By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The number at the official close of the operation was 4,424.
That’s the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
You remember that war, right? I ask because, despite the large number of casualties and staggering number of wounded (31,952), it seems as if the Iraq War has been forgotten by many.
Hell, it was basically forgotten as it was happening.
The same can be said for the war in Afghanistan. That war has claimed the lives of more than 2,300 American soldiers and sent more than 20,000 back to the US with injuries.
That’s nearly 7,000 young, American men and women dead. More than 50,000 injured. All in the past 15 years.
And yet, the overwhelming majority of Americans couldn’t name the capitals of either country, couldn’t locate either of them on a map if you spotted them the continents and couldn’t name a single major battle.
There are lots of opinions on how to determine whether a country is in decline.
I can’t imagine a bigger one than how it treats its soldiers – both during battle and afterwards.
And at that, we are failing.
Oh, I know there were many ceremonies around the country, including several in Alabama, on Monday, but those are spectacles for politicians and camera hogs.
The real measuring stick of how much we care about those who fight and die for the country comes in the everyday.
It comes by way of sacrifice from everyone, including the wealthy, like our president, who manipulate deferrals to escape the battles that the mostly poor fight.
During previous World Wars, and even during Vietnam, the wealthy were forced to sacrifice with their wallets, at least. Tax rates for the top earners were incredibly high (more than 90 percent for earnings above $250,000).
During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we cut taxes for the wealthy.
After an embarrassing mistreatment of soldiers after WWI, we made sure that wasn’t an issue after WWII. A G.I. Bill granted those veterans unheard of benefits.
Home loans and business loans were floated for almost nothing. College educations were handed out for free. Entire neighborhoods of nice, affordable housing were built.
It spurred the greatest run of economic prosperity in this country’s history and created the American middle class.
There have been no such benefits for the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Instead of giving them houses, we have banks that fraudulently foreclosed on soldiers’ homes. And we have a US Attorney General from Alabama who is actively working on behalf of a bank to make sure one of those illegal foreclosures sticks.
We have fallen well short of our promises on healthcare for all veterans, but particularly so for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Our lawmakers have fought them at every turn in getting coverage for obvious illnesses and denied them treatment for issues that originated from those wars.
And to make matters worse, as we fork over billions on top of billions to pay for overpriced, underused and often unneeded equipment, there is a steady fight in Congress and in the state houses all across this country to strip away benefits from soldiers.
To pay them less. To cover less of their health care. To cut back on tuition payments.
I suppose that this is just what happens when a country experiences a distinct and large earnings gap. Among the many disconnects between the haves and have-nots is one between those fighting the wars and those declaring war.
When you never cared about the people to begin with, it’s pretty easy to continue on not caring.
That doesn’t excuse the rest of us, though – all of us who do know a lot of those soldiers and grieving families. Our silence is just as bad. And our complicity, by allowing partisan politics to sway us towards indifference, is maybe worse.
We have allowed a generation of American soldiers to be mistreated and all but forgotten.
And for that, what we should also feel shame on Memorial Day.