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(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Fall 2003 (Volume 33, Number 2).)

Living with Lies

By Dave Curry, Joe Miller and Barry Romo

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From the Fall 2003 issue of The Veteran

Two years have passed since 9/11 transformed our lives and our nation. Two years have passed in which the Bush presidency has revealed itself to be a very real threat to our freedom and a threat to the peace and welfare of all peoples wherever they live on the planet. In these times — in every day of our lives — we have become a people immersed in lies. The lies come so big and so often that it's hard to believe that we will ever be able to see beyond them.

Lie: The invasion of Iraq was justified. The connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda still does not exist. The weapons of mass destruction still haven't been found even though U.S. forces have access to the entire region through conquest. The imminent danger posed by nuclear weapons was fabricated. The complications of this tragic prefabrication are being played out with British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a major villain in his country.

Lie: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are victories. The occupation of both countries faces growing military opposition. Conditions deteriorate with one or two combat soldiers and larger numbers of indigenous civilians dying each day. Recently former senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and former VA director, spoke for many of us when he said, "Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance."

Lie: The Bush tax cut has put the economy on the road to recovery. The nation has gone from a record surplus to a deficit and growing national debt. The greatest portion of the Bush tax cut benefited only the most wealthy of Bush's constituents. Unemployment is approaching levels not seen in decades. Efforts are underway to uniformly reduce overtime for supervisory personnel. The request for 100,000 new volunteers seems to be a viable strategy, but many of us know recruitment in hard times to be an "economic draft." Now the economy is faced with the next $87 billion that Bush has requested to continue his wars and contract his corporate friends to rebuild the devastation he has wrought.

Lie: Homeland Security has made us all more safe. In the weeks after 9/11, U.S. citizens experienced sympathy from peoples of other nations. Now, after two conquests and two occupations, the sympathy for U.S. citizens has been transformed into hatred, perhaps at a level never before attained. The ranks of those who would make Americans the victims of violence have increased. Bush's Homeland Security program staggers along ineffectively. Funding for increased security has not been received by the local law enforcement and firefighting agencies charged with providing the protection. At the same time, all of us experience increased risk of repression from state violence under the Patriot Act and Patriot Act II. Anti-Patriot Act laws have already been passed in at least three states (including very Republican Alaska) and a growing number of municipalities. Attorney General Ashcroft has instructed U.S. attorneys to ignore the process of plea-bargaining (now 96% of all cases) and go for maximum penalties in every case. The result will be more expense for more trials and more prison construction.

Lie: The Bush administration respects and provides for the health needs of the nation's veterans. Bush has promised record-setting budgets for Veterans Affairs. At least 18 large inpatient hospitals each serving thousands of veterans have been marked for closing or conversion to outpatient facilities. Bush's VA secretary Anthony Principi has claimed to have already cut services for a half million veterans. A pending change in the definition of service-connected health problems is under consideration. This change will stop future claims for conditions not directly connected with injury in combat, such as those of the atomic veterans, Agent Orange victims, PTSD sufferers, and those experiencing the mysterious Gulf War I and II syndromes and diseases. Over half of the 697,000 veterans of Gulf War I are ill with 200,000 claims not processed. The National Director of the Disabled American Veterans has charged that the Republicans have "declared war" on disabled American veterans.

Lie: The Bush administration supports active duty servicemen and women. "He lied. They died." This is the ultimate truth for our men and women on active duty. Many of the combat personnel and support forces for the invasion were reservists and National Guard. Many were motivated by the little extra money for their families to get by on. But most served out of a commitment to being the needed human resources should our country be attacked or invaded. Preemptively invading another country that was not a tangible threat was not on their personal agenda or the nation's agenda when they enlisted. The proposed changes in eligibility could have the hardest impact on these future veterans, many of whom are already suffering from the mysterious "Gulf War pneumonia." Most of us now know that depleted uranium (DU) bullets and even the spent shell casings are radioactive. Future health problems related to DU ammunition are inestimable. As some Vietnam vets have suggested, we may have been better off in Vietnam compared to those now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latter do not know when their tours of duty are up. And with many logistical services such as chow "out-serviced," even food and water isn't dependably delivered. Hospitalized soldiers are being charged for their hospital meals. One soldier who died from Gulf War pneumonia was "medically retired" from the Army shortly after he fell into a coma. This limited the DOD's responsibilities to him and his family.

Truth: Repeating the truth in the face of so many lies can be a frustrating experience. The experiences of veterans and their families are a strong tonic against Bush's lies. We all have to continue repeating the truth, especially the most important one. The only way to really support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the veterans-to-be, is to bring them home now. Then we must push for the resources to begin to heal the survivors among this new generation of veterans.

Dave Curry was an Army captain in counterintelligence in Vietnam. Joe Miller was an enlisted man with the Naval Security Group just prior to the Tonkin Gulf incident. Barry Romo was an infantry lieutenant in Vietnam. All are members of VVAW's National Office.

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