(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Fall 2014 (Volume 44, Number 2).)
No New War in the Middle East
By Bill Branson
From the National Office
After Vietnam Veterans Against the War's (VVAW) 47 years, we are again witnessing the US at war in Iraq and Syria. Our country seems to be on the warpath, doomed to make the same mistakes yet again, not having learned the real lessons from our war.
Instead of learning from the Vietnam War, our leaders have once again attempted to whitewash the terrible truths with the Department of Defense's Vietnam War Commemoration (www.vietnamwar50th.com), and documentaries like Last Days in Vietnam. Under the guise of celebrating the service and the contribution of the troops, the heroism, and the spreading of "democracy," the government sweeps under the rug the after effects of our warfare, like the deaths caused by Agent Orange, the lack of benefits for veterans "dishonorably" discharged, the results of bombing a country into the Stone Age, and the political destabilization of an entire region.
How else would we find ourselves illegally bombing Iraq and Syria in 2014? Yes, the genocide ISIS has been carrying out is wrong and yes, the international community should address it. But the US led response of bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria is the same knee-jerk reaction that produced the current chaos in the Mideast, in the first place. When has bombing ever solved anything? It has repeatedly been the gateway to a much deeper and bloodier conflict.
First, we are illegally bombing Iraq, and now Syria. President Obama did not bother with Congressional approval or United Nations sanctioning before bombing ISIS. To say that this is within the President's power or that it falls under the laws Congress passed in 2002 to attack Iraq is a gross exaggeration and misinterpretation of US presidential powers. President Obama, now the fourth president in a row to be engaged in war with Iraq, seems doomed to follow Lyndon Johnson's legacy after Vietnam. Obama, like Johnson, began his presidency with a much-needed focus on domestic reform. Johnson launched "The Great Society," which included the Civil Rights Act, the Older Americans Act, and the creation of Medicare. But he ended up remembered most notably for taking the US to war with Vietnam.
President Obama took office with promises of closing Guantanamo, immigration reform, and healthcare reform. His leadership led to the greatest social reform since Johnson through the creation of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). But he has fallen short on many of his other promises and seems to be leading us back to an unnecessary and illegal war. Will his legacy be another war in the Middle East?
VVAW calls on President Obama and Secretary Kerry to end the illegal bombings in Iraq and Syria. Trying to bomb ISIS and Al Nusra out of existence will not work. We are killing innocent men, women, and children in the process. We are galvanizing the very people we want to "protect" by bombing cities where there are not clear enemy targets, including urban and rural targets with civilians and terrorists living side by side.
The US doesn't seem to have learned this yet, but the Middle East is a geographic region where western powers have imposed artificial borders. It is not homogenous like Germany or Japan was after Word War II. We cannot use bombs and soldiers to install democracy (a truly ironic statement if there ever was one) in areas with such diverse and mixed religious and ethnic cultures.
There ARE other ways to have an impact, and a positive one at that. The US has other strengths beside weaponry and bombs. If we truly want to eliminate terrorists like ISIS and Al Nusra, we have to be part of an international effort to provide support and resources, not bombs and casualties. We can't continue to be the source of destabilization and ultimately radicalizing groups in the Middle East and expect to end terrorism and walk away with our hands clean, with a victory in our pocket.
One of the primary roots of the ISIS easy victories has been the failure of the Iraq government to share power with the Sunnis. Congress and the White House must make this sharing happen, even though it means admitting the failure of our "nation building" and twisting the Iraq government's arm. How about we stop arming the so-called "friendly" rebels in Syria and work for a regional solution to the civil war? These alternatives will require hard work, and perhaps a long-term plan, but bombing and eventual boots ON the ground will only lead to further chaos.
And while the US is almost solely focused on the Middle East, what about addressing our own problems for once? We have such institutionalized racism that African American teenagers being murdered are all too common — Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown to name a few. Neighborhoods, like Ferguson, that are overwhelmingly composed of people of color are governed by nearly all-white police forces. Since post 9/11, these police departments have been armed by federal government grants providing military-grade vehicles, weapons and body armor. And all-too-often the police don't have the proper training for the appropriate uses of such equipment and tactics. This has to change.
As an organization that struggles for veteran's rights and benefits, we must also address the April VA scandal. The secret patient lists at the Phoenix VA contributed to the deaths of more than forty veterans and prevented 1,700 veterans from seeing a primary care provider at the Phoenix VA. This is horrendously tragic for veterans to have to wait so long to just get through the door to see a primary care doctor. But it is also not new. The VA is the largest health care system in the United States and the demand is growing. Vietnam-era veterans are now beginning to seek out care from the VA for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), conditions related to Agent Orange exposure and much more. At the same time, we've created a new generation of veterans that desperately need access to health care at the VA. This means 700,000 new patients added to the system in a few years.
There are those in Congress who succeeded in their call for Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki to resign, and are also calling for VA care to become privatized. But they are simply using the Phoenix VA scandal as a lightning rod for their own agenda. These are the same elected officials who could care less that veterans with less-than-honorable discharges have no access to VA services. The US Senate voted down both Senator Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act and Senator Sanders' Veterans Omnibus Bill last spring.
These are the same officials who fought against expanded Medicaid, which would have provided health care to 250,000 veterans in the states that chose not to expand the program because they weren't required to. Our country has an access to care problem, whether or not you are a veteran.
Former Secretary Shinseki had spearheaded the effort to decrease the backlog in processing veteran disability claims, which had gotten so much better in the last year. It is a shame that Shinseki, not those who kept his hands tied, has been forced into being the fall guy for the latest scandal. Now is not the time for politicians to be reactionary or to use this tragedy to further their own agenda. Instead, it's the time for us to fight for a stronger VA system that can meet the needs of ALL veterans.
There is much work to be done. Join VVAW in our calls to:
- Stop the bombings in Iraq and Syria;
- Stop militarizing our police departments;
- And start appropriately funding and prioritizing the restructuring of the VA system from the bottom up.
We hope you enjoy this issue of The Veteran!
Bill Branson is a VVAW board member.
Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons. Thanks to Bill Branson, Ed Damato, Robert Halgash, Barry Romo, George Weber, Ann Bailey, Vince Emanuele, Meg Miner, Poppy Kohner, Malaya Scipes, Ken Dalton, Brian Matarrese and others for contributing photos.
Commentary on VVAW.org:
- From the National Office by Joe Miller
- The River Keeps Flowing by VVAW
- The Struggle Continues by Joe Miller
- VVAW Still Teaching the American War in Vietnam: On Burns/Novick "The Vietnam War" by Joe Miller
- 50 Years of VVAW by Joe Miller
- For Peace, Justice, and Veterans Rights by Bill Branson
- The Importance of Vietnam and VVAW: Then and Now by Bill Branson
- Veterans Fight Back by Bill Branson
- From the National Office by Bill Branson
- No New War in the Middle East by Bill Branson
- From the National Office by Bill Branson
- Our War, Our Legacy by Bill Branson
- From the National Office by Bill Branson
- Get Out and Vote: Demonstrate Our People Power by Bill Branson
- What We Know and When We Know It by Meg Miner
- From The National Office by Bill Branson
- Blood on the Tracks - A Review by Horace Coleman (reviewer)
- From The National Office by Joe Miller
- Ken and Bill's Excellent Adventure by W. D. Ehrhart
- From the National Office by Barry Romo
- From the National Office by Barry Romo
- Soldier Jailed For Rap Lyrics Is Discharged by Dahr Jamail, truthout.org Reporter
- US Military Plans To Extradite Stop-Lossed Iraq War Vet to Iraq For Court Martial Over Protest Rap Song by Iraq Veterans Against The War
- A Letter to America: No Medal Jacket by Marc Levy
- The Worst Question You Can Ask a Combat Vet: Talking Dirty to the Kids by Marc Levy
- From Vietnam to Afghanistan: The Bling They Curse and Carry by Marc Levy
- The "Obama Drama" by Horace Coleman
- Matthew Hoh Resignation Letter by Matthew Hoh
- Just Like Hanoi Jane by Marc Levy
- Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan (the book) by Horace Coleman
- How What Happened in the Bush Administration Shaped What Happened in Iraq by Horace Coleman
- A Father traumatized by a son's wounds goes into action by Horace Coleman
- All Bets Are Off For Today's Vets by Horace Coleman
- Election Night Musing by Horace Coleman
- War Jokes Wanted: No Laughing Matter by Marc Levy and Susan Erony
- The Leftie Nation Throws a Rightie by Jerry Lembcke
- Thuy's Dream of Peace: Winter in America by Marc Levy
- Retraction of Article in the Veteran, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2008 by VVAW National Office
- Support PFC James Burmeister by Carol Rawert Trainer
- Support IVAW's Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan
- Fake Vets Chasing Fame by Marc Levy
- William Hugh Davis: 1948 - 2007 - Anti-war, union activist by Patricia Trebe
- President of Vietnam Vets Against the War - Year-long tour convinced him it was wrong by Larry Finley
- You Tube videos of Bill Davis
- Iraq Dead Ahead: A Brief Military History and Civilian Guide to Arlington National Cemetery Iraq Dead Ahead by Marc Levy
- The Horror of War Can be Catnip for Young Men by Jerry Lembcke
- Iraq War Resister Kyle Snyder Arrested in Canada, then Released: U.S. Army Requested the Illegal Apprehension by Gerry Condon
- Vietnam Veterans Against The War Endorses HR 508:Bring the Troops Home and Iraq Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2007 by VVAW National Office
- VVAW Supports All the Troops
- A Primer on the Whys and Wherefores of PTSD: Whatever You Did in War Will Always Be With You by Marc Levy
- What the Fuss Is All About by W. D. Ehrhart
- Winter Soldier DVD Now Available at VVAW Store
- From Vietnam to Iraq: Ignoring the Veteran Healthcare Crisis by VVAW & IVAW
- Vietnam Veterans and Iraq Veterans Release Memorial Day Report on Veterans' Healthcare Crisis by VVAW National Office
- VVAW Statement to the People of Vietnam by VVAW National Office
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Denounce Bush Proposal to Cut Vets' Benefits by VVAW National Office
- The Struggle Continues by VVAW
- Stolen Honor - A Dishonor: Vietnam Veterans oppose Sinclair Broadcast smear even in reduced format by VVAW National Office
- A Troubling Tribute by Jan Barry
- Defending VVAW Against Swift Boat Vets Lies by Keith Nolan
- 40th Anniversary of Gulf of Tonkin shows history repeating itself with Iraqi War by VVAW National Office
- Anybody But Bush by VVAW National Staff and Coordinators
- Vietnam Veterans Say Torture Policy Not an Aberration - Dates Back To Vietnam War by VVAW National Office
- Chicago Vietnam Veterans Against the War and supporters honor fallen servicemen on Memorial Day by Chicago VVAW
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement on John Kerry
- John Kerry and War Crimes in Vietnam by Jan Barry
- Living with Lies by Dave Curry, Joe Miller and Barry Romo
- On the Oil-Slicked Road to Empire: Are We Really Safer Now? by Barry Romo, Dave Curry & Joe Miller
- No War with Iraq No Blood for Oil or Ego by Barry Romo, Dave Curry & Joe Miller
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement on the "War Against Terrorism" by VVAW National Office
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement on September 11 Attacks by VVAW
- VETERANOS DE VIETNAM CONTRA LA GUERRA DECLARACION SOBRE LOS ATAQUES DEL 11 DE SEPTIEMBRE
- VVAW Statement on Robert Kerrey by Clarence Fitch Chapter of VVAW
- Remembering the Tonkin Gulf and After by Joe Miller
- Indian Wars & the Vietnam Experience by Ben Chitty
- Recollections:Brainwashing Busts Out at Cecil Field by Mike Woloshin
- "Peace with Honor" by Ben Chitty