Letter - ‘At war’ and ‘not at war’

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How can we be so “at war” and so “not at war” at the same time? We have been at war since 2001: roughly 6,800 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 50,000 have been wounded. Next to the worst cost, the human cost, these wars have cost Americans about $4 trillion.

Yet, we see no caskets and hear little about our casualties, while the absence of a military draft has more or less eliminated any formal protests against these wars that the American people no longer support.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has taken on new meaning as our wars keep droning on far in the background of our lives. The current plan is to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for two and a half more years.

In Sebastian Barry’s 2011 novel, “On Canaan’s Side,” the narrator’s son comes back from Vietnam “like an empty house with a ghost in it.”

“Ed died clearing land mines in Vietnam,” his mother notes, “(he) as good as died or at least did not come home, or ever could find his way.”

Les Farley in Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” (2000) admits: “I kept thinking about Vietnam ... That’s how I began to know that I can’t die. Because I died already. Because I died already in Vietnam.”

Auschwitz survivor, Charlotte Delbo, writes:

Whether you return from war or from elsewhere

When it’s an elsewhere

Unimaginable to others

It is hard to come back ...

Whether you return from war or from elsewhere

When it’s an elsewhere

Where you’ve conversed with death

It is hard to come back

And speak again to the living.

The year 2012 proved Delbo’s point: For the first time in our nation’s history, during a war, more active-duty service personnel died by suicide than in combat. More than 400,000 post-deployment veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated for mental health conditions.

Anything less than absolutely everything to help sustain these haunted Lazaruses, victims of our insatiable greed and collective madness would be completely unconscionable.

Patrick Henry

Walla Walla

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