Monday November 11th is Veteran’s day, the day on which politicians from all corners of the Democratic and Republican parties emerge to give speeches and make gestures honoring the soldiers who have died in the wars waged by the U.S. Big parades are held, tears are shed by families and loved ones, but no one asks the most simple and obvious question – What did these people die for?
In the last two decades, the U.S. government has ordered thousands of men and women to fight two brutal wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, U.S. troops have carried out attacks in Pakistan and Libya. And the U.S. military was almost put into motion to attack Syria.
The results of these military attacks speak for themselves. In Iraq, an estimated three million people have died as a direct result of violence, or through malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical care. Violence in Iraq became extremely intense during the occupation. In 2006-2007 an average of 3,000 people were killed in paramilitary violence per month. The government itself executes from twelve to twenty prisoners per day.
The war devastated the infrastructure and the economy. Nearly one quarter of Iraqis are unemployed. Today over 40 percent of Iraqis are living below the poverty line. One in five Iraqis do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. Most Iraqi households only receive four to six hours of electricity per day. Two million Iraqis have fled the country to escape these conditions.
During the war, the U.S. military used weapons containing a radioactive element called depleted uranium. The rate of cancer and birth defects in Iraq has skyrocketed with 50 times as many Iraqis diagnosed with cancer than in 1991.
Afghanistan is no better off. No one knows how many Afghan civilians have died in the war, but estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. One in five Afghan children die before the age of five. In addition, 3.7 million Afghan refugees have fled to Iran or Pakistan.
The wars have been by far the worst for the populations of the countries which the U.S. has occupied. But what about the soldiers who fight the wars? Over two million Americans have been sent off to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Over 50% of these soldiers have been sent more than once, and many four times or more. Over 7,800 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those who survive, more than 360,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered brain injuries. At least 18 percent of female and 20 percent of male soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. Veterans also suffer from exposure to the same depleted uranium that they used in Iraq. Thousands of soldiers are developing blood cancers and other disorders due to depleted uranium exposure.
Veterans face a horrible economic situation when they return. Benefits and programs for veterans are underfunded and almost impossible to access. In 2011, the average unemployment rate for veterans aged 18-24 was 30.2 percent. On any given night, 120,000-200,000 veterans are homeless, living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings. That is about 23 percent of the total homeless population.
The soldiers don’t just bring home wounds, they bring home the violence which is a way of life during war. As many as one in three female soldiers are raped by male members of the military. Domestic violence has increased dramatically. The divorce rate among military couples has increased 42 percent throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And 18 U.S. veterans commit suicide every day.
What is the purpose of these wars? Nothing honorable whatsoever. The U.S. government wages war to dominate the globe and secure resources for the profit of the big banks and corporations. Do the sons and daughters of the rich and politicians fight their wars? No, they leave that up to the poor and working class. This Veterans Day, rather than listen to the proud speeches of these warmongers we should clearly say – the only way to honor the dead is to refuse to let war be waged in our name.