My senior year of high school was 1989-1990. About midway through that year, I went to the school to get on the bus to go to a town nearby to play in a basketball tournament. Before getting on the bus my teammate Allen’s father was talking to a group of people about how Allen had just signed up for a 6 year commitment in the Marine Corps Reserve. I stood there in rapt attention and because I wanted a way out of town and a way to get away from a less than ideal family situation, I impetuously asked to be put into contact with the recruiter. It was not long before Sargent Holmes was in our dining room in the small North Texas town where we lived extolling the virtues of life as one of “the world’s finest.” I decided to join for four years of active duty and based on my Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test scores, I had my pick of occupational specialties with a few exceptions. Sitting in the recruiters office I picked three different potential fields and was later given the M.O.S. (military occupational specialty) of 1345-heavy equipment engineer. A few months after my high school graduation I went to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA. We arrived on August 13, 1990, a mere 11 days after Saddam Hussein had foolishly invaded Kuwait.
I received my specialty training at Camp Lejeune, NC and then was stationed to the Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu in Hawai’i. In 1993, while on a routine training operation on the Big Island of Hawai’i, I was severely injured while performing preventative maintenance on a DTC 8606, a rough terrain fork lift, that we used to load ammunition and other military gear in support of the Third Marine division’s war games on the island. As a result of the accident I sustained muscle damage to both legs, tore a ligament in my right knee, developed back problems, and also ended up with post traumatic stress disorder. As a disabled veteran I was able to get a B.A. in history with financial help from the Veteran’s Administration. Those studies informed me in a way that the Marines and high school never had and are largely responsible for the following paragraphs.
Fast forward to 2017, and Memorial Day. As a former Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine) I want people to truly engage in remembering on Memorial Day. What do I want you to remember? Several things that fall under the umbrella of “the costs of war.”
The first thing I want people to know and to remember comes from the pen of Major General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his retirement from the Marine Corps, after a 33 year active duty career, was the most decorated Marine in the history of the Marine Corps. He received two Congressional Medals of Honor, the highest honor a member of the military can receive, along with a “fruit salad” of other medals (so called because of the various colors of the different ribbons of the medals.) He wrote a book entitled War is a Racket after his retirement. In the first chapter he wrote:
WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.
How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?
Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.
And what is this bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.
For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.
(Full text of the book can be found here) War is a Racket
So the first thing I want all Americans to know and to always remember is the wisdom of General Butler who said that war is a money making scheme in which the rich profit and the poor pay with their lives. It is NOT about preserving freedom or protecting us from enemies bent upon our destruction. The U.S. has not been invaded by a foreign power since 1812 and the enemies we fight are most often small countries whose militaries are incapable of attacking New York City, Des Moines, Iowa, San Francisco, CA or any other place on American soil.
The second thing I want people to remember is that the costs of the wars America engages in are enormous in terms of lives lost. We are often told to honor our veterans and those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms, which as previously seen is a completely spurious notion, but we are never asked to remember the millions of civilians maimed and killed as a result of American bombs being dropped or American troops invading countries full of poor people and resources that serve “American interests.” Those interests include oil, favorable taxation for American businesses, or land to put military bases on for strategic purposes. We are seldom told about the war crimes that occur (look up General Norman Schwarzkopf as one example) and often are kept from the truth about how many innocent lives are lost both directly as a result of bombs, missiles, bullets, and tanks as well as indirectly due to the loss of infrastructure, medical services, and the chaos of war in areas with deep seated, historical conflicts that are exacerbated by U.S. military interventions such as Iraq and Syria. Nor are we often aware of how the US government both engages in state sponsored terrorism like the “shock and awe” bombing campaign in Iraq and supports those who engage in similar acts of state sponsored terrorism such as our continual support of regimes in Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as a plethora of horrific dictators on nearly if not every continent.
How many innocent lives are lost? It’s incredibly difficult to say. During the Korean War, between 1.5- 2.5 million civilians were killed depending upon the source. The county I live in now in Pennsylvania only has around 600,000 people in it by way of comparison. For the war in Iraq, according to the website Iraq Body Count, between 175,000 to 195,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, though the Washington Post notes that the number could be much higher (see Why do we ignore the civilians killed in American wars? ) My point is this, millions of people have lost their lives because of wars instigated by American foreign policy, wars that never needed to happen in the first place. The lives of the Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Syrians are all every bit as valuable as the lives of Americans. None of those people was a threat to American soil, American lives, or American infrastructure. They were killed so someone, somewhere could make a profit. Our troops, whom we are constantly told to support, were used to kill and maim them in acts of state sponsored terrorism that are condoned by the American public in the name of “patriotism” and sold to us on the nightly news by media companies greedy for the advertising revenue that invariably comes in by the bucket-load when America goes to war.
So on this Memorial Day, I beg you to remember the millions of innocent victims of America’s wars. The millions of women, children, fathers, wives, husbands, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and dear friends whose lives were robbed from their families, all in the name of protecting “American interests.” Remember them, put yourself in the shoes of their family members, and think how you’d feel knowing that your loved one died so someone in a foreign country could make even more money. Then demand that the U.S. end their proxy wars, end their support of state sponsored terrorism and dictatorial regimes, stop the sale of arms to nations around the world, and use to use the troops solely for defense and infrastructure improvements. These wars are fought in the names of all Americans, using our tax dollars, while infrastructure in America crumbles, and social services are cut. There’s nearly limitless money for war but little for the poor and that is a travesty.