Sunday, November 4, 2007

BROKEN PROMISES:"When I Came Home" a documentary about Iraq veterans, homelessness and the price of peace

Do you find yourself wondering what is going on in Iraq? How many years has it been now? Have the media become too numbed to the news coming out of Iraq that the daily bomb attacks don't make front page anymore? And what has happened to the people who have come back from Iraq? Are we going to see more and more young folks alongside of Vietnam vets on the street?

Many people I know are so disgusted by the idea of war that they see soldiers as active part of the evil military machine, so they blame them for even signing up for the army. This is a familiar argument mostly coming from well-off liberals, who don't really want to look beyond the ideological dimensions of the problem at hand. Frankly, I think that to blame soldiers uncritically for being 'guilty by association' in an unjust war is a very simplistic way to approach the problem (or to be a little more forceful, I think it is also partly responsible for many of the vets' failure to readjust to ordinary life and for their eventual decision to becoming homeless). Though in many ways, I'm an idealist when it comes to peace and justice, I can't help but to think that one also has to be a pragmatist with issues like war. First of all, every highly educated middle-class liberal who rejects soldiers for 'signing up for war and wanting to kill', should face the fact that the history of the world has always been a story of conflict and reconciliation. If you don't have a means to protect your country, a more powerful one with an army might take yours out. Look at Europe...have they learned from the two world wars? The recent Balkan conflict proves the contrary. This is not to say that I support the idea of the military. I'm just being realistic.

People form communities around an identity or uniting principle (family, tribe, place of origin, ethnic background, political or religious conviction, etc), and in order to maintain the survival of that group identity, they will often use violent means...some group only use it to defend itself, while some create ideologies that justify an offensive use of violence. The fact is that without a military, or an ally with a powerful military, no country can survive today, whether one likes it or not. Of course, I don't like it, but am willing to live with it as I don't think I have any other choice. I think that the more important issue to focus on is how to make sure that the military stays out of war. Having grown up in a country that in the 20th century had gone through two world wars, a civil war, and forty five years of totalitarian government, I have somewhat of a different perspective on the realities of war and the price of peace.

The uneasy paradox that anti-military US liberals are turning a blind eye on is that they ARE, in a way, a beneficiary of the have the kind of economic opportunities, education, freedom to travel, or the freedom to criticize the government is partially the result of the fact that this country has a the world's mightiest military. One can try to deny it, but it is nonetheless the case.

In fact, I'm willing to push that point even further: the reason why we have this relative freedom and comfort is because there are people out there who have NO CHOICE but to take jobs below the poverty level and have NO OTHER CHANCE to escape poverty but to enlist in the military. Would you ever think of measuring a glass of orange juice in terms of its human cost, or entertain the thought that it may have come from a dirty use of human labor? You don't have to go to China to find Florida, for instance, you can find illegal immigrants exploited and practically employed as slaves on orange plantations (I don't want to distract from the main point, but you can read up more on this horrifying reality... here I will write on this later).

Most philosophical arguments against the war are fueled by a frustration with abstract is easy to blame "the military" and "the government", but when one humanizes these concepts, the issue becomes a little more complicated. Without a doubt, I do believe that those behind the decisions to engage in the Iraq war and the handling of current African and Latin American political affairs should be criticized and made accountable for. The list is endless. But when one is willing to look beyond philosophical abstractions, one can discover another alarming social reality behind the war.

Face it, many of the soldiers come from low-income marginalized communities who see the military as the only way to leave the world of poverty, to have a decent education, and in fact have no desire to kill, but are willing to fight and die for a country they love. And if you noticed, the military has no shame in specifically targeting minority youth with their recruitment team. The proliferation of military video games as a conscious recruiting tool is very alarming too.

So for me, the question to think about is rather how to maintain my stance against the war, without overlooking the sacrifices that individuals make for my security and comfort. What I'm trying to say is that instead of being an armchair political activist and argue endlessly about corrupt government officials and the evils of the army, one should try to understand the bigger picture. Personally, I refuse to shy away from trying to untangle the complexities that effect the lives of individuals involved in this mess.

So here is another slice of the bigger picture. There are more than 1.5 million new veterans in the US and the number is ever growing. Many come back with missing limbs, severe trauma (PTSD-post traumatic stress disorder), and with memories that will leave a scar on their psyche forever. If you think that in exchange for their service, the military takes care of its soldiers...well you should reconsider. Follow-up mental health care for veterans is known to be poor and often non-existent. And now I realize that the situation for veterans from low-income communities is even more dire. Like the illegal immigrants who are forced do the dirty job to keep prices low, many of these vets get rejection and humiliation upon their return to home and are stripped of their dignity.

The documentary, "When I Came Home", is a story of the realities behind the war that was based on lies and faulty premises. It is about Herold Noel (27), a Brooklyn veteran, who after returning from Iraq, found himself homeless because the army that he'd served, decided to turn its back on him. It is a sobering story of broken promises, hypocrisy, and the search for reclaiming dignity.

Watch it. Learn. Get out of the ideological armchair and put things in perspective. Dig deeper and ask more questions. Have compassion.

Here is a description from the film:
"When I Came Home is a documentary film about homeless veterans in America: from those who served in Vietnam to those returning from the current war in Iraq. The film looks at the challenges faced by returning combat veterans and the battle many must fight to receive their benefits from the Veterans Administration. Through the story of Herold Noel, a homeless Iraq war veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and living out of his car in Brooklyn, the film reveals a failing system and the veteran’s struggle to survive after returning from the war. When I Came Home follows Herold’s battle with homelessness and PTSD as he tries to get help from the VA, city agencies, and various veterans organizations."

By buying the DVD, you can support select homeless veteran organizations. Click here to read more about it here.)


RoseCovered Glasses said...

We have a military veteran friend who was honorably discharged during the Vietnam era. He served in the US Navy while having dual citizenship (Canadian/US). He was born in Canada and his family moved to New York when he was a child and became dual Canadian and US Citizens.

After discharge my friend worked in the US for over 3 decades, paying US taxes and Social Security. When it came time to retire and apply for his pension he was informed that the US Department of Homeland Security had revoked his US citizenship and did not recognize his Canadian citizenship.

The Social Security Administration will not begin his pension payments until his citizenship issue is resolved. He has been trying to work this matter through the VA, his local representatives in government (congressional level) and directly through the Social Security Office. No one seems to know what to do, who should take action and who has responsibility. The DHS will not reply to his inquiries. Any ideas?

Marcus Kwame said...

Thank you for posting this. You hit the nail on the head with everything you said. I'm putting a link to this in the veteran post on my blog.