Sunday, June 29, 2008
FOR LOVE OF A SOLDIER: Interviews with Military Families Taking Action Against the Iraq War
Lexington Books, 2008
FOR LOVE OF A SOLDIER is a collection of plain-spoken stories of families who have loved ones serving in the military in Iraq. It took me a while to get around to reading it because I thought, yeah, I know the drill: the poor bastards who joined up thinking they were doing something patriotic are getting screwed by the flag-pin-wearing neo-cons whose cronies are making billions off this war. And indeed they are. But once you start reading these 27 individual stories, it becomes up-close and personal. I found myself welling up at nearly every story I read.
The families are of divergent backgrounds. Some are old hippies with a long tradition of anti-war activism. Many others come from a long line of military service. Some are Republicans who were Bush supporters. In some ways, the latter’s stories are the most heart-rending because they recognize they are, to a degree, responsible for their grief and their loved one’s suffering or death.
Nan Beckwith opens her story by saying she used to be a Republican delegate. Her family has a tradition of military service that can be traced back twenty generations. Her son, Ryan, continues that tradition by serving in the Marine Corps. He joined up a year before September 11 and was sent to Afghanistan soon after the attacks. In the Spring of 2004 she got a call from him. He and his fellow marines were starving in the field. They had one MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) and a bottle of water each per day. That was all. She sent food, socks and medical supplies to her son and his buddies. Her packages got through with no problem. She writes that Kellogg, Brown and Root had an installation one hour’s helicopter ride away but claimed they couldn’t transport supplies to the Marines because of “rough terrain.” She says: “I live in Virginia. I don’t want to hear BS that they couldn’t send supplies because of rough terrain. My supplies got there. I believe Halliburton/KBR wanted to save a buck.” She adds: “I had no idea the man I voted into office would do what he did, what a corrupt administration it was going to be. I love the military. I love the U.S. Constitution; I’d take a bullet for it. I hate what they’ve done to our liberties. Don’t you mess with our Constitution! That’s where my outrage is. They betrayed my country.”
Joyce and Kevin Lucey lost their son Jeffrey to suicide after he returned from Iraq with severe PTSD and alcoholism. They describe things their son told them he’d witnessed, such as an older family trying to return to their home being gunned down by the Americans, such as children being run down by trucks, referred to as “bumps in the road.” Kevin says: “Joyce and I believed in our government. Even though we’d disagree with the administration, we’d never believe they’d be as bad as all the other regimes in the world.”
Many families talk about the difficulty of getting medical care for their soldiers. The VA often tries to avoid treating PTSD by claiming that the soldier had a pre-existing personality disorder. One Iraq vet was told by a Vietnam vet who’d sustained the exact same kind of wound how much better was the care he had received years ago, with a longer hospital stay and much more therapy. And it’s not only the soldiers who suffer. Anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, radical weight loss, hypertension, heart attack are among the symptoms that many of the parents and spouses of soldiers report.
When the family members joined or started chapters of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) their sons and daughters in the service were supportive. Contrary to common perception, most soldiers and marines know the war was based on deception and that there is no exit strategy. Many officers are supportive rather than critical of their soldiers’ activist families. Claire Andre says: “I thought ‘I’m going to research my way to the bottom of this, I’m going to find out what the point is.’ But there’s not a point….It’s all tragedy, and the government is incompetent.” Anne Chay correctly characterizes the” mission” as impossible; an occupying force cannot bring peace and stability to a country. “If we are the enemy, what are we accomplishing?” she asks. Many of the interviewees express sorrow and compassion for the fate of the Iraqi people whose lives have been made exponentially worse than they were even under Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime.
Jane Collins, who interviewed these families and brought together this book, notes that these anti-war activists are not stereotypical. Most of them have always held the military in high regard and are mostly just middle-aged parents who feel our troops have been betrayed by a corrupt and self-serving administration. So, too, the reader of this book begins to feel their sadness at how these soldiers and marines have been treated by our own government. This book should be read by every citizen and especially by those war supporters who prattle on about how they “support the troops.”