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The Lose-Lose War
Posted on Jun 14, 2007
Scheer: Let me wrap this with a question, going back to your particular expertise in medicine and this teach-in, which I attended also. I thought it was quite remarkable because you—the universities ... we don’t have a draft and most people sort of accepted this video-game view of the war. ...
Scheer: We don’t have much of an active antiwar movement. People can focus on their career and a lot of other things unless they happen to need it to go into the military as a career move or some misguided notion of patriotism. ... But this teach-in was impressive to me because here was a major university medical center that decided to have a teach-in on the medical effects of the war. Maybe we should talk a little about that because I think people have missed it. It was by coincidence we were attending a dinner in connection with this program and I got a phone call—my cell phone wasn’t turned off. It was from Ron Kovic, a guy who was wounded in the Vietnam War, and he had just got out of the hospital where he’s been for 45 days and he was calling me to talk about something. And I thought, “How amazing.” Everybody thinks, well, the war, maybe it’ll be over when it’s over. They forget that the wounded in these wars, whether they are Iraqi or Americans—these wounds don’t go away. ... You’re tormented by them. Kovic just came out of the veterans’ hospital after 45 days. His life was hanging in the balance. He was still dealing with the wounds. He’s three-quarters paralyzed, dealing with the wounds left over: where the tubes enter his body and everything, infections and so forth. And at this conference I was very moved by the emphasis of the costs of the war. The new kinds of injuries that are occurring and the way the military and the government is covering up. So maybe you should talk a little about that.
Wasfi: Sure. With all the supplemental bills and Pentagon’s baseline budget of $500 billion and everything that’s been appropriated for continuing our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite all that money floating out there, in 2005 the Veterans Administration healthcare budget came up $1 billion short. The only people who are not supporting the troops are the ones who’ve been delegated the responsibility to do so, and that’s our government. That is unacceptable that the troops who come home can’t get access to healthcare for six months. It is unacceptable that one-third of the homeless on the streets today are veterans. And there’re already Iraq war veterans showing up homeless on the street. It is unacceptable that after we put them in a war zone, when they come home we don’t take care of their psychological trauma. For that pool of a million or a million and half soldiers, the American military medical wing is very proud—as well they should be—that they have only a 9 percent fatality rate, which is significantly better than the last illegal war we participated in. But what they didn’t account for was that that would mean that there are a lot more wounded coming home requiring care. And just as the administration never planned for a resistance in Iraq, which was dumb, they did not plan for the results of that resistance, which would be the wounded. So you have 1 to 2 million Americans who are suffering the consequences and will for the rest of their lives. In Iraq you have a population of 26 or 27 million who all have post-traumatic stress disorder after living through—depending on their age—three wars and brutal and violent occupation. An entire population that has been exposed to bombardment. I don’t actually know the numbers for the injured in Iraq because one of the reasons I think the death toll is so high is that because of the destruction of the public health infrastructure during the first Gulf War because we incapacitated the electrical grids and the sewage treatment plants, because of the years of sanctions, the hospitals are in desperate shape. They’ve been completely decimated, and many of the doctors have fled. So people are dying from wounds that should not be fatal. I have a picture of a man covered in blood and he exsanguinated: He bled out and died from an injury to his scalp. The scalp is very vascularized, and so if you’ve ever cut yourself on the head you know it bleeds a lot. But if a hospital is not able to triage fast enough, if there aren’t the resources, if there aren’t stitches to close the wound, people are going to die. And this is why the death toll for Iraqis is so high. In this country we are very focused on winning, we’re all about being No. 1. The reality here is that America’s not winning. Iraqis aren’t winning, either. There’s no winner here. Everybody’s lost. If it’s the families on both sides of the ocean who’ve lost their loved ones, if it’s the Iraqi families who’ve lost their country, their security, their livelihoods, their loved ones. ... There is no winner here. But can we please cut our losses and advocate for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan? It’s really simple: You bring the troops home; they stop dying there.
Scheer: You’ve had some contact with American troops who are beginning a resistance.
Scheer: Maybe this is an oddly positive note because it shows the best side of America: people questioning, saying no, speaking truth to power.
Wasfi: Absolutely. I’ll quote Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who’s the first officer to refuse deployment on the basis of the Nuremberg principles that it’s an illegal war and he’s not supposed to carry out illegal orders. To loosely quote him, he says, “To stop an illegal war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it. Every one of us only has the control over our own actions, though it pains me to this day that I can’t control anyone else.” But we can each only control what we do, and there are thousands of soldiers who’ve gone AWOL either because of their psychological trauma or their physical traumas, or they recognize that Iraq is incredibly impoverished and that they were lied to and that they were used and lied to and told that they were going to defend national security and defend their country, which is what they signed up for, especially the National Guard, who signed up for helping within their state, and they are being sent to kill and be killed for corporate profit. And they’re saying, “Enough is enough. You cannot have my life for that.” None of the people who got us into this mess, be it Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Condoleezza Rice or any of the neoconservatives who were the architects for the plan of this war—Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser— they never served in the military. They don’t know what combat is about, and their kids aren’t sacrificing in Iraq. So put your money where your mouth is. And there are thousands who have said, “I’m not going to go die,” as Muhammad Ali did, taking an incredibly courageous stand back in the ‘60s, saying, “I don’t have a problem with any Viet Cong and I’m not going to go ten thousand miles to go kill for the slave masters here. There’s a time when this must end, and the time is now.” And that’s what these very brave young men and women are saying today. I have a lot of friends in IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War, which is at www.IVAW.org. And those who are standing up and making a public stand, who are refusing deployment and facing jail as prisoners of conscience. And more information on them can be found at www.couragetoresist.org. And then you can find out more about me at www.liberatethis.com.
Harris: Everybody has a choice. I know we are thousands of miles away, but we have a choice ...
Harris: ... as to whether or not we are going to continue to allow this to happen because that is what we’re doing. Every day you go to Starbucks and you forget about those men and women that are dying. You forget. So you have a choice. Dr. Dahlia Wasfi. Thank you.
Wasfi: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I had a great time.
Harris: For Robert Scheer, who’s drinking Starbucks, and for Dr. Dahlia Wasfi—I’m not going to let him say a word. ...
Wasfi: Dahlia’s not drinking Starbucks.
Harris: [Chuckles.] This is James Harris and this is Truthdig.
Scheer: [Off mike.] You lie! You lie! [Laughter.]
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