10.25.11 This week’s feature is about Vaughan Wilson, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, our war in Afghanistan, which is 10 years old this month. It’s also about the fact that a decade of war has created a generation of men and women directly affected by its costs and that, as a country, we’re really only just beginning to learn what that means.
My father is a Vietnam veteran. He wasn’t in the infantry, but he saw killing, and more importantly, felt the confusion of the shifting morality that characterized our alliance with the South Vietnamese Army. He went to war when the rest of the country was engaged in the civil rights struggle and a cultural revolution. Missing those changes may have been as painful for him as floating in a tin can in the South China Sea. The point is that wars end, and the warriors have to become civilians again.
These days our fighting men and women represent just over 1/2 percent of the country’s total population, and the lack of a universal draft means for the rest of us they are easier to ignore than ever before. Our veterans are returning to the country’s worst post-war economy in history with wounds, internal and external, that make enjoying a simple outing nearly impossible. The money to take care of them adequately would dramatically expand a Department of Defense budget that’s already grossly inflated.
Which means we all have to look in the mirror. Republicans and Democrats can argue about tax rates, about immigration and health care, about the role of government. But at some point we all have to agree that the defense, pharmaceutical, and agri-business lobbies have got legislators on both sides of the aisle so paralyzed that they can’t see the forest through the trees.
Whether that means occupying public spaces or going back to the drawing board on campaign finance reform is anybody’s best guess, but something has to give.—Giles Morris