I'm 64 years old and I'm tired, America

Count me out of this next Middle East venture. For my entire lifetime, we've been at war with someone and I know where this Iranian crisis leads

Stephen Lyons
Wednesday 08 January 2020 18:12 GMT
Donald Trump says US continues to look at its options and will impose 'powerful' economic sanctions on Iran

America, excuse me if I sit out your latest war. Call it citizen’s combat fatigue.

You see, I am 64 years old, old enough to have experienced this nation at war, well, pretty much all the time I’ve been alive. None of them ended particularly well. OK, maybe Grenada was a success, whatever the heck that was about.

The rest of the excursions in my lifetime, from Korea, to Vietnam, to El Salvador and Nicaragua, to Iraq (twice!), Afghanistan (hello, still there!) and now Iran, are simply reruns of the same doomed ill-conceived ventures that leave in their wake charred corpses, hollowed-out villages, thousands of homeless refugees and our own country more divided than ever.

With each failed foreign policy plan carried out in the name of what is now mostly a myth about spreading American democracy, we have become a nation in perpetual war. It might keep our weapons factories at full capacity, grow our bloated military budget and make for fetching props during presidential campaigns, but at what cost?

In the late 1970s when I was living in northern California, where the weather is mild enough to kind of live outside, I used to see the homeless and wandering crazed Vietnam veterans who haunted the coast. They were still young then, facing what we now know was going to be a miserable future with little mental health support.

Today, our towns, cities and hospitals are filled with similar young survivors of two Gulf wars who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and horrific physical injuries. Their futures, too, are uncertain.

But the amount of suffering, deaths and permanent disruption for those in the countries that we bomb and occupy is even greater. We sanitize the trauma by calling it “collateral damage.” I call it the deaths of innocent women and children.

Really, is any of this worth it? Concerning the Vietnam War, here is what former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said on July 7, 2009: “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong.” No kidding.

Last month the Washington Post ran a series of revealing investigations about our 18-year unending war in Afghanistan. To sum up, the report, which relied on 400 “insiders”, showed that the American public was (once again) lied to as to how much progress was made in that troubled country. Those insiders included three-star general Douglas Lute, who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, who confessed, “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” Really? I never would have guessed.

Am I the only one sensing a pattern here?

This past week, between rounds of golf with cronies in Florida, President Trump authorized action which could well drag us into a prolonged war in — where else? The Middle East. Pentagon officials were reportedly “stunned” to hear of his decision to kill Iran’s second-in-command General Soleimani. (I find it revealing that Pentagon officials were not stunned enough to speak out in protest about Trump’s orders, but stiff spines in Washington are in short supply these days.) Was it because of the death of an American contractor? Was it because of the assault on the American embassy in Baghdad? Was it because impeachment has been dominating the news cycles? Can Donald Trump even point to Iran on a map?

Should I have any more confidence in our so-called leaders today than 50 years ago? Do I rally around a president who lies hourly, who directs foreign policy from a Twitter account and who, in following the heinous examples set by the Taliban and Isis, threatens to obliterate 52 cultural sites in ancient Persia? Do I believe the president when he says all he wants to see is a “de-escalation of tensions”, hours after making such threats?

So here we are. It’s Groundhog Day. Déjà vu all over again. Wave the little flags. Cue the parades. Drag out the giant displays of patriotism for the NFL playoffs. Hand over heart. Thank you for your service. Bombs away!

On a recent trip to Toronto I saw a bumper sticker that read “All War Is Terrorism.” Four words that were true the year I was born and even truer today.

Stephen J. Lyons is the author of four books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is "Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times"

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