Monday, January 28, 2013

Update: Agent Orange’s Toxic Trail

Boys with birth defects, Vietnam (photo/Brendan Wilcox)

In the seaside city of Da Nang, Vietnam, a clean-up is underway to remove dioxin-contaminated soil at a former U.S. military air base. Some 8,500 miles to the east, another clean-up is underway to remove dioxin hot spots along the Passaic River in Newark, NJ and upstream, where tides and floods have washed the worrisome stuff into a county park and into mudflats along a popular stretch of water where high school rowers race and families often relax along the banks and fish. 

Long after the Vietnam War ended, the toxic trail left by dioxin-laced Agent Orange stretches from Newark, where herbicides were manufactured for the military in a way that created a long-lasting contaminant, to Southeast Asia—where millions of gallons of the supersized plant-killer were sprayed on jungles, mangrove swamps, military bases and airfield perimeters during a decade of war starting in 1962.  

Unveiled by the Internet’s astounding accumulation of news and government reports, the toxic trail of testing, transporting and trying out these chemicals—which were made in New Jersey, Michigan, West Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas—further extends to South Korea, Australia, Canada, Guam, Panama, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Mississippi, Florida, Maryland, New York and many other states.

This alarming drumbeat of news reports began in the late 1960s, as the chemical spray operations aimed at exposing enemy ambush sites and supply routes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand set off rising waves of concern about rashes of health problems among Vietnamese villagers.

The herbicide spraying on the other side of the world forty-some years ago still reverberates here at home, especially among Vietnam veterans.

“They sell huge shrimp in stores here—check the package to see where it’s from. They grow shrimp in bomb craters in Vietnam,” says Jim Fallon, of Hoboken, who developed bone cancer in his right arm after serving as a U.S. Army medic in Vietnam.

Fishing Health Advisory in New Jersey

Besides Vietnamese fish ponds, Fallon notes, fishing spots here at home are affected as well. In August, New Jersey officials issued an updated warning against eating blue craw crabs from the lower Passaic River and Newark Bay. The latest fishing advisory notes that in 2005, when the state sued chemical companies for dumping in the river, “dioxin concentrations in Passaic River crabs and fish were among the highest in the world.”

“While some crabs may appear healthy, contaminants found in blue claw crabs and some fish pulled from these waters can be harmful to fetuses and infants,” New Jersey’s environmental protection and health agencies warned. “Women of child-bearing years, pregnant women and nursing mothers, in particular, are urged not to ingest these crabs from this region. Children are also at risk of developmental and neurological problems if these crabs are eaten.”

Jim Fallon, like many Vietnam veterans, has become acutely attuned to news about Agent Orange and dioxin—and the questions that arise with each lifting of the veils of secrecy that government officials long maintained regarding this issue.

“They were always telling us it was mosquito repellent,” Fallon said of spraying operations when he was stationed at Long Binh military base in 1968-69. “Every once in awhile, it had a different smell, a kerosene smell.” One day, he went on a helicopter medevac mission to a forested area he had previously flown to. “It was dead—there wasn’t a leaf on a tree,” Fallon said.
  
He first learned of the potential consequences of exposure to these chemicals in 1990, Fallon recalled, when a doctor in New York treating him for complications from bone cancer, said “You know, this is from Agent Orange.”

In 1991, after more than a decade of calls by veterans to investigate their health concerns, Congress passed legislation ordering a federal review of health studies regarding dioxin and that health care be provided to affected veterans. This was a sea change from previous official denials that Agent Orange caused the severe illnesses that hit many veterans shortly after the war ended in 1975. These ailments included often rare cancers in young men on the cusp of age 30 and spina bifida in children whose fathers served in Vietnam.

In the past two decades, hundreds of thousands of veterans have filed Agent Orange health claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has paid out more than $3.6 billion to veterans or their survivors, according to military.com. Another 230,000 claims are in the VA’s over-stretched processing pipeline.

The VA’s latest list of illnesses associated with dioxin exposure—including cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes—reads like admissions files at nursing homes. Yet these folks, now primarily in their 60s, often developed these debilitating ailments years ago, when they were much younger.   

And the ranks of those whose health may be affected by Agent Orange continues to grow.

'Blue Water' Navy Exposure

“The Australians have done three complete studies of their naval, air, and ground service personnel who served in or near Vietnam. That is how we in America discovered how the Blue Water Navy veterans were exposed, which was independently verified by the special review of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences last year,” Rick Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America advised fellow vets in May. “The desalinization units on Australian and American ships had the perverse effect of concentrating the dioxin that was contained in the herbicide mixed with kerosene or JP-4 fuel, thus keeping it on or near the surface many miles out to sea, where it was taken in by our warships to produce potable water.”

In Vietnam, where the U.S. Agency for International Development is overseeing an estimated $43 million cleanup at the Da Nang airfield, the biggest worry about the residue of dioxin is birth defects.

“As many as one million people in Vietnam have disabilities or other health problems associated with Agent Orange, the Vietnamese Red Cross has estimated, citing local studies,” CNN reported in August. A detailed look at birth defects in Da Nang and other areas of Vietnam is provided in a recently published book, Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam, by Fred A. Wilcox.The book includes numerous startling photos of children with birth defects in Vietnamese cities taken by Brendan Wilcox, the author's son.

What happened in Vietnam is "a tragedy that, unlike earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and wars of limited duration, has been maiming and killing people for decades," writes Wilcox, an Ithaca College professor who wrote one of the first investigative books about this issue, Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange, published in 1989.

"The war in Vietnam was not the first time that a nation resorted to a scorched earth strategy against an enemy in war; however, it was the first time in human history that ... a government inadvertently poisoned its own army, then waited for this army to die," Wilcox writes in his latest book.  

In response to complaints by veterans who for years were told to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange spray on a certain day in a specific location, the VA now says that all 2.6 million military veterans who served in Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed. Among the recognized illnesses it provides health care or compensation for, the agency lists spina bifida as a birth defect associated with dioxin poisoning.

Many veterans worry whether their exposure to Agent Orange caused other birth defects. “I ran into a guy from my unit. He said two of the guys had children born with holes in the heart,” says Jim Fallon, speaking of his New York-based Army Reserves medical unit that served at the 74th Field Hospital in Vietnam.  

Noting the wide variety of other birth defects reported among Vietnamese children, veterans who monitor this issue contend that our government has repeatedly delayed reviewing studies of dioxin’s potential effects on a troubling range of birth defects among children and, in some cases, grand-children of Vietnam veterans.

“We now know that when we expose troops to toxins during their military service, we subject their children and future generations to the effects of those same toxins,” Alan Oates, a retired Army first sergeant who heads Vietnam Veterans of America’s Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee, noted recently. “That is why it is important for us to get answers and action before we leave this world.”
   
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 27th issue of The Record newspaper in New Jersey.



Sunday, January 27, 2013

Winning Hearts and Minds

War Stuff from 'Nam                (photo/Jan Barry)

Fifty years ago, I turned 20 in Saigon, a very drunk and slap happy soldier in the service of the US Military Assistance Command Vietnam. We were making war, when we weren’t doing Happy Hours in every bar from Soc Trang to Da Nang, under slick counter-insurgency slogans like “Winning Hearts and Minds,”  “Operation Ranch Hand” and “Only You Can Prevent a Forest” (motto of the US Air Force missions that were spraying the countryside with herbicides).

O, we were so damn clever and full of ourselves. Nowadays, Vietnam veterans feel lucky to live to retirement age and not be stricken by cancer, heart disease or some other damn malady from exposure to Agent Orange and other military follies.

Some of us tried to tell America when we came home that things in sunny Southeast Asia were not so rosy as portrayed in official pronouncements and the news media. It took years to find fellow Americans willing to hear what any of us had to say. So bewildering war experiences stewed in our brains and bodies’ startled responses to life events and night sweats—until a barrage of rage burst out, in drunken curses, flying fists, squealing tires, or—if we were lucky—published stories and poems.

That is the genesis of a collection of writings that I helped to edit and publish as the war was officially winding down in 1972, called Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans. One of the outbursts in that book was a poem I’d jotted down that tried to convey an unwanted, unheralded war souvenir.

The Longest War

The longest war is over
Or so they say
Again

But I can still hear the gunfire
Every night
From
My bed.

The longest nightmare
Never seems to
Ever
Quite come
To
An end.

That poem and others in WHAM, as we called that anthology, were reprinted in The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times and many other publications across the country, including the Friday Review of Defense Literature, circulated at the Pentagon. That book, published by ourselves with the help of fellow vets and friends, launched the writing careers of a number of contributors who forged distinguished careers in journalism, education, medicine, law, government service, business and other enterprises. A novel by WHAM contributor Gustav Hasford, for instance, sparked the war film Full-Metal Jacket.

“Winning Hearts and Minds touched the lives of thousands of people and made them better for it. It touched my life, leaving me with a permanent fascination in the power of words. It made me want to be a poet – not just a doodler or a hobbyist, but a writer. It opened the way to the life I have lived ever since,” writes W.D. Ehrhart, who’s the author of 20 books including, most recently, Dead on a High Hill: Essays on War, Literature and Living, 2002-2012.

“The success of WHAM was so undeniably wonderful. It found readers and purchasers and believers. It was timely. The splendid review in the Sunday NY Times Book Review was only a small portion of it; excerpts appeared on the op ed page of daily NY Times as well. Does poetry ever appear in any major newspaper now?” notes Michael Casey, author of Obscenities, Check Points and other poetry collections. 

“I was de-cluttering my basement and found my copy of Winning Hearts and Minds. I bought it in a small bookstore in Rochester, Mn in 1973 a few months after getting out of the Army. It cost $3.95. I love this book and the poems. It was very helpful in the post-war years trying to figure out what was going on with me and has been a tool in my own attempts at writing,” notes Tim Connelly, author of The Agent Orange Book of the Dead and other works.

Winning Hearts & Minds was born out of intense discussions in 1971 initiated by Larry Rottmann, who wanted to publish a collection of writings by Vietnam veterans, and included Basil Paquet, myself and others involved in Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In another room at the VVAW offices in New York City, an intense “rap group” of vets huddled to create an action plan for something that was hard to name, but was later officially called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Unable to find a publisher, we decided to do it ourselves and start with a poetry anthology, followed by other books. We named our publishing collective 1st Casualty Press, after an old saying: “the first casualty of war is the truth.” Our publishing house was my apartment in Brooklyn, NY. Our funders were fellow vets, family members and friends. Our literary contribution was to describe the war we’d waged, and still raged in us, in our own words. When the war ended, we still had plenty to say, which led to compiling a sequel, Demilitarized Zones.   

Due to the hurricane that upended the New York metro region, a 40th anniversary celebration of publication of Winning Hearts & Minds was postponed last fall. The new date is February 9. Besides commemorating a book of poetry that tackled nightmares of the Vietnam war, the event is a fund-raiser for Warrior Writers, a writing workshop program for veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Global War on Terror. 

Readers at the WHAM event include Bill Ehrhart, myself, Gerald McCarthy and Peter Mahoney, contributors to Demilitarized Zones, the 1976 sequel; Warrior Writers Nicole Goodwin,  Justin Jacobs, Jennifer Pacanowski and Eli Wright; and veteran poets Allen Hinman, Jim Murphy, Walt Nygard, Dayl Wise and Walter Zimmerman. Tamra Hayden, an extraordinary Celtic singer and musician, will join us.

Many of the veterans of our latest wars are women, who have their own take on the often unspeakable experiences in war and its aftermath that civilians at home have a hard time acknowledging. Here’s one of the poems by an Iraq war combat medic who will be participating in the WHAM happening:

Parade
Jennifer Pacanowski

The funeral procession from Syracuse airport to Ithaca NY was over
   50 miles long,
Dragging his dead body through town after town of people, families and
   children waving flags.
The fallen HERO had finally come home.
I wonder how many children who saw this will someday want to be dead
   HEROS too.
I did not wave a flag that day or any day since my return.
I still can't help but think that could have been me, but it wasn’t.
The hero was hit by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle, struggled to live
   but didn’t make it.
That was not me.

I was missed by IEDs, bullets, mortars, RPGs.
Is it luck?
Was it training?
Was it GOD?
Was it the Devil?
Why did I survive only to come home to a war with an invisible enemy
   in my own skin?
I live in a dream called my life. Where the good things don't seem real
   or sustainable.
I live in the nightmares of the past called Iraq and PTSD that never run
   out of fuel.
Is it better to be a dead hero?
Or a living fucked up, addicted, crazy veteran?

Suicide rates soar, but no one calls them heroes.
So, on this day, I'm going to have my own parade for those brave young
   men and women that killed themselves.
I was not brave enough to follow through and I admire them.

These dead decided they couldn't live with who they became, who they
   are, accept what happened or find healing.
The barriers and obstacles that they weave through, while carrying the
   burden of war, consumes them with despair and failure.

And their actions are branded on the soul as reminders of what they did
   "over there"…
These failures are punishable by death.
To those who were able to escape death in a combat zone like true
   warriors,
But could not thrive in a society that does not understand them or
   help them understand themselves,
I wave my motherfucking flag.

The parades run every 80 minutes, blood drips from the small towns to
   the big cities, the grief consuming millions of miles.
Than I wonder,
WOULD those flag wavers ask....
Why are we there?
Why are we at war?
Why are the soldiers and marines killing themselves at home?
What have we done?
How can we stop this?

Or would they just duck their heads and wave their flags?
For the dead heroes.

The 40th anniversary celebration of Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans is Saturday, February 9, at 7 p.m. at Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. For directions, see the Facebook events page: https://www.facebook.com/events/446231955425079/

        

Friday, January 25, 2013

Obama’s Peace


Should President Barack Obama return his Nobel Peace Prize? That’s the sobering question posed in a stunningly serious satire posted on the online humor site TFE.

“Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, said today that President Obama ‘really ought to consider’ returning his Nobel Peace Prize Medal immediately, including the ‘really nice’ case it came in,” the thought-provoking piece by Tony Hendra, a former National Lampoon editor, began. 

“Jagland, flanked by the other four members of the Committee, said they’d never before asked for the return of a Peace Prize, ‘even from a damnable war-criminal like Kissinger,’ but that the 10% drawdown in US troops in Afghanistan the President announced last week capped a period of ‘non-Peace-Prize-winner-type behavior’ in 2011.  ‘Guantanamo’s still open. There's bombing Libya. There's blowing bin Laden away rather than putting him on trial. Now a few US troops go home, but the US will be occupying Afghanistan until 2014 and beyond. Don’t even get me started on Yemen!’

“The Committee awarded Obama the coveted prize in 2009 after he made a series of speeches in the first months of his presidency, which convinced the Peace Prize Committee that he was: ‘creating a new climate of...multilateral diplomacy...an emphasis on the role of the United Nations...of dialogue and negotiations as instruments for resolving international conflicts...and a vision of world free of nuclear arms.’” 

In a  final twist that cuts knife-edge close to the reality of Obama’s unrelenting lethal actions chasing the ghost of bin Laden around the world, the TFE piece concludes: “The White House had no comment. It later announced an aggressive new covert CIA initiative to identify and apprehend Al Qaeda operatives in Scandinavia.” 

Indeed, what are peaceful folks around the world to make of an American president who gives soaring speeches promoting peaceful actions and secretly issues orders for drone missile attacks on homes and vehicles in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere that may or may not contain people on a White House-approved “kill list”—but which in many cases kill children and other bystanders, according to a report by researchers at Stanford and New York University law schools.

Can you imagine the outrage that would rise across America if some other country sent in drones to blow up targeted enemies strolling amid Times Square crowds, stuck in Los Angeles traffic and hanging out in suburban homes.

“A new report on targeted killing by C.I.A. drones in Pakistan’s tribal area concludes that the strikes have killed more civilians than American officials have acknowledged, alienated Pakistani public opinion and set a dangerous precedent under international law,” The New York Times reported last September.

“The report, by human rights researchers at the Stanford and New York University law schools, urges the United States to ‘conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices’ including ‘short- and long-term costs and benefits.’ It also calls on the administration to make public still-secret legal opinions justifying the strikes.”

Needless to say, Obama’s secret drone missile warfare opinions and orders were not addressed in his reelection inaugural speech on Monday. Instead, as American troops continued to kill and die in Afghanistan (and kill themselves in the war zone and at home) at a rate exceeding the carnage during the Bush administration, Obama gave another soaring paean to peace:

“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.  Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.  Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty.  The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.  But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.

“We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.  We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully - not because we are na├»ve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.  America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.  We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.  And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice - not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes:  tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.” 

That is the vision the Nobel Peace Prize committee honored at the beginning of Obama’s first term in office. Satire aside, that award really ought to be rescinded if Obama continues waging secretive, morally obtuse war operations in his second term.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Waging War to Waging Peace

Vietnam Veteran Against the War, 1971     (photo/Sheldon Ramsdell)



Talk by Jan Barry
Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, Teaneck, NJ
Sunday, January 13, 2013

When I was 21, I made the most crucial decision of my life—whether to return to Vietnam as a soldier or to resign from a military career. In a life focused on nonviolent conflict resolution, I’ve met many ex-soldiers who turned from waging war to waging peace. Such transformation happens when combatants wrestle with a fundamental question: What is the right thing to do in a war? If soldiers can make this transformation, why can’t American society? 

Having served an eye-opening early tour in Vietnam, I resigned from West Point rather than help escalate the war there. Instead, I helped to start an organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, that worked to end the war we fought in.  For the past decade, many other Americans have spoken out against the wars conducted by our military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. All across America, there are many veterans of the latest wars working for peace, some in well-known organizations such as Veterans For Peace and others embedded throughout our society. But Americans would hardly know this due to our news media’s crusty culture of worshipping war.

War drums began beating across America before the dust settled at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s an all-American tradition to march to the beat for military action, the fountain of flag waving excitement that produces legions of war correspondents, bugle-blaring headlines and armchair commandos in newsrooms.

It is rare to hear that a drum-beat journalist felt, in retrospect, that rushing to war was perhaps a grave mistake. It’s almost historic, in fact, to see the reconsideration that Bill Keller, a top editor and columnist at the New York Times, published amid the flood of 9/11 commemorations on the 10th anniversary of that explosive spark of war the US expanded to places most Americans had barely heard of before.

“The world is well rid of Saddam Hussein,” Keller wrote. “But knowing as we now do the exaggeration of Hussein’s threat, the cost in Iraqi and American lives and the fact that none of this great splurge has bought us confidence in Iraq’s future or advanced the cause of freedom elsewhere— I think Operation Iraqi Freedom was a monumental blunder,” Keller wrote in a New York Times Magazine article.

The bulk of the Times’ massive retrospective, however, was essentially a monument to the US news media’s cheerleading for a decade of military blunders. A major reason for this is that, for all the war correspondents and warrior-editors, there are few if any journalists assigned to cover waging peace.

Do editors at the Times and other mainstream news organizations ever travel outside military-oriented circles and see what groups such as September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Peace Action, Veterans For Peace or the US Institute of Peace are doing? Even small newspapers have a military affairs reporter. Does any news organization in America have a peace beat?

The glaring lack of coverage of peace groups’ actions spurred a special report nearly two years ago by the Nieman Watchdog website of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

“Antiwar activists repeatedly stage dramatic acts of civil disobedience in the United States but are almost entirely ignored by mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war. This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on,” wrote John Hanrahan, a former Washington Post reporter.

“By ignoring antiwar protests almost totally, editors are treating opposition to the ongoing war in Afghanistan much as they handled the run-up to the war in Iraq: They are missing an important story and contributing to the perception that there is no visible opposition to the U.S. wars and ever-growing military budgets, even as polls show overwhelming support for early U.S. military withdrawal,” Hanrahan continued.

Among the examples of non-coverage of significant events that Hanrahan cited was a December 2010 “demonstration organized by Veterans for Peace, 500 or more people gathered outside the White House, as snow was falling, to protest the war and to support Wikileaks and accused leaker PFC Bradley Manning. … there were 131 arrests – including a sizable number of veterans of current and past wars – for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience. … The event was covered by The Huffington Post, the Socialist Worker, OpEd News, Salem-News.com in Oregon, and the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, but was ignored by The Washington Post, The New York Times and almost all other mainstream media,” Hanrahan found.

Among the leaders of Veterans For Peace, whose statements are frequently ignored by the national news media, is Leah Bolger, the organization’s national president and a retired Navy officer, who traveled last fall in a peace delegation to Pakistan to areas hit by US drone missiles. You probably didn’t see Leah Bolger on CNN—although what she has to say about civilian casualties of our not-so-secret drone war in Pakistan is all over the Internet.  

Paul Chappell
Among other peace activists ignored by the news media is former Army Captain Paul Chappell, who attended West Point "determined to study war the way a doctor studies an illness." What he found in his studies and in a war tour in Iraq was a pragmatic way of envisioning what it would take to create a cure for war fever. "In the U.S. Army, as in ancient Greece, the most admired trait in soldiers is not their ability to kill but their willingness to sacrifice for their friends," Chappell notes in his book, Will War Ever End? A Soldier's Vision of Peace for the 21st Century. Chappell argues that soldiers and folks at home, in order to protect each other, should mount a concerted campaign to wind down warmaking, due to the massively deadly threat of military escalation in the nuclear age. A better way of dealing with international disputes, he contends, is to adapt nonviolent tactics to produce conflict resolution that de-escalates violence.

From his experience in Iraq, Chappell argues that the war on terrorism "can never be won with an army alone, because terrorism is not a place we can occupy or a dictator we can overthrow." He argues that military actions are stoking the hatred fueling angry people who use terrorism as a tactic in fighting for their beliefs and causes. "If we are going to win the war on terrorism ... the United States will require many more soldiers, and not just soldiers who are armed with guns. ... During the challenging years ahead, our planet will need soldiers of peace who understand this truth of our brotherhood, because our survival in an interconnected world will not depend upon our ability to wage war. The fate of humanity will depend upon our willingness to wage peace."

Chappell found a model for banishing war in the 19th century campaigns to ban slavery. "Slavery existed on a global scale for thousands of years, but due to the courageous actions of our ancestors who fought this injustice, no country today sanctions slavery. Together we have the capacity to create a world where countries no longer sanction war."

Chappell was struck in his military training by how hard the military has had to work to train and prod soldiers to fight in combat. This is proof, he argues, that humans don't have a gene for waging wars. And he took note of General Omar Bradley's comment after leading armies in World War II: "Modern war visits destruction on the victor and the vanquished alike. Our only complete assurance of surviving World War III is to halt it before it starts." Reflecting on his own military career, which started at West Point and spanned two world wars, Bradley stated, in a 1948 Memorial Day speech: "Wars can be prevented just as surely as they are provoked."

On Armistice Day in 1948, Omar Bradley added this observation: “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.”

General Bradley spoke out in the Truman government against expanding the war in Korea into China. His West Point classmate, Dwight Eisenhower, ran for president and ended the war in Korea. That’s a good model for our government to follow today—stop expanding and start ending our wars in Asia and the Middle East.  

It is long past time for the Obama administration and Congress to hear from veterans and military families of the monstrous, cancerous consequences of the war on terrorism who have been ignored by the gatekeepers of the news media, congressional committees and at the White House.

Here’s a sampling of what they’d hear:

[poems from After Action Review: A Collection of Writing and Artwork by Veterans of the Global War on Terror: “A Letter to the War Presidents” by Iraq war veteran Raymond Camper, “Support the Troops” by Afghanistan war veteran Jacob George]   


Meanwhile, as US military forces roam the world in search of enemies to fight, folks back home are under assault by suicidal, mayhem-bent sons and neighbors wielding military assault weapons. America’s relentless wars have come home in terrifying, terrible ways.

Gunmen from our own communities have turned urban neighborhoods, suburban shopping malls, college campuses and small town schools into war zones.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end,” President Obama said at a prayer vigil in Newtown, Connecticut, where a 20-year-old local resident killed 20 school children, six teachers and administrators, his mother and himself in volleys of shots in a war on the community where he was raised.

The National Rife Association’s proposed solution is to station armed guards in every school. That would take a lot of armed guards. Plus, many of these mass shootings have been in other places—shopping malls, a movie theater, churches, post offices, at the site of house fires. To protect every American from those few who decide to play war with real assault weapons would take an army.   

The military solution would be to declare martial law, station troops at every school, shopping center and every other public gathering place, marshal special operations teams to break down doors at every home and apartment that military-intelligence found reason to believe may harbor hidden weapons of mass destruction.

That’s been the American way of war for the past decade and more in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s been very popular in American video games, movies, TV shows. And it’s been a fatal attraction for many young men in American communities whose minds became unhinged in a society that apparently worships military-style violence.

“We have to change,” our commander-in-chief said in Newton. Obama could lead off by ending the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. Americans are dying across America of the consequences of waging such violence abroad.

These wars are killing our soldiers and veterans at home. The suicide rate among active duty troops this past year was roughly one death per day, with a big jump in July in the Army, according to military reports. The total number of U.S. military deaths by suicide since 2001 is more than 2,600—eclipsing the 2,000-plus military fatalities in Afghanistan, Time magazine noted in a front page special report last summer.

Meanwhile, military veterans have been committing suicide at a furious clip of about 18 per day for several years, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

How to stop an epidemic of suicides has baffled military and VA leaders. Everyone from former soldiers to President Obama is now weighing in on a tragedy that for a long time was seldom talked about in public.

As anyone who has had combat military training knows, wartime military culture drums into soldiers that the solution to seemingly intractable problems is to shoot or blow something up and kill somebody. Indeed, the most frequent form of self-destruction by veterans is shooting themselves, suicide reports compiled in Nevada and New Jersey show.

There is a reason why there is a National Guard armory in Teaneck—armories are where the military stores weapons. The National Guard, the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines do not allow their members to store tanks, bombers, artillery, machineguns or other assault weapons at home. There is no reason why anyone else should be allowed to either.