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John Cory: Promises to Keep

Promises to Keep

By John Cory
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributor

Thursday 22 February 2007

What the hell can you say? Veterans tossed aside like broken toys, discarded in the schoolyard of war. And everyone shouts, "This can't happen in America," when they should be shouting, "This can't happen in America - again!" There it is.

See, the dead are at peace, buried and gone. But the maimed wander the streets forever, reminding us of our sins. Support the troops over there so we don't have to support them over here.

That's the thing about survival; you've committed the ultimate sin and returned, dragging the dusty ghosts of war around your ankles and behind your eyes. Your lips taste of the cordite and sulfur and worse yet, you smell of need.

And now you're a stranger in a strange land. Everyone speaks a foreign language while your native tongue is Grunt. You speak security perimeters, RPGs and IEDs and how to "light 'em up." The System speaks bureaucrat, flinging form names and numbers that translate to deny, decline and delay. Counselors and "advisers" speak in acronym sentences that obfuscate and avoid. A grateful nation - sort of.

Then you wander into your previous life, where they speak of things that you have no clue about. Their language is familiar but alien at the same time. Lives have continued while yours was suspended somewhere between the duffle bag rag and death takes a holiday. They kept living forward while you spent ages every day living your life backward, remembering yesterday just to have a reason for making it into tomorrow.

A war veteran. That's what you are now. Don't mean nothin'. A pawn for politicians, a piece of your former self. Your songs are silent syllables and your dreams are closed doors without handles. Out there you rely on your Six, you trust the Point Man, and you know "Abilene" and "Racine Bob" have your back. But here - here, they shake your hand with a smile that measures you for out-of-sight shelf space. The discount rack. Your name, to be whispered when the children are not around. And you hear the phrases: "Oh, he hasn't been the same since he got back, just drifting and distant. Not the friendly guy he used to be. Not the same." Like a poor, crazy relative come to visit, to be tolerated until it's time to leave.

And still others want to know what it was like? Must have been hell, huh?

Hell? No. Hell is a dark room shared with rats and cockroaches while praying someone will come by and roll you over so you don't keep getting bedsores. Hell is counting the flakes of peeling paint on the wall just to kill time, to take your mind off the pain. Hell is paperwork in triplicate requiring proof that you did not intentionally run into that bullet in your spine but can provide the name and description of the alleged enemy who allegedly shot you. Hell, my friend, is hearing that your spouse and high-school-age kids working three and four part-time jobs make just enough money to disqualify you from financial aid, but not enough to make ends meet. There's a war on, you know. Budget cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy; that's what fuels the war effort. You act as though you've given an arm or a leg for your country. But if you do get disability pay - Buy Bonds! After taxes, of course.

Cowboy up, man! A little gunfire never hurt anybody.

They'll glue you like a hood ornament to the front of a parade float to raise money for politicians or make stirring pious patriotic speeches and then turn away with embarrassment while you gyrate and hobble and scootch into your wheelchair. They'll try to hide it, but you can see that look: it's pity, not patriotic pride. It's that "oh poor thing" blush while whispering thanks to the gods that it's you instead of them.

A war veteran. One night alone is too many, and a hundred nights alone is not enough. Try putting that into words that others can understand. Try explaining why the Fourth of July takes you back to Haifa Street or Vin Loc or the Ashau Valley or any of a thousand little villages in a thousand days of war. Offer up a tale of how the last explosion blew someone apart so powerfully that it embedded bone fragments through the metal roof of a truck. Then watch the reaction. Lost in translation, man. Watch the eyes go blank and hear the rush of rationalization, "It's over. Let it go and just get on with life. At least you're alive."

Don't you get it, Vet? You make them uncomfortable. You remind them their kin is safe and clean while they blow the trumpets of glorious war. You are the face, the name, the body offered up on this sacrilegious altar of lies and doom. You're the truth, the in-your-face reality of every falsehood uttered between their lips. You dared survive and now they must be held accountable. And all they can do is squirm.

Here's the deal, and it is simple.

Every Congressional office should be flooded with phone calls and email demanding not only an investigation, but also immediate funding and corrective action of the treatment of our veterans. Viewers should require every media outlet that has dedicated untold hours and resources to the Anna Nicole Smith story to cover the failure of this administration to prioritize the healing and medical support of our troops and the wounded and their families. ABC, so willing to air slanderous 9/11 material, should send their Extreme Makeover Teams to every VA hospital and regional center in the country to show their support of the American military and veterans. And every multinational corporation that has profited from the war, or will reap ludicrous benefits from tax cuts, should be inundated by consumers to donate time, money, and material to the very souls who have paid for their greedy lobbying. And every Democratic candidate must utilize each and every public appearance to speak out on behalf of veterans and push Congress to pass immediate legislative solutions. Surely the five-day workweek could be enforced long enough to take care of our most precious resource - our fellow American citizens, our friends and our family.

Veterans are not looking for anything special, just the decency of a promise kept. No one owes anything more or less. A promise kept - duty, honor, and country.

Let us plant gardens of stone
In this sandbox of war
And irrigate the furrows with tears.
Let us grind marrow to meal
Between bullets and pavement
And moisten the noonday soil with blood.
Let us whisper their names on the wind
Then watch them swirl like orphans
Blown by devils and dust.
Let us speak in silence
Let us turn away
Never make us face them
Please just let us pray.
We've paid no price
But feel their pain
Now let us pray
Just to forget.
Oh no, my friend
Let us pray
For our souls
Shamed by our sins of omission.
It is they who have paid the price
With a pound of flesh
And a ton of pain
So go ahead and pray
Just pray
That you never forget.



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