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Review Ann Jones: They Were Soldiers

By Remy Benoit

When they were children, we wrapped bumpers about the inside edges of their cribs;
put locks on doors and cabinets and blocked stairways; we bought car seats, and endlessly held small hands. The years passed—we prayed when they started driving; we stayed up late nights waiting for them to come home safely. If they were lucky; if we could be there for them; if we chose to be there for them. If they were raised in places where fear, poverty, neglect were not their “invisible” but constant and too often too visible non-friends.

And then, and then we sent them to war, both our young men and our young women.
Was it their choice to sign up? Maybe, and maybe it was for economic opportunity, for promised education, for a hundred others reasons and yes, promises of recruiters.
Then the training came—the shaved head, the programming, the no thinking for yourself, follow orders—do what you are told without question for the good of the uniform, for the good of the unit, for the good of the country.

Yet no one, no training, no ideal of glory can train anyone for reality of war; for the constant on fear, unknown lurking threat of annihilation, powerlessness with bombs, dead comrades in arms splattered about or on you. It has been training to kill or be killed. It undoes all previous training in the reality of kill or be killed. Horrors happen; massacres happen; atrocities happen on both sides and the soldiers who remain alive have to live with them. They may come home whole in body; they may come home without arms/legs/arms and legs; personal body parts; traumatic brain injury; spinal injury; mental, spiritual, psychological injury.

They get battlefield care for injury; they are airlifted to hospitals for often multiple surgeries; they come back to VA facilities, families trying to help them, ill equipped to help them. They come back to long, long waiting lists for the VA.

They come home to nightmares, to not being able to relate to loved ones who have no idea of what they have known, of what they live with.

They come from a misogynist organization where rape of both sexes is swept under paperwork, bureaucracy, and basic keep it quiet for the good of the unit attitudes.

They come home changed forever, traumatized. While in service there is the “band of brothers” dependency, even though it does not apply to military rape by those who should have your back. When they come home, that band is disbursed; that stay alive support is not there, and those who have not been there, those who don't know, are not equipped to help.

Who are these soldiers? Why are they in the military? Ms. Jones points out with brutal clarity that many are from impoverished families; from areas where drive by shootings are the norm; from areas where the young know no hope of “getting out” without joining the military. They are also from families where generations have served; who grow up with the idea of service. And yet, when one young person says he felt he had a better chance of not getting killed in Afghanistan than he did in his own neighborhood, you know we have a problem at a time when our public schools are declining, funding cuts, leaving less chance of a decent life. At a time when Congressman Waxman called the corporate profits from these wars “the largest war profiteering in history”; while third country nationals are imported into virtual slavery to do the chores of supporting an army, we have a serious problem as soldiers with low pay are surrounded by the ill-defined responsibilities of private contractors making much bigger pay checks.

The Army also lowered qualifications for joining to fill in the ranks and those inductees include many with serious criminal records. They go to find a future in the throes of death and destruction. These are the members of the band of brothers and sisters who serve—who come home in transport containers which we used to call less euphemistically body bags; who come home minus arms, legs, personal parts; who come home with TBI; who come home with spinal injuries; who come home with ruptured hearts, minds, and souls.

Ms. Jones tells you their real story from the front lines—sharing their time on forward bases, on foreign soil, in wars they are told are endless. These are their stories and you need, as a citizen of this country, as a citizen of the world, and you need to face their reality—up close and personal with compassion, and deep, deep thought about alternatives. Too long have we refused to face the truths she so intensely spells out for us.

Is there a solution to all this? Yes, facing reality; facing the horrid, ugly, destructive force of war and choosing otherwise. There is choosing to find another way that builds lives, respects life and the planet; a way that eliminates from our cliched use of words, 'shall not have died in vain' and replaces it with 'led a full, joyful, and productive life.'

There is choosing to love our young enough to not send them into the evil jaws of the insatiable gods of war.

As always, all is in the choices.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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