Antiwar Protests Miss the Point
© 2003 by Jimmy Montague
© 2003 by Jimmy Montague
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA -- Today is Saturday, Feb. 15, 2003. The news is all of protest. Antiwar marches crowd the streets of Washington, D.C., and other American cities.
Protests ensue because the Bush administration has entirely failed to justify its belligerence toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Said failure leads people to suspect Dubya has reasons for going to war that have nothing to do with national security. So protesters carry signs that read “No War for Oil;” “No War for Revenge;” “No War on the Iraqi People;” “No Race War;” “No Religious War;” “No War for Profit."
While Bush pounds his war drum and protesters pound the streets, America's veterans pound away at Uncle Sam’s indifference to their problems. To tell of just a few:
• At least 7,758 Desert Storm vets have died since the war’s end.1 Some 209,000 Desert Storm vets have filed for medical benefits; 161,000 collect disability payments. The postwar casualties are due to a malady with diverse, debilitating and sometimes deadly symptoms that is vaguely known as “Gulf War Syndrome” (GWS). Uncle Sam first refused to admit that GWS exists. Now, after being forced to admit that GWS is real, Sammy remains reluctant to discuss GWS and seems unable to determine its cause. Vets say GWS results from exposure to chemical and biological weapons that American corporations sold to Saddam Hussein, an outrage that Uncle Sam is trying to hush up.2 If that's true or if it isn't, the fact remains: Sammy denies it without attempting a thorough public investigation.
• Frustrated by Uncle Sam’s denial and his refusal to act against war profiteers, more than 5,000 Gulf War veterans in 1994 got mad and sued for compensation. Their lawsuit moved slowly for eight years because both the U.S. government and the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) refused to share relevant information with veterans’ attorney, Gary Pitts. But the vets' action got a shot in the arm last year when former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter went to Iraq and brought out a copy of Iraq's 1998 weapons declaration, which he obtained from Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and gave to vets' attorney Pitts. The documents list some companies that sold chemical weapons to Iraq before the Gulf War. Pitts has already sued several of those firms and plans to sue the rest.3
• Vets were further outraged just weeks ago, when the Bush administration censored Iraq's 2002 weapons declaration before anyone else had a chance to see it. Among items struck from the document was a list of 24 U.S. corporations that made money arming Iraq. According to Swiss journalist Andreas Zumach, to whom the uncensored information was leaked, the list includes Hewlett Packard, DuPont, Honeywell, Rockwell, Tectronics, Unisys, Bechtel, Sperry, TI Coating, and International Computer Systems.4
• Worse still: information Uncle Sam deleted from the 2002 Iraqi declaration ". . . shows that U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Agriculture, as well as the U.S. government nuclear weapons laboratories Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia, all helped Iraq build its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs by providing supplies and/or training." All of those things -- the component sales, the training and Uncle Sam's abatement -- have been illegal since the 1970s.5
• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system has always been underfunded. But the fact was never more disgraceful than today, when Bush and his Congress say government can afford bigger military budgets, a worldwide war on terror, a war on drugs, a war on Iraq, a war on Iran, higher budget deficits and tax cuts for the rich, but can't afford to fund veterans' health care. While Dubya and his Congress lie about their priorities, more than 300,000 veterans nationally wait six months or more to see a physician.6
• Bush hypocrisy is magnified by the Bush economic recession. Tens of thousands of veterans who were getting health care benefits from employers have lost their jobs. Those vets now march into the underfunded, overstressed VA health care system.7
• During World War II and the Korean Conflict, Uncle Sam's military recruiters promised volunteers free medical care for life. Veterans of World War II and Korea were therefore furious when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently decided that Uncle Sam needn't honor his promise because it wasn't written into law.8 The vets concerned ". . . received free benefits until 1995, when the Pentagon ended those benefits for veterans over 65 because they were eligible for Medicare. Many of them had to purchase supplemental policies, including Medicare Part B, to fill coverage gaps."9 "Congress recently enacted legislation providing free health care for all of these older veterans beginning in 2002. What is at stake in this case is the [out-of-pocket] costs, estimated by Justice Department officials as billions of dollars, paid by older veterans between 1995 and 2001." Plaintiffs promise an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.10 Veterans nationally await the outcome.
• Seen a homeless man lately? Chances are one in four that man is a veteran. The VA says "homeless veterans are mostly males (2 percent are female). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities." Some 45 percent suffer from mental illness, often Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Half have substance abuse problems. They are men and women who served in World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, or the military's anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Forty-seven percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than 67 percent served our country for at least three years and 33 percent were stationed in a war zone." The VA estimates (nobody attempts an accurate count) that "more than 275,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. More than 500,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year." The VA cares for some 40,000 homeless vets annually. The rest are thrown onto private charity and nonprofit groups.11 The upshot is that most homeless vets are homeless and the nation doesn't seem to care.
By now you probably think I'm driving toward the idea that the Bush administration shouldn't go to war with Iraq until every homeless veteran is sheltered and cared for; until all veterans are given the health care they were promised, regardless of when or where they served. You're right. But my concerns are bigger than just that.
The present commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States is probably a deserter from the armed forces of the United States. GOP boosters contend that Dubya completed his Vietnam-era hitch in the Air National Guard, but neither official records nor statements by his superior officers support that contention. Instead, evidence indicates that Bush simply walked away from the last 12 months of his enlistment contract. Why he was never arrested and prosecuted is both a mystery and a scandal, because our statute of limitations doesn't apply to desertion.12
Because of Dubya's dubious service record, vets smell bullshit when Bush visits troops in hospital, as he recently did at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center. His mouth says wounded soldiers are "incredibly brave" and "America's finest citizens."13 His actions and his record and his policies all speak otherwise.
America's AWOL chief executive has never been shot at. Neither have his belligerent advisers, save only Colin Powell -- which may explain why Powell seems the most reasonable of the lot. Few of the others ever served our country outside of a cushy government job. Almost every one is a Vietnam-era draft dodger. As a group they are privileged rich kids who found ways to avoid service. Some hold investments in defense firms that will make them richer still, if we go to war. News media call them "chicken hawks," because that is what they are.14
Those of us who did serve recently learned what the chicken hawks think of us. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (a.k.a. Reddy-2-Rum-Bell Rummy) spoke during the week of Jan. 5, 2003, about Vietnam-era draftees. Rummy said the soldiers ". . . added no value, no advantage, really, to the United States armed services."15 In other words, most of the young men killed and wounded in Vietnam had no value to their country. Rummy later apologized, saying he was sorry for his remarks,16 but many vets are unimpressed. Some things just cannot be retracted.
So if you're a parent who still grieves for your long-dead son, the knowledge that your child was worthless should help you through the process. If you're a parent who spent the last 35 years caring for a son made quadriplegic by a Vietnamese explosion, Rumsfeld's statement should ease your conscience as you unplug your son's life support, wheel him out behind the garage, and leave him to die of exposure. He was worthless when he was whole, so why burden yourself further? And if you're a parent whose son or daughter will serve in Gulf War II, you ought to think about the fact that if your son or daughter gets disabled, the expense of long-term care will weigh heavily on you for as long as Congress refuses to fully fund VA health care.
Now I am at the end of my rage and it is this: as long as there is one homeless, hungry veteran in the United States of America, we are a nation of liars and hypocrites. As long as that is true, we must own that if we are led by a gang of liars and war profiteers, the onus is no more than we deserve.
Antiwar protests of Feb. 15 thus missed the point. We should not protest that our so-called leaders want to war for cynical, self-serving reasons. We should instead protest that until we the people punish war profiteers, until we honor the promises we made to our veterans, until we care for our homeless poor, until we clean up corruption in Wall Street and in Washington, until we are no longer content to be misled and abused by a flock of blustering, profiteering chicken hawks, we and our Uncle Sam are unfit to war for any reason. Until we clean our own house, the people who hate us are right.
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1. "Oops, more unexpected casualties." Col. David Hackworth. Sept. 17, 2002. http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=28958
2. "Gulf War veterans suing companies for chemical exports." CNN. Jan. 17, 2003. http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/01/17/iraq.chemical.suit/
4. "A US Media Mystery: The Case of the Missing Information about Iraq's Weapons." The Baltimore Chronicle. Jan. 8, 2003.
6. "VA health system strained." Judd Slivka. The Arizona Republic. Jan. 13, 2003. http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0113Vabacklog13.html
Apologies to readers: this link no longer works. I've tried the search engine at the Arizona Republic, but it staunchly refuses to retrieve this article. You'll have to take my word on this one.
8. "Court overturns ruling on vets' free lifetime healthcare." CNN. Nov. 19, 2002. http://www.cnn.com/2002/LAW/11/19/retired.veterans.hearing/index.html
9. "Veterans Not Eligible for Lifetime Care." OMO (Out of Many One). Nov. 20, 2002. http://senrs.com/vets_not_eligible_for_lifetime_care.htm
Apologies to readers: senrs.com is now a dead domain. OMO no longer exists. I've searched Google every way I know how and can't find another link to this article. This is another one you'll have to take my word for.
11. "Background & Statistics." National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. http://www.nchv.org/background.cfm
12. Bush the Deserter is an old story that was published by The Boston Globe during the 2002 presidential race. The Globe made a good case, but other venues refused to pick up the story and run with it. For some reason, they decided the nerdiness of Al Gore was a more salient issue. The facts remain, however, and the story of Bush the Deserter persists at many places. Here are a few:
13. "Bush Visits Wounded U.S. Soldiers." Voice of America. Jan. 17, 2003. http://www.voanews.com
14. For those who want to know who the chicken hawks are and how they ducked service in Vietnam, our nation's oldest newspaper, The New Hampshire Gazette, published a "Chickenhawk Database." Regrettably, the NHG has pulled their database down for some reason but plans to put it back up eventually. They'd be wise to do so: links to their chickenhawk gizmo are pasted all over the Web.
15. "Rumsfeld draft slap fanned fury." Thomas M. DeFrank and Owen Moritz. The New York Daily News. Jan 23, 2003. http://www.nydailynews.com
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