The Best Kept Secret in Washington:
history, the recording of battle deaths has graphically illustrated the
terrible cost of war. But those who want a more accurate portrayal of that
awful price should instead look to the wounded—those brave men and women who
return home from combat with debilitating injuries to find that the battle, for
them, has not ended.
In some wars, a deliberate effort was made to
maximize the number of enemy soldiers maimed, not killed—on the logical
understanding that one or more others on the opposing side would be tied up
caring for the wounded, while the dead need minimal care.
From World War II to present, there have been
612,875 Americans, mostly young, who have lost their lives in the service of
the nation. An additional 928,900 returned to their homes suffering from wounds
they received on the battlefield.
In the war in Iraq, as of July 9, 882 U.S.
servicemen and servicewomen have been killed, and, according to the Pentagon,
in Iraq the ratio is estimated to be about six wounded for every battle death.
But the Pentagon is not telling the whole truth.
Calling upon various resources, in and out of the
military, American Free Press estimates that as many as 30,000 American
servicemen have been sent home from Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of battle
wounds, accidents and illnesses.
On May 1, President George W. Bush declared that
the war was over in Iraq. It’s been more than a year since that time, and,
every week, large transport planes are still arriving at Andrews Air Force Base
loaded with wounded soldiers, all unseen by most Americans.
According to experts AFP consulted, among those
30,000 airlifted from Iraq and Afghanistan are an unknown number of seriously
wounded, who, like thousands of others before them in previous wars, are hidden
from the public.
No one knows—or at least no one has been able to
find out—just how many of these men still exist in underfunded Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities throughout America, and possibly abroad, as
the U.S. government maintains no public accounting of the “living dead.”
As this scenario of America’s “living dead” plays
out during the Iraq war, the irony is that, according to recent reports,
“Kevlar helmets, body armor equipped with ceramic panels, field improvisations
to personal and vehicle armor all have contributed to better protection against
[often fatal] bullet and shrapnel wounds but have left the extremities
Some have had their faces blown away or suffered
irreparable brain damage. Some have no limbs, and some are totally paralyzed.
Somewhere in the many facilities run by the VA,
these men exist, hidden away in the department’s 163 hospitals, 135 nursing
homes, 43 domiciliaries and 73 “comprehensive home-care programs.”
How many of these men are there?
The American Legion doesn’t know. The Veterans of
Foreign Wars (VFW) doesn’t know. The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) doesn’t
know. Not even the Purple Heart Association admits knowledge, and they should
be aware of every soldier wounded in combat.
American Free Press contacted the VA, which didn’t
respond to our repeated inquiries. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the chairman of
the Senate Armed Services Committee, also chose not to reply.
For Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been almost
impossible to get an accurate accounting of the number of wounded.
In the February 16 issue, American Free Press
first reported on the untold story of the thousands of injured U.S. military
personnel being treated in a German military hospital. Reporting from the
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, military officials told AFP that 12,000 U.S.
servicemen and women had been brought to that one facility to receive treatment
before being sent to military hospitals in the United States.
According to Army Col. David Hackworth (retired),
speaking more than six months ago, on Dec. 30:
“Even I . . . was staggered when a Pentagon source
gave me a copy of a Nov. 30 dispatch showing that since George W. Bush
unleashed the dogs of war, our armed forces have taken 14,000 casualties in
Iraq—about the number of warriors in a line tank division.”
That means “we’ve lost 10 percent of the total
number” of available personnel—135,000. That 10 percent “has been evacuated
back to the United States,” said Hackworth. In other words, our forces have
effectively been decimated.
It gets worse.
Lt. Col. Scott D. Ross of the U.S. military’s
Transportation Command revealed to Hackworth that as of last Christmas his
“outfit has evacuated 3,255 battle-injured casualties and 18,717 non-battle
injuries, a total of 21,972 servicemen and women.” Ross conceded that some of
the personnel involved might have been counted more than once
A poignant reminder of the cost of war was well
portrayed in the 1946 motion picture, The Best Years of Our Lives, which showed
the impact of war on the young men who must leave home to fight for their
country’s politicians and bankers.
The movie portrayed a young man who had lost both
arms in battle, a part played by a genuine wartime double-amputee, Harold
Russell won an Academy Award for best supporting
actor and won accolades throughout the nation for his courage, bravery and
It is sad to reflect that he ended his years on
Earth after having been forced to sell his Oscar to survive.
On a warm day last June, a young American soldier,
standing, erect, proud and unbowed, was caught by a Fox News camera as he
raised the stub of his arm to salute his dead commander in chief, former
President Ronald Reagan, laying in state in front of him.
Like Russell, the unidentified soldier was young
and obviously very dedicated to his country.
Little has changed between 1946 and 2004, with the
best years of the life of the young soldier from Iraq’s battlefront, who is now
destined to live out his life having gone off to fight when his country called
but then coming home leaving a part of him behind.
But this young soldier and Russell are not the
soldiers of this article. They can be seen. We are writing about those who
For some 30 years this writer has written about
soldiers, the nation’s missing in action and prisoners of war, who have been
written off by official Washington, in many instances with our leaders knowing
of their existence alive in enemy captivity.
Now it occurs to this writer that he is again
writing about POWs and MIAs. These are men who are prisoners of their wounds of
war. They are missing from sight due to the concerns of government military and
veterans service establishments, which fear that by allowing them into the
light of day, it would reveal the real cost of America’s ventures into
globalism, international corporate greed and now—as in Iraq—oil.
Furthermore, the stress of battle has taken its
toll on our soldiers’ minds. Many have been driven to suicide.
Better records have been kept in Bosnia. From
them, Defense Department officials have determined 15-16 percent of medical
evacuations were for mental health reasons.
“Stress is not something you just have in that
foxhole,” said Bernard Rostker, under secretary of defense for personnel and
readiness. There is evidence that unchecked stress plays a major role in
changing behavior, such as increasing substance abuse, including alcoholism,
and in the most extreme cases, suicide, he said.
Over the past 12 months there has been an
unusually high number of suicides among U.S. troops in Iraq. Hundreds of
soldiers experiencing psychological problems have been evacuated from the
country. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement authorizing the
extension by at least three months of the tours of duty of some 20,000 soldiers
set to return home, and the possibility of intensified guerrilla warfare, may
add to the stress suffered by GIs in Iraq.
In response, the government has increased the use
of “combat stress control teams,” established a toll-free crisis hotline for
service members having problems dealing with stress and set up recuperation
centers where soldiers can rest for a few days before returning to the front
lines. But questions about whether these actions are too little too late, and
how the soldiers will be treated when they return home, remain unanswered.
Twenty-five soldiers have taken their lives during
the past year in the Iraq occupation. In addition, there have been seven
suicides among newly “State-sided” troops, including two soldiers who killed
themselves while patients at Walter Reed Army Hospital, The Toronto Star
No information is available on how many returning
soldiers might become murderers as a result of their wartime experiences.
The New Yorker (July 14) interviewed a returned
soldier named Carl Cranston.
Cranston and his men had to establish
roadblocks—notoriously dangerous duty. “People would approach with white flags
in their hands and then whip out AK-47s or rocket-propelled grenades,” he told
the magazine. So Cranston’s group adopted a policy: if a driver ignored signs
and the warnings and came within 30 yards of a roadblock, the Americans opened
fire. He said, “A couple of times—more than a couple—it was women and children
in the car. I don’t know why they didn’t stop.” Cranston’s squad didn’t tow
away the cars containing dead people. “You can’t go near it,” he said. “It
might be full of explosives. You just leave it.” He and his men would remain at
their posts alongside the carnage. No wonder some soldiers go insane in this
kind of war.
At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington,
D.C., some 3,000 amputees from the Iraq war and occupation have been treated to
date. Each prosthetic arm or leg can cost U.S. taxpayers up to $100,000.
Veterans know the price of war, and many are
willing to talk about it.
“George W. Bush is the only president to delight
in posing for photographs, in combat gear, with real soldiers as one of ‘the
boys,’ ” a WWII vet told AFP. “However, he knows absolutely nothing about war
and its costs. If he were to take a tour through a veterans hospital and see
some of the devastated young men his belligerency has produced, he might have a
different view of his record.”