The Cost of War

I was reading a little note in history this morning that sparked my thinking.  It was the story of how Washington D.C. was born; a place that didn’t belong to any state, and was federally controlled.  Apparently it all started because of unpaid bills; particularly because a large majority of the soldiers in the revolutionary war never got paid.  In one military camp in 1777


George Washington (a general at the time) wrote that more than a quarter of the 10,000 men stationed there were suffering from malnutrition and did not even have shoes.  Not surprisingly they died.  The stories of how much the soldiers from the revolutionary war suffered are startling really.  Many of them used their own money initially because they weren’t getting paid and by the end of the war many were destitute and sometimes in debt themselves.  Once discharged from the army many of them faced debtors prison.  So a group of soldiers from Pennsylvania mutinied and marched to Philadelphia to demand their wages from congress.  The state of Pennsylvania refused to use the state militia to defend congress and sided with the mutineers.  The mutineers joined with troops in Philadelphia and surrounded Independence Hall 400 strong demanding their wages.  Though angry they never opened fire or killed anyone.  Congress refused to submit to them, considered them dishonorable and instead congress simply fled.  Eventually they decided that they wanted congress to convene in a place that did not have to depend on the states for their safety.  Thus Washington, D.C. was born.

In addition to finding this historical fact interesting, it made me realize that we haven’t changed a whole lot in regards to our attitude towards those who fight for us.  Although I am a pacifist, I am also compassionate.  I wrote a blog post before about how I don’t really understand why anyone would choose to have someone else tell them who they should kill, that doesn’t mean I think soldiers deserve to be treated inhumanely.  And the fight for independence from an oppressive state is a just cause to fight.  But I look at the 40 years of history and see how soldiers were treated after Vietnam and after our most recent and ongoing conflicts and it is clear that there is a fundamental disregard towards the soldiery who do make great sacrifices.  And don’t get me wrong, I am not one to believe that all military are heroes or that there aren’t people who aren’t heroic in other walks of life.  This disregard I speak of is not the rhetoric of clueless hippies who would spit on a veteran or jeer at them and call them killers, but I am talking about the disregard from those who would get them to fight and yet not suffer the same fate that many of the soldiers go through.   Soldiers going without proper nutrition, proper equipment, proper medical care after or during their service should be the shame of any civilized nation (and don’t worry I’m sure the U.S. is not alone in the treatment of soldiers).

Although not a shocker it really hit home, that with but a few exceptions, politicians are the true cowards.  Whether the conflict be just or not, they move the soldiery like pawns to where they want and then, fight the battles that they deem important (whether supported by the general public, or sometimes they lie to the general public to justify the conflict) while never depriving themselves of any of their needs.  I think back to those congressmen fleeing Philadelphia, never having to worry about their pay, their nutritional needs, despite the debt they had racked up for the fledgling country.  And nothing has changed since the country’s inception, including the fact that we still rack up massive amounts of debt for these military ventures.  John Fogerty’s song “Fortunate Son” is an excellent reminder about how even the children of those in congress were protected from going to war, while those that are poor are considered expendable and cannot get out of the draft.  I will never understand how

PTSD just one of the many injuries sustained by veterans during war, and one that is most often ignored historically.

those we elected to serve the people enjoy so many more privileges than those who they send to fight the wars that they deem necessary.  Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time understanding why someone would join the military because who wants to fight for a group of politicians, who for the most part demonstrate less honor and nobility than they expect you to have as you kill for your country?  Why should one sacrifice their one existence on this Earth for somebody who is unwilling to do the same, but is happy enough to send you to fight their battle?  Either way it seems to me that we should be taking care of our veterans properly.  Those politicians who treat the soldiers like pawns are easily replaced.  In fact that’s kind of the point of democracy is that politicians can and eventually will be replaced for one reason or another and the country will go on.  Thus there is no additional value to their life than is there is to the soldiers and vets.  And on a final note, let’s do something about the large amount of poverty, income inequality, weakening education system and deteriorating infrastructure so that those soldiers can at the very least feel like they fought for something.  I am not taking sides politically, I think the issue of taking care of those who need it the most is one that crosses party lines.  I am exhausted watching politicians speak rhetoric, distort the truth, outright lie, and play games while the world burns around them only to see them get pay raises, most of their expenses paid, receive kickbacks from lobbying groups and essentially walk away from Washington far richer than when they walked in.  So you can be mad at the Michael Moores or the Seth Rogens for their comments about the military (of course those comments are misinterpreted) but the ones that truly don’t really care about those that fight their battles for them are in Washington, D.C.  – the city built to absolve themselves of responsibility to their military.

5 thoughts on “The Cost of War

  1. This definitely does happen in Canada, too. In fact, recently the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs was punted out of his portfolio and sent back to his original one in Defence because his actions were so disgraceful. Not to say that if he can’t handle veterans well, he can handle military or national defence any better, but just to support your point that the US is not the only one that does not treat its veterans well.

    Isn’t it the case that in the US, the President is still technically the head of the military? The Commander in Chief? And I think that’s why many candidates for that job do point out their own military service because they know it matters to a lot of people, but it seems to be less so these days.

    It kind of reminds me of that Star Trek episode (original series) where those two planets are at war and killing each other by computers, people being told they have been considered as casualties and walking into disintegration booths right on their own planets to die. Gone are the days when kings and emperors set out with their troops to kill in hand to hand combat–THAT is war. That is savagery in a way that makes you think twice about going to war in the first place. You have more to lose, and you become more committed to avoiding war if you can. At least that’s my opinion.

    I remember Grandpa used to complain about the upper echelons of the military here in Canada–especially so when they were having that debate about Sikhs wearing turbans in the military. He said they were all a bunch of people on a high horse that never saw a day of battle in their lives and don’t know what the heck they’re talking about! It seems to me that they do waste more time having those types of discussions than what really counts, like how to provide better services for veterans and help them deal with PTSD and education and what not.

    I met a corporal once though an old job who had served in Rwanda, Macedonia, Bosnia (2 tours, at that), and Afghanistan. He had joined right out of high school. When he was allowed to retire from the military, he was still relatively young, around 45, and applied for a job as a Sherriff, which was a new law enforcement team in the province that are more like security guards with some privileges of cops, and he was told he wasn’t qualified because he didn’t have a university degree. He was so discouraged and demoralised. I was outraged, but there was little I could do.

    I, too, question why someone would join the army when you’re just going to risk death and then get pooed on when you get home for a bunch of politicians that are deciding your fate. I get why they want to protect our country, but yes, better to protect it at the right times and for just causes. And I am also sad when I think about these things.


  2. koppieop

    …..I have such a hard time understanding why someone would join the military because who wants to fight for a group of politicians, who for the most part demonstrate less honor and nobility than they expect you to have as you kill for your country? Why should one sacrifice their one existence on this Earth for somebody who is unwilling to do the same?…

    Reading these lines, I find it difficult to express my own thoughts on war, but I’d like to add here the way Boris Vian worded his protest. It is written in French, and I think that the Im Translator program has interpreted it rather well. Thank you for posting this comment. Greetings.-

    And I will proclaim to the people:
    Refuse to obey
    Refuse to act
    Do not go á war
    Refuse to go
    If it’s necessary to give blood
    Go and give yours
    You are a good apostle,
    Mr. President.
    If you pursue me
    Tell your gendarmes
    That I will carry no weapons
    And that they can shoot me

    (Boris Vian,The Deserter)


  3. I agree with you. I mean when I look back on something like WWII, and maybe people simplify and glorify it, it seems like war was the right answer to stop Hitler. Maybe something better could have been done better prior to WWII to suppress Hitler, like not completely leave Germany without any self-determination abilities after WWI or better negotiations…or who knows. Perhaps we learned a lesson there, but once Hitler began his conquest, it seems that fighting was the right thing to do. I don’t know. But I can see, fighting being necessary in some situations, even if the situation might have been avoided in hindsight. It also seems to me though that no conflict that America has gone into since was really justified and I have hard time understanding why we’ve been sending young men and women to fight wars, and selling it in a way that dehumanizes muslims, when if our moral ground was firm, we could justify it on those terms without dehumanizing people in the middle east (or Vietnam, or Korea before that). My grandfather fought in WWII and so maybe that is my bias towards believing that was a worthwhile fight. But I have learned that there are good men and women who fight, and I think it is also the very reason why so many soldiers struggle with PTSD afterwards, because war has to take it’s toll on the psyche. Regardless of the propaganda a government spills out, I think it is a rare personality that believes so strongly that who they are killing is not human, that most others suffer deep feelings of guilt and the death around them, whether it be their friends or the enemies. War has always been brutal, but in the old days the King of rode to war with his men. Those days are gone now.

    I like your poem and I have another blog post that I go through the questions that go through my mind about war a lot more, and also comment on how odd it is that we glorify the military so much here in America. Hopefully you will find it an interesting read.

    Thank you for reading my blog, and thank you for your excellent comment (and a great poem!). It’s always comforting to know that I am not alone in my questions. 🙂


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