EDITOR'S NOTE: I have included the following piece for two reasons. First, although this speech grows out of a different war half-way around the world from Vietnam, it illustrates how each time we send our youth abroad to kill in the name of peace and freedom we bring home another host of badly injured and disturbed veterans who pay the price of the foreign adventure for the rest of their lives (to say nothing of the ones who come home in coffins). Secondly, the author of this piece is the older of my two sons, and I am very proud of him.
My name is Taymere, I am a US Marine Corps Veteran, an infantryman who served from ’88-’92. During the first Gulf war in ’90-’91, I was a Non-Commissioned Officer with the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division. My 5-man team did reconnaissance missions near the Kuwaiti/Saudi border during operation Desert Shield. During Desert Storm my company performed a scouting mission; we led a Regimental assault North to Kuwait City. I am a charter member of the Western Washington Area Chapter of Veterans for Peace, and I am very honored to be speaking to you today. I am going to speak about some of the costs of war, costs that most people never consider. My talk will at first be on a general level, but it will get to a very personal level.
Thus far during the current invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US and the United Kingdom at least 7,8401 Iraqi civilians have perished violently. While this number is large relative to the 4532 US and UK military deaths over the same time period, it is nothing compared to the 205,5003 Iraqis that have died either during the first Gulf War or during the ten years of sanctions that followed that war. What are these sanctions? Sanctions entailed the US and the UK forbidding other nations from trading with Iraq. Without trade, Iraq could not sell its oil, and had to get by on only what goods they could produce locally. Under sanctions Iraq was desperately short of food and medicine. Our bombings and missile attacks during the first Gulf war specifically targeted water purification plants, and the sanctions after the war denied the Iraqis the ability to repair them. Most of these “peacetime” deaths were due to diarrhea from drinking bad water, lack of medicines, and malnutrition. 111,0004 Iraqis died as a direct result of sanctions. These types of deaths are reminiscent of what killed besieged townsfolk during medieval times. Inside the castle fortress, food and clean water ran low, and diseases began to take their toll. Except that in this case instead of fortress walls imprisoning the townsfolk, the entire populace of Iraq was besieged by sanctions. Their deaths didn’t make the headlines.
In general, civilian casualties far outstrip military casualties in modern warfare. These casualties are not random events, but rather they result from strategic decisions made at the highest levels. The targeting of Iraqi water purification facilities was a strategic decision. The Allied fire bombing of the German city of Dresden during WWII was a strategic decision that resulted in 250,000 German civilian deaths. During that same war, Tokyo wasn’t set afire by a single stray bomb; it took sustained effort and well coordinated planning to produce the firestorm that resulted in 100,000 Japanese civilian deaths. Each of these incendiary-bombing campaigns of enemy cities involved thousands of airplanes, and each killed more civilians than the much more publicized one plane, one bomb nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Thus it is apparent that civilian casualties are often not mishaps; rather they are a cost of war that should be carefully considered.
War also has costs to the men and women who fight it.
I will now speak about some of those costs on a personal level. I have fired upon Kuwaiti civilians. They were mixed in with Iraqi soldiers who were shooting at us. We didn’t even know the Kuwaitis were there until we drove past them after the firefight. Ironically the ones that were still alive, the wounded Kuwaitis, thanked us and praised America as we approached. I don’t know what they thought as we kept right on driving past them. I don’t have much combat experience, but what little I have was enough to show me that combat is full of contradictions. War taught me that human life is cheap. There is no justice, rhyme, or reason to the beast, and the beast is mean. Power and the reflexive use of rapid and extreme violence were the paths to safety. These thought patterns, and the biological responses that I still have today to stressful situations, were not the recipe to create a model citizen. When I was honorably discharged in 1992 I was not a model citizen, I was a violent one. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans are more likely to be imprisoned for violent crimes than non-veterans, and are also more likely to be homeless. I got out of the Marines, went to college, studied hard, and received a Bachelor of Sciences Degree in Chemistry in ’95 from the University of California at San Diego, but parallel with this success, I couldn’t relate at all to civilians. I drank heavily, and nearly killed people in fights on several occasions. I was an honorably discharged veteran, but I was not fit for society. With little provocation I sometimes went into states of complete and murderous detachment. During those states I often hurt people very badly. My ability to instantly go into such a detached state was a very valuable skill during the war, but it was definitely a liability afterwards. It is only by sheer luck that I am not one of the “incarcerated for violent crimes” statistics.
I got sober in ’99, and over the next few years a profound spiritual experience reconnected me with my fellow man. Sobriety also brought a terrible realization. My psyche began to painfully acknowledge the humanity of the people that I was involved in destroying during the Gulf War. A few of the Iraqi conscripts that I fought were as young as the 9th graders in this auditorium today. Those poor kids had little to no training before being sent to fight the world’s only superpower. Faces, and images of carnage haunted my sleep. I sought help from the Veterans Administration, and they came through for me with high quality psychiatric care. I have returned from war and rejoined the community of the living, and I try to serve my community today. I am happy to say that I am no longer violent. I am one of the lucky ones; many veterans remain haunted, and never truly come home from the combat zone.
Now I want to take you back in time to the origins of the day that we are honoring here today. Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day. November 11, 1918, was the day that the conflict then called “The War to End All Wars” was over. Things didn’t quite turn out as planned, and we now refer to “The War to End All Wars” simply as WW-I. On November 4, 1918, a German machine gun cut down Wilfred Owen, the British infantry officer who wrote the poem that I will read in closing. This was just one week before the November 11th Armistice. It was on the day of the Armistice that his parents learned of his death. Church bells rang continuously in his hometown to celebrate the Allied victory. This noisome and joyous scene was the background to which his parents heard the bad news. In his poem, Wilfred Owen describes the effects of chlorine gas, a chemical warfare agent. Chlorine kills by pulmonary edema, also known as dry land drowning. Chlorine victims breathe the green gas, their lungs become irritated and fill with bodily fluids, and they drown. To protect themselves, British soldiers immediately donned helmets fitted with gas masks when attacked with Chlorine. The title of the poem is Dulce Et Decorum Est, which in Latin means “It is beautiful and sweet.” The closing lines of the poem, also written in Latin are Pro Patria Mori, which means “To die for your Country.” Thus Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori means “It’s beautiful and sweet to die for your Country.”
by Wilfred Owen
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Will's Whimsical Words:
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