By MITCH USMC05-09, Deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006
Originally posted at Socialist Action.
Veterans are tired. They are tired of a system that no longer listens to them, tired of longer deployments, tired of a medical system that takes days or months to respond. I have buried more friends to drug overdoses, drunk driving, and suicide than during my deployment to Iraq.
In 2012 military suicides surpassed military combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. We hear stories about how even after Congress made a law to stop the military from kicking out members with mental health issues, the Army discharged more than 22,000 soldiers suffering from TBI or PTSD. We see veterans stripped of their GI Bill benefits, stripped of their rights to use the VA, and unable to find a job if they were deprived of an honorable discharge.
Most members of Congress give speeches and implore the American population to support the troops, but nothing changes. I see my brothers and sisters suffering from a high unemployment rate, high rates of suicide, and homelessness. Those who stay in the military are emotionally and physically stretched thin with constant deployments to war zones.
The United States has been directly at war in the Middle East for almost 16 years. Yet, less than three quarters of one percent of the U.S. population has served in those wars. Washington’s war-making has fallen on the shoulders of so few. So, we come home to a country that does not understand us and has almost no reference for where we have been and what we have done.
We hear platitudes from the residents of our hometowns thanking us for our service, but those residents understand almost nothing about what our service entailed. We are marched out and honored at every major sporting event, but if you would have a conversation with the majority of the fans that are there, you would discover that they have no idea what they are honoring.
We are isolated and revered, meant to be put on a shelf and then taken down when America needs to be reminded of how great it is.
We also see no end to these wars. The last “progressive” president ran on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but launched military operations in Yemen and Libya, and upped the drone assassinations in Pakistan. His right-wing opponents preach that we should have boots on the ground in Syria and in Africa.
It is no wonder that we see the military and veterans flock to known “anti-war “candidates, people like Ron Paul. There was fervor for Ron Paul in 2008; I do not think most veterans understood his economic policy at all. What appealed to them was the promise of no more foreign intervention and getting the government out of your bedroom.
Of course, none of these Democratic and Republican party politicians plan to actually bring the troops home. Nor have any of them truly taken up our most basic needs. Everyone knows on some level that politicians are liars and celebrate us only when it is convenient to make a point.
But because we remain disconnected from and unheard by the majority of the American population, because we continue to see ourselves used as propaganda and see our epidemics of suicide and addiction ignored, many veterans embraced Trump.
Trump came along and said one thing that brought much of the veteran community to his side. He went on stage and said, directly, “Veterans are getting screwed.”
Veterans live day in and day out in a society that does not recognize just how terrible our situation is. So all it took for many to back Trump was that one loudly proclaimed and very true statement.
There has been a lot of good discussion about why many blue-collar workers in the rust belt were convinced to vote for the billionaire Trump, but less about why so many veterans did. I believe that it comes down to not having a strong voice on the left encouraging veterans to fight for a better future.
The collective spirit that is so central to the labor and socialist movements is intrinsically important to veterans too. The socialist movement should be a natural political home for those who signed up for a collective mission for justice but discovered too late that the wars were not about justice, least of all for them.
During and after World War II and the Vietnam War, radicalizing veterans became central to the leadership of the civil rights, antiwar, and Chicano and Black liberation movements. Many grew to become leaders of the socialist movement, as well. What voice do we socialists use today to show veterans that our movement cares about their struggles, can make life better for them, and would stop the “nation-building” and imperialism that is ruining so many lives?
I believe that socialists must introduce veterans to our ideals of working-class democracy, justice, and equality. The movement can show veterans that there is a way to stop the pain and trauma they associate with Washington’s “nation-building” projects.
There are more choices than military intervention or isolationism. Socialists can introduce the idea of real internationalism, where we build global solidarity based on common struggles against the war-makers in every capitalist capital and every corporate boardroom around the world. We can tell the history that proves that a workers’ movement can create a society that can really bring peace and prosperity to their lives.
The military taught us how integral it is for each member to do their job so the mission can be accomplished as a whole. It should be an easy task for veterans to understand how they can contribute to mass actions of millions of workers and strikes at the point of production and transport hubs, actions that could shut down the system, forcing our demands to be met. The response of a group of veterans to the needs of the water protectors at Standing Rock shows that this kind of thinking is in the air.
Now is the moment for socialists to turn to the discussion in earnest. Many weary veterans responded to Trump’s one true statement about their treatment, but we have so many more truths to share. We understand the economic draft. We know that one should not have to put oneself in harm’s way just to avoid unemployment and discrimination due to low income.
Socialists refuse to champion a society that trades lousy military benefits for lifetimes of traumatic brain injury, PTS, and early onset arthritis. Socialists oppose wars fought for the rich against the interests of working people at abroad and at home.
Socialists are for setting up a society in which the major decisions about war, peace, jobs, health care, housing, and education are made by working people themselves. Veterans need to hear this. They have also seen a lot and have a huge contribution to make to the struggle for this new world.