My Taoist friend Maj ran poetry workshops for veterans. He used to say that every culture has its warrior class. We can have all the pacifist idealism we want, but in reality, humans always designate protectors. The question is, how do we treat those designated warriors, who sacrifice themselves to defend the rest of us?
If you were one of the many Americans who let out a huge sigh of relief when you heard there were no injuries to American troops, after Iran’s January missile strikes on US bases in Iraq, maybe you’ve also heard the updated recount:
34 traumatic brain injuries.
Half these injured soldiers have been deemed sufficiently recovered to return to their posts. Of the remaining injured, one was evacuated to Kuwait and since returned to duty. 18 more were transported to Germany for treatment. Of those treated in Germany, half were then flown stateside, to Walter Reed or their home bases, for further treatment. Nine remain in Germany—according to one report, due to injuries rendering them not yet stable enough for further transport. But reports are sketchy, despite the Pentagon’s reputed intention for transparency.
Even as the facts emerged in the press, our Commander-in-chief continued to claim repeatedly that no Americans were hurt in those missile strikes, referring to documented traumatic brain injuries as “just headaches.” This astonishing lack of respect and care for our troops might have left me speechless, if it did not so enrage me. TBI, as I am sure you know, is a serious and potentially life-altering injury. For some, who sustain milder concussions, it may recede altogether, but it can become a chronic disorder for which protracted rehab and recovery are required. Some people with TBI remain disabled for life, both physically and psychologically.
It should also go without saying that with an all-volunteer force, a disproportionate number of our soldiers these days are from families with limited means, and many of them are people of color.
So, as usual in our country, those with the least power and resources not only bear the brunt of our military endeavors. They also bear the disrespect of invisibility.
I don’t have an upbeat or redeeming comment for the end of this blog. And this isn’t by far the only recent outrage of our rogue administration, which has kept me up nights. If it were up to me, we’d never have had troops in Iraq at all, but whatever the politics of how they got and remain there, our soldiers deserve better than this.