“Ours is not to reason why, ours but to do and die” -Alfred Lord Tennyson
I’ve been turning this concept around in my head for the better part of two weeks. What I’m going to say here is not popular or comfortable. Not much of what Kinetic Syndicate does ever is (we don’t care about having a seat at the “cool kids” table.) But, this piece will definitely get me labeled as a dove, a pacifist, leftist libtard, and any other buzzword the ronin/Viking/sheepdogs of the internet can sling at me.
I watched Lone Survivor last week and it really got me thinking about Operation Red Wings and the SEALs who were lost. That in turn had me thinking about Operation Anaconda in the years prior and the men lost there. Then, in a different theater, Operation Phantom Fury, and the men we lost there as well. I thought long and hard about the sacrifices of this nation in the name of…what?
That’s my point. Outside of the brotherhood, the sacrifices of our country over the last 20 years have been for nothing. Outside of medical advances, and new gear, we have gained nothing at the expense of blood and treasure. That is not to say that lives given for brothers was for nothing and it is certainly not to say that there wasn’t an abundance of bravery, as there still is. I’m saying that there was no benefit to our nation, or the nations in which the conflicts took place. Hell, it’s been shown that adequate records weren’t even kept during the GWOT.
We try to highlight the possible causes of the civ-mil/vet divide as well as the myriad mental health, employment, and education issues surrounding the veteran community. A massive part of the veteran milieu is that of identity. The military identity; the acquisition, definition, cultivation, and ultimately, the removal of it. A large part of what forms this identity, I contend, is our deeds in service—our accomplishments. One of the most important parts of who we are as veterans stems from our service. Personally, I’m not a fan of this concept, but I won’t deny the existence or importance of it. Whether I think we should cling fervently to deeds done a decade ago is irrelevant in this context. What matters is that there is a need to feel like the things we did, the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters was for a benefit to the country. And I think a large part of the discontent is the refusal to acknowledge that it may have been for nothing, a war with no end goal and a war that has never had accomplishments defined, or if they were defined, sustained. It’s a fact that no one seems ready to acknowledge, in D.C. or in the veteran community. I know I wasn’t. I had many a knock-down, drag-out with people who dared question the worthiness of the endeavors that had cost the lives of so many of my friends. But, as time has gone on, I’m starting to see their point.
There are still those out there to desperately try to hold onto and argue the fact that we have established infrastructure, built schools, trained military, and planted the seeds of democracy in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of that is true. And it’s also true that democracy takes time and investment. However, it’s more true that none of the infrastructure, schools, military forces, or seeds seem to have held over the last 4 years or so. The Taliban is back in control of a majority of Afghanistan and Iraq is a shit-show that we’d rather not even mention publicly (ISF are kicking ass, yes, but that is not in and of itself a worthy recompense for American lives and money.) All of the “dog and pony” that has gone on during the GWOT has turned out to be exactly that. There is no national benefit to the U.S. from new asphalt or new libraries (even if they’ve not been destroyed yet.).
Gen. Mattis stepped down. It’s sad, but he did so out of a disagreement as to troop drawdown and withdrawal. While I love and respect the man like a rugged grandfather, I can’t help but think that withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan is the more worthy option barring any solid endgame for either conflict. It’s become a path dependency at this point—we send troops to theaters because it’s what we have been doing for 18 years. We do what we’re doing because it’s the way it’s always been done.
Mankind has been at war since the first proto-human smashed in the head of another. However, humanity has always fought wars over resources, be it land or alliances. Conflict had to be “churched-up” for the young and impressionable in a variety of ways: God, country, duty…but in the end, it was always about resources—getting yours, keeping yours, or keeping someone from getting theirs. In regard to the recent U.S. conflicts, this doesn’t seem to be the case. We have gone to war with and against ideologies that aren’t even particularly definable anymore and we have nothing to show for it. We have a long list of venerated dead, a hall of heroes from a conflict with zero benefit to anyone. And I think this is something that has created a wound in the psyche of the American Veteran Community. We sit around and reminisce about the good ol’ days, we tout our individual accolades, we stroke off personalities within the community, but we very rarely ask what was gained from all of this, the longest conflict in our nation’s history. And when we fail to ask things like that, the next time a conflict looms on the table, we are even less likely to learn anything. The GWOT, and the lack of any tangible victory, has been the elephant in the room for too long and if it stays there, it’ll not only cost more lives and money, but also continue to negatively impact the veteran community’s sense of well-being. We fought a war, and the realization that it was all for nothing seems to loom like a shadow over the head of every GWOT veteran, unacknowledged and unchallenged.
There is a gaping wound in the soul of he community and refusing to look at it, learn from it, accept it, and begin to patch it up is not doing anyone any good—just like the war itself.