Small groups of people across the state stand in witness — in Deer Isle, Belfast, Blue Hill, Bangor, Bath, Wells, Bar Harbor, Skowhegan and elsewhere — every week of every year dating back to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Our numbers, few though they may be, remain pretty much the same, just as does our resolve.
Unfortunately, little else has changed with respect to the object of our protest — our wars. The inescapable conclusion remains that the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan, and soon perhaps in another alleged al-Qaida bastion — Yemen — are not in our interest. I use the word “our” with reservation, as perhaps some readers are embedded in the military-industrial complex. In which case, I’m wrong. Those who have vested interests in the defense industry would seem to be the only beneficiaries of our military expeditions.
The rationale supporting the wars and occupations has become more transparently bogus and, as a consequence, all the more offensive. The reasons for invading Iraq, long ago, have been dispelled.
With regard to Afghanistan, the argument goes we are there to defeat al-Qaida. Last June, CIA director Leon Panetta informed us that there were “50 to 100 [al-Qaida in Afghanistan], maybe less.” Could we possibly be waging a war against a force smaller than the Maine State Police with nearly 100,000 troops and untold thousands more mercenaries? That we’re fighting for self-defense doesn’t pass the straight-face test.
Maybe we’re in Afghanistan to defend women’s rights, though this, too, seems specious and pernicious. The repression of women is still prevalent. Forced marriages are common, and many women are denied access to education.
When it comes to human rights, news out of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram, and news of targeted assassinations (think drone strikes) hardly lends sheen to our own image. Nor does the inclusion of a brutal Saudi monarchy among U.S. bedfellows.
The connection between a devastated economy and our war expenditures is practically a taboo topic, politicians and the mainstream media evidently finding the subject toxic. We’ve sunk more than $1 trillion into today’s wars and occupations, and the cost of the Afghanistan war is north of $350 billion (see National Priorities Project).
Residents of Maine, engaged in the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign, are exposing the relationship of our military expenditures to domestic woes (see bringourwardollarshome.org).
In the end it comes down to the maiming and the killing. Who knows how many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have returned emotionally scarred? Veterans Affairs reported that 143,530 vets were being treated as post-traumatic stress disorder patients in 2009. The question should be raised, “How much of the emotional stress could be attributed to what has been asked of these soldiers?” The unvarnished truth is that they are bombing and killing the inhabitants of other countries, often in their own homes.
Echoing a voice from another quagmire, when villages were destroyed to save them, The New York Times reported that NATO forces were destroying hundreds of homes in Kandahar. And the United Nations reports that more than 2000 Afghanistan civilians have been killed in each of the past four years. No wonder the majority of Afghans want us out of their country.
Forty-two native sons of Maine have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each life is priceless. No matter how we’d like to believe our sons and daughters and neighbors are fighting for freedom and democracy, it’s a myth. Their well-intentioned sacrifices seem sadly and irrefutably made only to the benefit of the powerful elite. Adm. Gene LaRocque famously said, “I hate it when they say, ‘He gave his life for his country.’ They don’t die for the honor and glory of their country. We kill them.”
As residents we all are complicit. We should be striving to understand why we are committing our treasure and our men and women to these foreign campaigns, and we should be registering our conclusions with our elected representatives.
Dud Hendrick of Deer Isle is president of Maine Veterans for Peace Chapter 001.