wonder what happens now.
â€śWe got rid of Saddam Hussein and put a democratic government in place, but the enemy still hasnâ€™t gone away,â€ť he notes. In addition, he says, many vets feelÂ that we were told before the war in Iraq that oil money was going to pay for the war, â€śwhich of course didnâ€™t happen.â€ť
Afghanistan is even murkier, says Dr. Croft. â€śOur troops are over there risking their lives, and the Afghan people and government donâ€™t even like us,â€ť he says, adding, â€śour troops are facing suicide bombers and IEDs knowing that today might be their last day, but for what?â€ť