Detailing The Horrors Of War

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - April 28, 2010

America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played a central role in the last three national elections. Patriotic support for the wars he’d launched gave George W. Bush a second term in 2004. National weariness with the same wars gave Democrats control of Congress in 2006 and helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008.

But in this year’s special election for Hawaii’s 1st District congressional seat, America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are seldom mentioned. In his television ads, City Councilman Charles Djou presents himself in his Army Reserve uniform (though he has yet to be deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq.). On his Web site, he says that he “understand(s) that we must combat terrorism wherever it is found, whether in Iran, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions, or in industrialized cities around the world.”


On his Web site, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case asserts in bullet form: “Support our President’s/military plans for withdrawal from Iraq and stabilization of Afghanistan. Continue policy of constructive engagement with rest of the world. Work with other countries to address problem states such as North Korea and Iran.”

On her Web site, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa states her support for “President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to assist existing forces in stabilizing the region. The sobering reality is that 9/11 did occur, and it could very well happen again. We must take all reasonable actions necessary to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Sobering indeed. So too is the $1.5 trillion that has been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the $40 billion that will be spent this year on the additional 30,000 troops President Obama has authorized to be sent to Afghanistan.

Then there are the 4,390 young American service men and women who have been killed in Iraq and the 31,762 who have been “seriously wounded.” Add to that the 1,047 Americans killed in Afghanistan.

Sobering too is the reality that an estimated 13,000 American troops have spent more time in combat - three to four years cumulatively in various deployments - than any veterans in our nation’s history.

And finally, sobering are the record level of suicides among those returning from service in America’s current wars and the soaring divorce rates among returning service personnel.

Wars leave indelible marks on those who fight them, and anyone who doubts that needs to watch The Pacific, the 10-part HBO television series on the World War II ground war in the Pacific Islands.

Wars kill and maim. My generation was brought up on sanitized war - the Sands of Iwo Jima school of filmmaking in which men died in World War II, but they seldom bled and were never dismembered. And the American men in arms, no matter their level of stress, always acted nobly.

The Pacific is based loosely in part on Marine Eugene B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa. Sledge saw far too much killing and maiming, too much blood and dismemberment. “War is such self-defeating, organized madness the way it destroys a nation’s best,” he wrote.

And wars too often make savages of those who fight them. Sledge describes a fellow Marine prying gold fillings from the mouth of a severely wounded Japanese soldier. “Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim’s mouth. The Marine cursed him and with slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer’s lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier’s mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly.

“I shouted, ‘Put the man out of his misery.‘All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier’s brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.” Sledge’s description of the incident, slightly altered, made the miniseries.

War kills even those who physically survive it.

“Something in me died at Peleliu,” Sledge wrote. “Perhaps it was a childish innocence that accepted as faith the claim that man is basically good. Possibly I lost faith that politicians in high places who do not have to endure war’s savagery will ever stop blundering and sending others to endure it.”

I hope Capt. Djou, former U.S. Rep. Case and Senate President Hanabusa are paying attention to The Pacific.

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