Friday, May 04, 2007

Iraq Veterans Face Uncaring Population at Home

Bob Herbert's column over at the San Jose Mercury News profiles Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq veteran who's written a book, "Chasing Ghosts," who is also the founder of an advocacy group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). Rieckhoff's arguing against American's indifference to the contemporary American soldier. Here's a quote from the article:

Rieckhoff is not bitter. He's actually funny and quite engaging (and a good writer). But he has very little tolerance for the negligence and incompetence the government has shown in equipping the troops and fighting the war in Iraq, and he is frustrated by the short shrift that he feels the troops get from the media and the vast majority of Americans.

There's a gigantic and extremely disturbing disconnect, he says, between the experiences of the men and women in uniform and the perspective of people here at home. "We have a very diverse membership in IAVA," he said. "We've got Republicans and Democrats and everything in between. But one of the key things we all have in common is this frustration with the detachment that we see all around us, this idea that we're at war and everybody else is watching `American Idol.'

"I think that's one of the main reasons why so many guys want to go back to Iraq. They come home and feel like: `Man, I don't fit in here. You know, I'm out of place.'" Even though there's never been a clear statement of the military's mission in Iraq, and the goals have shifted from month to month and year to year, the soldiers and Marines who have been sent there have felt that they were carrying out an important task on behalf of the nation.

"It's tough to have such a serious sense of commitment," Rieckhoff said, "and then come home and see so many people focused on such frivolous things. So I think that frustration is serious and growing. And I'll tell you the truth: I blame the president for that. One of the biggest criticisms of the president, and I hear this across the board, is that he hasn't asked the American people to do anything."

Rieckhoff is convinced that if the public heard more from the soldiers and Marines who have actually experienced combat, including those who have been wounded and suffered emotional trauma, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be viewed more seriously. Part of the problem, he said, is that too many civilians have little or no understanding of what war is really like, and of the toll it takes beyond the obvious toll of the dead and wounded.

Among other things, there are family problems, drug and alcohol abuse, untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide - all directly attributable to service in a war zone. "Incredibly," he writes in his book, "no government agency keeps track of the number of veterans who kill themselves after their service has ended - another sign of how little value is placed on veterans' long-term well-being."

Be sure to read the whole thing. For more on this topic, check out my earlier posts on the generational differences in war support through American history. See, "Younger Generation Indifferent to Sacrifices of War," and "The Changing Nature of Warfare after Pearl Harbor."

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