As a Vietnam era veteran, I paid close attention to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s Veterans Day speech, delivered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Secretary Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, declared that we must learn the lessons of past wars, and not commit U.S. troops to unpopular, unwinnable conflicts. He purportedly referred to the Vietnam War, but he could just as easily have been describing the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. government and military apparently have misled themselves as they were misleading the American people, claiming that these occupations were necessary, had clear objectives and were winnable. As in Vietnam, they lied about their progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was light at the end of the tunnel, we were told, if only we allowed one more “surge.”
The U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have come at a huge price. Billions upon billions of dollars, much needed for improvements in the quality of life of the American people, were wasted on corrupt leaders and defense contractors. As many as a million Iraqis and Afghans, mostly civilians, lost their lives. Millions more became homeless refugees and orphans.
Six thousand U.S. troops lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, and an even larger number have taken their own lives since returning from war. Hundreds of thousands of veterans will continue to suffer from physical, psychological and moral wounds, and many are joining Vietnam veterans who are still living on the streets of our cities.