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‘The Costs Of Our War And Memorial Day’

By Joe Winsor

This Memorial Day, it’s as important as ever to recognize and give pause to the sacrifices of Americans that have fallen in military service to our nation.

While Memorial Day is traditionally the day we give remembrance to our fallen military members, let’s take a look at the honor we typically bestow on our US military as a whole, usually in the simple terms of “Support the Troops” and “Thank You for Your Service.”

I myself am a 30-year Army veteran with several overseas tours — the last being in Iraq. I loved my time in the Army and miss putting the uniform on every day and being with soldiers. It’s been my life. Many others can and do also.

The problem is war. The loss of life attached to military service can be beyond comprehension. War can and has been at times in history necessary. The defeat of Hitler and Nazi Germany is probably the greatest example of a necessary war.

It pains me greatly during Memorial Day when I consider the loss of my fellow service members past, present, and future – especially when the cause may be questionable. Consider the nearly 20 years we have been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, because we have LOST and the cost is astronomical. We have had some tactical and strategic victories, including the elimination of Osama Bin Laden and the fracturing of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). But at what cost?

A 2020 study by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute shows $6.4 trillion has been spent on post 9/11 wars. This figure does not include routine defense spending, and is 2 trillion more than what was appropriated in all the federal spending for the year of 2019. Pause and think about how that money might have been better spent? Infrastructure, health care, deficit reduction, preventing pandemics perhaps? Now ask yourself: Who is profiting from this war spending?

We went into Afghanistan in October 2001 to accomplish two objectives: capture or kill Bin Laden and break up the Al Qaeda network. Within six months Bin Laden had escaped to Pakistan, but we did successfully disrupt the Al Qaeda network enough that they were no longer a major imminent threat to the United States or our allies. So, what did we do next? We picked a bigger fight with the Taliban because they were friendly to Al Qaeda, AND we went to war with Iraq under the guise of making the world safer from terrorism. Fast forward almost 20 years to 2021. How did we do? Look at Iraq, who under Saddam Hussein was financed by the US in their war with Iran, essentially keeping those two nations in check. No longer! During the second Iraq war, we successfully removed Hussein. However, a power vacuum was created and now Iranian backed Shia militants control Iraq, despite the small US Military presence still there – and, yes, still costing US taxpayers money, still under occasional attacks, still racking up American casualties. And for what?

On this Memorial Day we honor and remember our brave fallen military members. In Afghanistan the American war dead stands at 2,285 and in Iraq we lost 4,410 service members. The figure attributable to 9/11 and related wars is 9,672. That’s not a trivial number, and my heart aches for the families that have had to cope with each of those deaths.

Now consider the devastation of life to the native peoples in the nations where we have conducted combat operations. As a result of American and allied military operations in the Middle East to since 9/11, there has been a loss of 335,000 civilian lives dead and at least 37 million people have been displaced, according to the Brown University Watson Institute.

How can we, the United States of America, the most noble nation in the world, be responsible for that kind of massive carnage of human life? Those 335,000 dead civilians were not all terrorists. The 37 million displaced people are not terrorists. This is madness!

There has to be a better way to keep the free world safe.

How did we let this go on this long? And why are we still in those places now? Oh, but you will hear from the expert national security pundits that there is still a threat, or that if we leave, we will forfeit our gains. Really? Don’t listen to them, they are part of the American Military Industrial Complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address to the nation in 1961. They are the ones who are profiting from our war spending, and they will stand up today and say we must continue this fight or we will not be safe. What about our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines? They are the pawns in this ugly endeavor. This is why I caution people about blindly getting behind “Support the Troops” and “Thank You for Your Service.” These slogans are being used to sustain these horrible military engagements. The troops deserve better. Americans deserve better.

We need to think critically. Why haven’t there any war protests from the public like there were during the Vietnam War? While I believe the Vietnam protestors focused their contempt on the wrong people (namely the soldiers fighting the war rather than the failed US political and military leadership directing the war), the protests were still very important. The horror and failings of Vietnam have played out again in the Global War on Terror, or more appropriately the “Forever Wars,” and I would argue the failings are even more consequential.

Future wars will be fought. China is a growing threat and the American Military Industrial Complex is already calling for more funding to face that threat. I’m not sure common Americans are paying enough attention. And why is that? Probably many reasons, but consider what the average American’s personal connection to these wars are? How can each American be more vested in how our nation wages war? It’s not enough to “Support the Troops” or say “Thank you for your service.”

Joe Winsor is a Little Valley resident.

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