Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.

Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]

 

Iraq: Just Another War Without an End

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

 We know the names of every one of the 4,479 Americans who were killed and the 32,200 who were wounded, both civilian and military, between March 20, 2003 and Oct. 21, 2011, the day President Barack Obama, fulfilling a campaign promise, declared the last American soldier would leave Iraq before the end of the year.

We know Second Lieutenant Therrel Shane Childers was the first American soldier killed by hostile fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On March 21, 2003, less than a day after the U.S.-led invasion, Childers was shot in the stomach by hostile forces while leading a Marine platoon to secure an oil field in southern Iraq.  His father, Joseph, told NPR that it was his dream to lead Marines into combat.

Childers, from Gulfport, Miss., had enlisted in the Marines 12 years earlier, was a security guard at the Geneva consulate and the Nairobi embassy, fought in the Persian Gulf War, and then attended the Citadel on a special program that allows enlisted personnel to be commissioned upon graduation. He was a French major and on the Dean’s List. Childers, who had wanted to be a horse trainer when he retired from the Marines, was 30 years old when he died. The Marines promoted him to first lieutenant posthumously.

On the day Childers was killed, 12 men—seven from the United Kingdom, one from South Africa, and four from the U.S.—were killed in a helicopter crash near Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq. At the time, the Marine Corps called the crash of the CH-46E Sea Knight accidental, but didn’t elaborate.

About the time the helicopter crashed, Lance Corporal José Antonio Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Marine, was killed by what is euphemistically known as “friendly fire.” He was an orphan from Guatemala who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico, lived on the streets of San Diego and Los Angeles, was granted a temporary visa, lived with a series of foster families, graduated from high school, and began attending college, hoping to become an architect. The U.S. granted him citizenship posthumously.

On the second day of the war, three more Americans and six from England were killed. On the third day, 30 more Americans and four British were killed. By the end of March, 92 were killed.

One month before the invasion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had declared the upcoming war, which he warned would be a “shock and awe” strategy, might last “six days, maybe six weeks; I doubt six months.”

On May 1, 2003, aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego, President George W. Bush, decorated in flight gear, declared “Mission Accomplished.” Official military records show that when President Bush made his announcement, 172 Coalition troops had been killed. More than 4,600 American and allied soldiers would die in Iraq after that declaration; more than 31,500 Americans would be wounded, many permanently disabled, after that bravado proclamation.

We know the oldest American soldier to die in combat was 60; the youngest was 18, of which there were 34. We know that 476 of those killed were from California; Pennsylvania and Florida each had 176 deaths by the time the President announced full withdrawal from Iraq.

 

There are names we don’t know. We don’t know the names and life stories of the 4.7 million refugees, nor the two million Iraqis who fled the violence caused by the Coalition invasion. We don’t know the names of the orphaned children, one-third of all of Iraq’s youth. We don’t know the names of the 100,000–150,000 civilians killed. We don’t have accurate records of more than a million who were wounded. It no longer matters who killed or wounded them, who destroyed their lives and property—American, allied, Shia, Sunni, insurgent, criminal, or al-Qaeda. It doesn’t matter if they died from IEDs, suicide bombers, gunshots, artillery, bombs, or missiles. In war, they’re simply known as “collateral damage.”

In Afghanistan, 2,769 Coalition troops have been killed, 1,815 of them American, by the day that President Obama announced the withdrawal from Iraq. There are already 14,343 wounded among the Coalition forces. Between 36,000 and 75,000 Afghani civilians have been killed by insurgents and Coalition troops during the past decade, according to the United Nations. President Obama told the world that the war in Afghanistan would continue at least two more years.

You can try to sanitize the wars by giving them patriotic names—Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operation Enduring Freedom. But that doesn’t change the reality that millions of every demographic have been affected. War doesn’t discriminate. The dead on all sides are physicians and religious leaders; trades people, farmers, clerks, merchants, teachers, and mothers.  And they are babies and students. We don’t know what they might have become had they been allowed to grow up and live a life of peace, one without war.

We also don’t yet know who will be the last American soldier to be killed in Iraq. As important, we don’t know how Post-Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) will affect the one million soldiers who were called for as many as seven tours of duty, nor when the last Iraq War veteran will die from permanent injuries. And we will never know the extent of the terror that will plague the families, children, and grandchildren of those who served.

But there is one more thing we do know. A year before José Antonio Gutierrez was killed, he had written a “Letter to God” in Spanish. Translated, it read: “Thank you for permitting me to live another year, thank you for what I have, for the type of person I am, for my dreams that don’t die. . . . May the firearms be silent and the teachings of love flourish.”

[Walter Brasch first began writing about war in 1966. He wishes he didn’t have to. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a novel that focuses upon America between 1964 and 1991, the eve of the Persian Gulf War.]

 

 

 

The News, It Is a-changin': bin Laden and the Mass Media


 

by Walter Brasch

 

It was a little before 9 a.m.

 I was chatting with two students.

 Another student came in, and asked if we had heard a plane had hit a building in New York City.

 We hadn't, but I assumed it was a light private plane, and the pilot had mechanical difficulty or problems with wind turbulence.  

 A minute or so later, another student came in. It was a passenger jet, she said.

 The first student had read the information in a text from a friend, who had received it from another friend, who may have heard it somewhere else. The second student had read it while surfing a news site on the Internet. In a few moments I became aware of how news dissemination had changed, and it was the youth who were going to lead the information revolution.

 A half-hour later, in an upper division journalism class, we were flipping between TV channels, and students were texting with friends on campus and in other states.

 By 12:30 p.m., the beginning time for my popular culture and the media class, every one of the 240 students heard about the murders and terrorism that would become known as 9/11. Most had not seen it on TV nor heard about it from radio. There was no way I was going to give that day's prepared lecture. The students needed to talk, to tell others what they heard, to listen to what others had heard. To cry; to express rage. And, most of all, they needed to hear the conflicting information, and learn the facts.

 For the first century of colonial America, news was transmitted at the pace of a fast horse and rider. But even then, most citizens read the news only when they wandered into a local coffee shop or tavern and saw the information posted on a wall. The first newspaper, Boston's Publick Occurrences, lasted but one issue, dying in 1690. The next newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, wasn't published until 14 years later. Fifteen years passed before there was another newspaper. By the Revolution, the major cities along the eastern seaboard had weekly newspapers, with news from England taking up to three months to reach the American shores and be printed. News from one colony to another might take a couple of weeks or more. All of it was subject to censorship by the colonial governors.

 By the Civil War, reporters in the field could transmit news by telegraph—assuming that competitors or the other side didn't cut the wires. Even the most efficient operation took at least a day to gather, write, transmit, and then print the news.

 Radio brought World Wars I and II closer to Americans. Photojournalists—with film, innumerable developing chemicals, and restricted by the speed of couriers, the mail service, and publication delays—gave Americans both photos and newsreel images of war.

 Television gave us better access to learning about wars in Korea and Vietnam.

 And then came the Persian Gulf War, and the full use of satellite communication. Although CNN, the first 24-hour news operation, was the only network to record the destruction of the Challenger in January 1986, it was still seen as a minor network, with audiences of thousands not millions. The Persian Gulf War changed that, along with the nature of the news industry. CNN built an audience during Operation Desert Shield, from late Summer 1990 to Jan. 16, 1991. On that evening, the beginning of Desert Storm, CNN was the only American-based news operation in Iraq. From the al-Rashid Hotel, its three correspondents and their teams transmitted news and video as the U.S. sent missiles into Baghdad.

 Two decades later, individual media have almost replaced mass media as sources for first information. Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and innumerable ways to text message now link individuals and groups. Individuals can also transmit photos and video from cell phones to You Tube and dozens of other hosts, making everyone with a cell phone a temporary reporter or photojournalist. It also leads to extensive problems in discerning the facts from rumors and propaganda. The media—individual and mass—have united a world's people.

 In Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt, it was Facebook and Twitter, not state-run mass media, that gave the people communication to launch their protests that would lead to the fall of two authoritarian governments.

 On May 1, in a nine-minute television address beginning at 11:35 p.m., EST, President Obama t old the world that Navy SEALs had successfully completed their mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Those not at their radio or TV sets learned about it from messages and video on their cell phones or computers.

 It is still be the responsibility of the mass media--of radio, television, newspapers, and magazines--to give in-depth coverage and analysis of the events. But, for millions worldwide, it is no longer the mass media that establishes the first alerts.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, the author of 17 books, and a retired university journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow.]

 

 

Stories We Wish We Didn't Have to Write--But WIll

The hope we and this nation had for change we could believe in, and which we still hope will not die, has been diminished by the reality of petty politics, with the "Party of No" and its raucous Teabagger mutation blocking social change for America's improvement

 

There's more...

Details on Secret CIA Assassination Program Begin to Emerge

Yesterday after reading in the Wall Street Journal that secret CIA program whose disclosure former Vice President Cheney ordered withheld from Congress apparently involved targeting high level Al Qaeda operatives, I wondered if it wasn't already common knowledge that the United States was targeting for assassination Al Qaeda operatives. Surely, this is not Earth-shattering news that requires keeping Congressional leaders in the dark. Black operations against Al Qaeda's leadership and their rank and file has been on-going since the early days of the Clinton Administration.

Today, the UK Guardian adds more color and suggests that the CIA program that Vice President Cheney ordered concealed was a program similar to a suspected Mossad program that tracked down and killed members of the Palestinian Black September terrorist group that were involved in the attack on Israeli athletes that left 11 dead at 1972 Munich Olympics. This Mossad operation was first reported by Canadian journalist George Jonas in his book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team and later made into an Academy Award nominated film, Munich, by Steven Spielberg.

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads