As a Vietnam era veteran, I paid close attention to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s Veterans Day speech, delivered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Secretary Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, declared that we must learn the lessons of past wars, and not commit U.S. troops to unpopular, unwinnable conflicts. He purportedly referred to the Vietnam War, but he could just as easily have been describing the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. government and military apparently have misled themselves as they were misleading the American people, claiming that these occupations were necessary, had clear objectives and were winnable. As in Vietnam, they lied about their progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was light at the end of the tunnel, we were told, if only we allowed one more “surge.”
The U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have come at a huge price. Billions upon billions of dollars, much needed for improvements in the quality of life of the American people, were wasted on corrupt leaders and defense contractors. As many as a million Iraqis and Afghans, mostly civilians, lost their lives. Millions more became homeless refugees and orphans.
Six thousand U.S. troops lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and an even larger number have taken their own lives since returning from war. Hundreds of thousands of veterans will continue to suffer from physical, psychological and moral wounds, and many are joining Vietnam veterans who are still living on the streets of our cities.
The primary achievements of these U.S. occupations have been the strengthening of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the creation of the fundamentalist army ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and the fomenting of bloody, sectarian civil wars that will persist for years to come.
So have we learned the lessons of history as Secretary Hagel cautioned on Veterans Day? Apparently not. President Obama announced this week that he has authorized sending an additional 1500 troops to Iraq (“at Secretary Hagel’s request”). General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress this week that “we are certainly considering” the deployment of U.S. combat troops to Iraq.
In the meantime, the U.S. is conducting a heavy bombing campaign against ISIL targets not only in Iraq, but in Syria, where over 850 people have been killed by U.S. bombs, including many civilians.
Our civilian and military leaders are clearly ignoring the central lesson of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam: U.S. bombs and troops cannot defeat insurgencies in other countries; only the people of those countries are in a position to determine their own futures. Furthermore, the U.S. has no right, legally or morally, to invade other nations.
If our government refuses to learn these lessons, then the people must make our voices heard loud and clear. We cannot allow our government to continue gambling with our precious blood and treasure, doubling down on failed policies.
Veterans For Peace is sending a message to the White House and the Congress. We are tired of senseless wars. We want an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. We oppose further U.S. involvement in the sectarian war in Syria.
Like millions of veterans of too many U.S. wars, we believe it is high time for our government to learn the lessons of history. Rather than repeatedly resorting to military intervention on behalf of so-called “U.S. interests” (typically the interests of the richest 1%, purchased with the blood of the poorest 1%), we believe that showing respect for the independence of other nations is the way to a better future for all peoples, at home and abroad.