Canaries in a Coal Mine
Canaries in a coal mine, that’s what I keep thinking.
Miners would carry a canary in a cage down the shaft with them to detect gas leaks. If the canary stopped chirping, that was the alarm to clear out, the early warning of something very wrong.
As I sit here, with the 9/11 anniversary approaching, thinking about the people most directly affected by that day—the veterans of our foreign wars—that’s what keeps coming back to me: canaries in a coal mine.
Because what could be more telling than the way we treat the people who risk their lives for us?
What does our treatment of them tell us about ourselves?
From the beginning, the Bush Administration ruled no photographs of military funerals or even flag-draped caskets on transport planes. The Obama Administration reversed that embargo but if there’s been an uptick in coverage, I’ve missed it. It’s as though the dead embarrass us—or we’re simply pretending they don’t exist at all.
And what about the living?
While Iraq and Afghanistan were fought with far more electronic aids than ever before (nightvision, drones, satellite imaging, all sold to the government at huge profit margins), America tried to squeak through these wars with far fewer soldiers than military theory called for (until the Surge of 2007) because Donald Rumsfeld decided to test his pet theory of modern warfare with live troops.
The soldiers were trained for a strategic war against Sadaam’s Army and left to improvise for years once that Army melted away and left them in the middle of guerilla fighting and civil war.
They were sent into battle in Humvees with no armor. Remember families buying armor plate with their own credit cards for their soldier children? That scandal broke in 2004; the Pentagon was still scrambling to finish the job in 2007.
They were used as guinea pigs for Big Pharma. Soldiers in combat in 2004 were given a malaria drug that carried a suicide warning back at home. In Iraq and Afghanistan, no warnings—and when the suicide rate in those units spiked, the Pentagon said it couldn’t find any connection and tried to discharge affected vets over their ‘mental problems,’ as though the defect was theirs.
When their tours ended, they were forced to return for another and another, riding a vicious turnstile in places where every cardboard box or cellphone might be a bomb, where shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and ethnic infighting meant non-stop terror. I read a quote from a senior officer recently saying that, even in Vietnam, there were places to go to get away from the war temporarily; in these recent wars, there is no place to go.
Meanwhile, the justifications kept changing. We were there to destroy Bin Laden and the Taliban who supported him. Oh no, we were going to destroy Sadaam Hussein instead, because of his weapons of mass destruction…uh oops, no weapons, never mind, we were destroying him because he was a bad guy, like there were no other bad guys in power in the world. Then we were going to create a democracy in the Muslim Middle East, as a beacon for other countries. Uh no, well, maybe not democracies as we know them…We were trying to win the hearts and minds of the local populations. And finally, inevitably, now we’re hoping to erect just enough government to hold on a year or two after we pull out.
If the reasons for our involvement were forever unclear, the results weren’t. Our oil companies got the contracts to pump Iraqi wells; Halliburton and its corrupt brethren got the contracts to repair Iraqi and Afghani infrastructure. They botched those jobs completely, of course, but at tremendous profit margins. And the United States—just by coincidence—managed to encircle Iran.
And, then, finally, the soldiers began to come home.
To a country indifferent to them. Not as openly hostile as we were to our Vietnam vets—not quite as disgraceful as that—just embarrassed, uncomfortable, the reception once accorded to epileptics or maybe lepers.
The media couldn’t cover honorable soldier’s funerals but it offered flurries of hand-wringing every time a disturbed vet killed him or herself, destroyed their families or their own lives. When twice as many soldiers committed suicide as died in combat in 2009 and 2010, there were few headlines and no national debate.
The VA announced two years free health care without asking vets to qualify, like this was doing them a favor, like two years was going to be anything but an aspirin in a cancer ward. And if vets got fed up waiting for help and went outside the system, the government tried to make them pay for it themselves (http://www.offe.org/public_html/news76.htm).
What’s brought this all home to me personally is that I’ve tried for months to get vets to come on my blog and tell their stories—even anonymously—their experiences of two wars and coming home. No one will take me up on it—because they’re scared. Soldiers who were willing to risk their lives for us are now afraid to tell the truth as they see it, afraid they’ll lose what little help they’re getting from the government that threw them over and over again in harm’s way.
So let’s tick down the list here:
Sent into a long-term disaster with only short-term plans: Check!
Treated as inventory by people and organizations that were supposed to support them: Check!
Endless resources made available for (profitable) gadgets, (politically lucrative) contractors and Big Pharma field testing but as little as possible—and then only grudgingly—for the people whose lives were actually on the line: Check!
Nickled-and-dimed for every tiny bit of help, as though they should be ashamed of being anything other than robotic chess pieces: Check!
It turns out that our veterans really are a perfect example of the society that made them.
Maybe that’s why they make us uncomfortable; when we look at them, we see ourselves—and it’s not a pretty sight.
Pericles gave a eulogy somewhere around 400 BC at a mass funeral outside Athens, praising the city’s dead soldiers as the proof of the wonders of Athenian democracy.
“For the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her…none of these allowed…wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit…they joyfully determined to accept the risk…and to let their wishes wait…they thought fit to act boldly and trust in themselves. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they…met danger face to face…so died these men as became Athenians…For it is only the love of honor that never grows old; and honor it is, not gain, as some would have it, that rejoices the heart of age and helplessness.”
It’s hard to read those words today without cringing. We’re so skeptical of heroism, selflessness and honor these days, even of reaching imperfectly for those virtues. Maybe because we see so few examples in our own world.
The canary’s gone silent. Are we listening?
My review of Mindbenders:
I got this from the author in a giveaway. I thought it sounded interesting but really it was not my first choice type of read. I was blown away by it! It is an awesome book. At times it was difficult for me to read. One of the characters was a vet suffering from PTSD. My son was in Iraq 10 years ago. Some of the scenes with the character of Greg brought back all the worry and fear. This is a fascinating book that is fiction based on fact. Ted Krever did an outstanding job! Read it even if it isn't the genre you usually read.
I relate to a lot what Ted speaks of. My son wasn't old enough to drink legally when he was sent to Iraq. He went there proud, healthy, strong and believing he was helping people both here at home and the people in Iraq. He came back broken. He can walk, (with assistance - which he had to fight for every step of the way), and years later he is still suffering from PTSD, ( this is a life long illness that can respond to therapy and meds - once again it was something he had to fight to get treatment for but finally, earlier this year, he started it). I am proud of him. He is my hero. I watched him barely able to stand tell someone, "if the people I met in Iraq needed me, I would do all I could to help them. Even if it meant going back there. I went to help them and try to protect them. Whatever anyone else's agenda was, whatever others chose to do, mine was to help people who needed me. I don't regret what happened to me because I know it happened while I was trying to help and protect women and children." I have watched how my son was thanked by his country for being a hero and I have read all the reports of "no room" for the First Responders. I am not shocked. I am not surprised. I am deeply saddened and offended. There was "no room" as the Towers went down yet they risked everything to "make room" to try to help and protect. I hope everyone takes the opportunity today to say thank you to a First Responder - be they Firefighter, EMS, Police Officer, or any of the branches of our military. Let us do what our leaders are not doing. Let us, we the people, pay our respect and honor these heroes.
In addition to the thriller Mindbenders, Ted is the author of Green, Howling at Wolves,A Crafty and Devious God ( all described by Ted as somewhat romantic), After, (a collection of short stories after 9/11), and Bequest, (described as somewhat dark). They can be purchased on Amazon or Smashwords. Ted has a blog where you can find out more and also read some interesting posts.
Or you can type in your browser: http://tedkrever.com/blog