From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars - The Untold Story

By John Ketwig (reviewer)

They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America's Wars — The Untold Story
Ann Jones

(Haymarket Books, 2013)

They Were Soldiers came to my attention via, the online news and commentary site I trust as my primary source for awareness of what's happening in the world. This is one of those books "every American should read." Ann Jones is an accomplished journalist, photographer, and author who was, for a time, embedded with American forces in Afghanistan. She has reported on the impact of wars in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, and writes regularly for The Nation and

They Were Soldiers is a piledriver book, riveting and relentless. The author follows America's wounded from the battlefields of Afghanistan through the long journey home, interviewing medical personnel, victims, and family members at every stop along the way. She has uncovered statistics,and instances where statistics are very carefully not kept by the military, presumably because the data would be embarrassing. The observations in this book are heart-wrenching and infuriating. When we were in Vietnam, we said our wounded and dead brothers were "wasted," and we soon realized that our military considered us expendable. If anything, things are far worse today. Jones is fully appreciative of the many advances in medical care for the wounded, but she carefully documents that America's war effort does not include nearly enough medical resources to treat the terrible injuries happening daily in Afghanistan. Her descriptions of the wounds from IED devices made me understand as never before the effectiveness of those weapons, and the terrible damage they do to a human body. Clearly, technical progress has made weapons more devastating even as medicine has learned more about patching up the damages. I suppose human progress is marching on, but what a shame that we do these things to our fellows.

"It's not a huge number of people," the urological surgeon says, speaking of men who have suffered devastating wounds to their genitals when an IED detonated at their feet, "but the severity of the injuries, and the possibility of complications down the road—that weighs heavily. The kind of injuries—you don't have any idea of the devastation until you see it up close. This has been eye opening. It's given me a new understanding of the costs of armed conflict. Even being in the military, I didn't know." An ER nurse, an Army major on her second deployment to Bagram, says she has lost count of the number of quadruple amputees she has treated. Asked to describe the typical case she sees in the ER, she replies, "Amputees up to the waist. No arms. No legs. No genitals. Age 21 or 22. We cry."

Jones accompanies a quadruple amputee on a flight from Afghanistan to Landstuhl, Germany. She follows other wounded from Germany to Walter Reed hospital and interviews their families and their wives who must deal with young children and the daunting task of helping their husbands as they struggle to use prosthetic devices and wheel chairs, to deal with intense pain, and also the mental and emotional damage that occurs when the physical body is exploded. "Doctors and nurses in military uniforms told me again and again that the men are brave," Jones writes, and her simple words kick you in the gut. She follows the maimed to their homes, sees them struggle to carry on with life, and talks with their families about the challenges they all must face together. She discusses the suicides, and the addictions to pain pills and prescription drugs. She discusses the violence that has occurred once the veterans get home, and the MST (Military Sexual Trauma) that so many of our soldiers are forced to undergo. Most of all, throughout the book, Ann Jones decries the military's efforts to cover up these truths, to rationalize the devastation and maintain their blind adherence to "the mission" by denying their very humanity. Jones rails against the "God squad" of Evangelical Christian chaplains who have infiltrated today's military and created the impression among Americans that US military power is always "good," and "even a necessary adjunct to the accomplishment of Christ's saving mission." Military bookstores, she tells us, now stock racks of evangelical literature and far-right, conservative propaganda. She talks about PTSD, the emotional damage that is done, and the military's efforts to avoid the realities of what modern war does to the spirits of the people who witness its cruelty and carnage.

They Were Soldiers is not an enjoyable book. It asks hard questions about America's militarism, and the costs of our military adventuring around the world. Yes, Jones recognizes the human spirit that drives so many of the terribly wounded to get on with their lives despite the tremendous obstacles, but she also questions the overwhelming costs in human terms. America's wars since Vietnam have been created from lies and misrepresentations, and the military-industrial-intelligence complex has profited enormously. Our wounded veterans struggle on quietly, painfully, accompanied by their damaged families. We do not have adequate facilities to deal with the devastation, and there are scant signs that the situation will get any better soon. The powers that be would like us all to remain oblivious. Ann Jones' tremendous book shines a bright light into this dark corner of America's history. I strongly recommend that you read They Were Soldiers. As a veteran, a tax payer, and a citizen, I consider it one of the most important books I have ever read. Please read it. Think of it as a patriotic duty.

John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of ...and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam. First published by Macmillan in 1985, it is still available at most bookstores.

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