By Ken Kowald
Very early on in our disastrous intrusions in Afghanistan and Iraq, I began to do two things, both related to the effect of these wars on Queens.
More of that later.
Memories are short, so let’s do a little historical review.
Right after the murders of 9/11, we swept into Afghanistan, considered the sanctuary of Al Qaeda, to hunt down Osama bin Laden. We botched that job for many years. He’s gone now, but we are still spilling American blood in that awful place.
To distract us from our blunders early on in Afghanistan, we invaded Iraq in March 2003, because we were told Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and we were in danger.
We were lied to. Hussein had no such things. He was not a threat to us. He was not associated with the 9/11 horror.
We were lied to and the people who lied to us knew they were lying to us when they lied to us.
There is a circle in Dante’s “Inferno” in which liars like these will burn and suffer forever.
We were not prepared to fight wars on two fronts. In the beginning, we weren’t even prepared properly to fight in one place.
But on May 1, 2003, two short months after the Iraq excursion, we were told, from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, that the mission was accomplished. Indeed, a large sign with the words Mission Accomplished was displayed above the deck on which The Shrub made his triumphant speech. To this day, no one seems to know how it got there.
I suppose it is true that once you start lying about something, you can’t stop. Those who lied to us never stopped and never took responsibility for lying. To this day.
So more than 50,000 dead and wounded American men and women later, bin Laden is gone, Iraq is a sectarian mess and we are still in Afghanistan, with blood still spilling.
About those two things I did: Early on I tried to keep a record of how many Queens men and women were killed and wounded in those wars. I had to give up.
Certainly there were far too many from Queens in the 50,000 killed and wounded. We are out of Iraq, but Americans still die and are wounded in the place called Afghanistan that even Alexander the Great could not hold. Afghanistan, throughout history, has been a death trap for any nation trying to conquer it. The sooner we get out of there, the better. Internecine warfare will hold down the surplus population. And Mr. Karzai and his friends can spend their CIA money wherever they wish.
The second thing Elaine and I noticed was the abundance of flags and signs urging “Support Our Troops” which sprang up in many places in Queens early on. But, as the years and these terrible conflicts continued, there were and are fewer and fewer of both.
Sure, we wave the flag and raise the rhetoric on occasions like Memorial Day, July 4th and Veterans Day, but do we really care about our troops and our veterans?
After all, why should we? We were told we did not have to pay for these conflicts in higher taxes. At least not then. It was going to be a free and quick ride.
We are certainly paying for those conflicts today and will be doing so for years to come. So much for the worries about future generations.
Blood was a different matter, but since our armed forces are all volunteer now, that was of concern only to those whose loved ones died or were maimed, perhaps for life. How many of us, besides the families and friends of the 50,000, have really been touched by this toll of death and disability?
May I have a show of hands, please?
Maybe if we restored the draft, we would pay real attention to what is going on in the world.
Perhaps if everyone is going to be in the same boat, we would see to it that the boat we are in is secure and safe and not in the hands of incompetents and liars.
Before we wave the flags in Queens parades any more this year, consider this:
The Department of Veterans Affairs has more than 850,000 claims awaiting decisions. Nearly 70 percent of these have been pending for more than 125 days, the agency’s benchmark for “timely action.” Now the Department of Veterans Affairs claims it will deal with 250,000 claims one year or older within the next six months. Come back at Christmas for a holiday report. The question is: Which Christmas?
What is needed, in this age of great technological progress, is to digitize the paper-clogged process now used. Supposedly this is underway. Don’t hold your breath.
As for the backlog, we have been assured that it will be eliminated “by 2015.” If what I learned about the English language is still true, that would mean before Jan. 1, 2015. It is unclear, however, whether that is the beginning of 2015, or sometime before the end. English is not a strong point for some when it comes to helping our veterans. Nor is efficiency.
Jon Stewart has been talking about “The Red Tape Diaries.” He has pointed out to veterans in need that “in only two more years, they are hoping to have you wait four more months.”
So, wave the flags and don’t throw out the Support Our Troops stickers. Our young people are still dying and being wounded in body and mind.
Just remember the more than 50,000 dead and wounded. Just remember the 850,000 backlog of claims of veterans.
Just remember that maybe — just maybe — if we had a draft for public service, including the armed services, this nation’s political leaders (elected by you and me) might think more than once about shedding the blood of our country’s young people in such quagmires as Afghanistan and Iraq. It might include some of their own.
They might even stop lying for awhile.
Samuel Johnson said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. He was referring to false patriotism. We certainly have enough of that when it comes to our “leaders” who praise “our brave sons and daughters” and then ignore them.
They did it on Memorial Day. They’ll do it again on July 4 and Veterans Day and any other possible occasion when they place their hands on their hearts and look solemn.
But will we hear and believe someone who says “Support Our Veterans?” Isn’t it about time?
Maybe we can start such a movement right here in Queens, the most diverse county in the nation. Our truly brave sons and daughters could benefit from that. Too many are still in danger of wounds or death in the hell that is Afghanistan.