April 25 2012
Last night SBS Dateline reported on how life changes for many military men and women and their families after they’ve seen action in a theatre of war. Post traumatic stress disorder is rife, for example, and the effects of this illness can be horrific. It’s compounded by the stigma attached to those suffering the mental trauma of war, a stigma that can discourage sufferers from seeking help.
Reporter Nick Lazaredes has spent considerable time investigating the dire circumstances of far too many returned military personnel in the US, and asks is Australia prepared to support and assist our soldiers who come home emotionally and mentally damaged by their service to their country?
As well, here at Overland is Jeff Sparrow’s excellent essay on Anzac Day and the celebration of forgetting.
As one observer in the SBS documentary pointed out, politicians like to declare “America is at war!” However, America isn’t at war, he claimed, America is in shopping malls. The military is at war, and America is ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of that when men and women with shattered psyches return to take up an ordinary life. The difficulties they face affect everyone around them, and the wider society.
If politicians are willing to send citizens to war in order to preserve our freedom and values, it seems remarkably short-sighted of them not to ensure the society we’re fighting and dying to protect doesn’t suffer, when those citizens return unable to rejoin it because of their contribution to its protection.
In 2003, then US President George W Bush told then Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas: “God told me to strike al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.” Our own John Howard supported Bush in this endeavour, as did then British PM Tony Blair.
It seems rather remiss of God not to have told Bush, Howard and Blair to make ample preparation for the care of the military personnel they sent to do God’s work, when they returned from their endeavours broken in body and/or mind. It seems remiss of God not to have commanded the leaders to adequately care for the partners, parents and children of these women and men who risked everything in God and George W Bush’s interests.
It seems remiss of God not to have ordered Bush to have a strategy in place for the period after he toppled Saddam Hussein as well. But there you go. The Bush God is a belligerent, obstreperous and ignorant war-monger. He cares nothing for the lives of women, men and children affected by his witless triumphalism. He rewards only the moral fervour of arrogantly incompetent white alpha males who cherish the delusion that American-style democracy must be adopted by the entire world, and it matters not who suffers in the pursuit of this implacable goal of blind universalism, as long as it isn’t them.
Politicians will always find reasons to send their populations to war, no matter how ill-founded, duplicitous, and opposed by the citizens those reasons are. The invasion of Iraq is proof of that statement. While that situation seems unlikely to change in the near future, what governments ought to be forced to do is made adequate provision for the wounded, in mind, body or both, when they return from doing their duty in whatever hell hole they have been assigned to by their governments. Anything less than this is scandalous.
What we need of course is a paradigm change. We need to cease our participation in what is, to paraphrase John Gray, the US myth of its manifest destiny as a redeemer nation, expressed in missionary-style politics with the salvation of mankind as the goal. As Robespierre noted in 1792: “No one loves armed missionaries: the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force.”
I’m encouraged by the perspective of this youthful blogger, who points out that while on Anzac Day we must commemorate those who died in battle, we shouldn’t be celebrating the wars in which we’ve participated. There’s nothing to celebrate in war. War is hell, and it is all too often good for absolutely nothing.