• John Ketwig

On Election Day and Veterans Day 2016

As both the presidential election and Veterans Day approach, it’s important to recall that Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day, an international celebration of peace at the conclusion of World War I. While the candidates debate cutting the costs of education, health care, Social Security, clean water, and environmental issues, more than half of our country’s discretionary spending is funneled directly to the military, with very questionable results. Yes, our national debt is fast approaching twenty trillion dollars. The Defense Department insists it is “impossible” to audit the Pentagon’s books. We recently learned that the Army cannot account for $6.5 trillion (not a typo!) that slipped through its fingers in 2015. Truth is, America spends more on militarism than the next thirteen, seventeen, or all the countries of the world combined. Our military is certainly not operating with “depleted” resources. More important, it has not prevailed in any significant conflict since World War II. The Vietnam War was ostensibly fought to contain communism, our high-tech weapons accounted for at least 3.5 million deaths, mostly civilians, and in the end communist governments ruled Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in similar destruction, and the Middle East is awash in blood as a result of American intervention. We currently maintain more than 800 military installations or bases around the globe, far more than any other nation. Our “special operations” forces operate in approximately 135 of the planet’s 190 countries. As we lament America’s stagnant economy, it is interesting to note that the U.S. controls over 50 percent of the world’s arms market (more than the next 14 arms-exporting nations combined) and provides military equipment and training to 160 nations. Far too often, we supply arms to both the good guys and the bad guys.

America’s parents quietly accept that their children’s military service is apt to result in PTSD. Recently the Veterans Administration suggested that veteran suicides have dropped to 20 per day, down from 22. Those estimates fail to mention that the vast majority of America’s states and communities have no established means of reporting veteran suicides to the VA or any other data collection agency. No one really knows how many veterans are dying of self-inflicted wounds, but the number is surely higher than the VA estimates. Suicides are also increasing in the active-duty military, (a very separate statistic), so they have stopped reporting them to the public. Modern American warfare features such terrible weapons and indiscriminate tactics that many of our soldiers emerge from battle feeling they have committed war crimes. Statistics promise that one of every three women enlisting in our military today will be raped by a co-worker within the first two years of their “service”. Like the Agent Orange victims of America’s war in Vietnam, our troops in the Middle East are experiencing health problems related to depleted uranium weapons and the caustic smoke from illegal open burn pits. Many of our installations in Iraq were built atop Saddam Hussein’s abandoned chemical weapons facilities. We quietly accept that neither Congress, the Pentagon, nor the VA will recognize or treat the illnesses related to service in the armed forces. Veterans realize the promises of the candidates are meaningless, as the military-industrial complex will never admit that modern war is harmful to its participants.

The presidential election reveals that significant portions of the American public believe our “democracy” has been sold out to the big banks and corporate interests while our infrastructure rusts and corrodes, our children can’t read, we fear our family’s finances will be wiped out by a health emergency, college graduates are deep in debts, and corporate profiteers deny the obvious climate crisis. The candidates suggest we invest even more of our nation’s wealth into a supposedly “depleted” military, and to base all our hopes for our country’s economic future upon perpetual wars. Unlike the presidential candidates, I will suggest that America could cut its “defense” budget by half and revitalize our educational institutions, offer universal health care, repair our infrastructure, address climate change, pay off our national debt, and still spend more on death and destruction than any other nation on the planet!

John Ketwig is a Vietnam veteran, a retired automotive executive, and the author of …and a hard rain fell: A G.I.’s True Story of the War in Vietnam.

Published VVAW Veteran, Nov.  2016

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