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Howard Zinn: The Ultimate Betrayal

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  • ummyakoub
    The Ultimate Betrayal by Howard Zinn Published in the April, 2004 issue of The Progressive http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0219-05.htm - photo: Sgt. Jeremy
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2004
      The Ultimate Betrayal
      by Howard Zinn
      Published in the April, 2004 issue of The Progressive


      Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch, blinded in Iraq, and his mother
      with sixth graders recently in Blairsville, Pa. (NYT
      Photo/Ozier Muhammad)

      I cannot get out of my mind the photo that appeared on
      the front page of The New York Times on December 30,
      alongside a story by Jeffrey Gettleman. It showed a
      young man sitting on a chair facing a class of sixth
      graders in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. Next to him was
      a woman. Not the teacher of the class, but the young
      fellow's mother. She was there to help him because he
      is blind.

      That was Jeremy Feldbusch, twenty-four years old, a
      sergeant in the Army Rangers, who was guarding a dam
      along the Euphrates River on April 3 when a shell
      exploded 100 feet away, and shrapnel tore into his
      face. When he came out of a coma in an Army Medical
      Center five weeks later, he could not see. Two weeks
      later, he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze
      Star, but he still could not see. His father, sitting
      at his bedside, said: "Maybe God thought you had seen
      enough killing."

      The newspapers on December 30 reported that 477
      American GIs had died in the war. But what is not
      usually reported is that for every death there are
      four or five men and women seriously wounded.

      The term "seriously wounded" does not begin to convey
      the horror. Sergeant Feldbusch's mother, Charlene
      Feldbusch, who, along with his father, virtually lived
      at his bedside for two months, one day saw a young
      woman soldier crawling past her in the corridor. She
      had no legs, and her three-year-old son was trailing

      She started to cry. Later she told Gettleman, "Do you
      know how many times I walked up and down those
      hallways and saw those people without arms or legs and
      thought: Why couldn't this be my son? Why his eyes?"

      George Bush was eager to send young men and women half
      a world away into the heart of another nation. And
      even though they had fearsome weapons, they were still
      vulnerable to guerrilla attacks that have left so many
      of them blinded and crippled. Is this not the ultimate
      betrayal of our young by our government?

      Their families very often understand this before their
      sons and daughters do, and remonstrate with them
      before they go off. Ruth Aitken did so with her son,
      an Army captain, telling him it was a war for oil,
      while he insisted he was protecting the country from
      terrorists. He was killed on April 4, in a battle
      around Baghdad airport. "He was doing his job," his
      mother said. "But it makes me mad that this whole war
      was sold to the American public and to the soldiers as
      something it wasn't."

      One father, in Escondido, California, Fernando Suarez
      del Solar, told reporters that his son, a lance
      corporal in the Marines, had died for "Bush's oil."
      Another father in Baltimore, whose son, Kendall
      Waters-Bey, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps, was
      killed, held up a photo of his son for the news
      cameras, and said: "President Bush, you took my only
      son away from me."

      Of course, they and their families are not the only
      ones betrayed. The Iraqi people, promised freedom from
      tyranny, saw their country, already devastated by two
      wars and twelve years of sanctions, were attacked by
      the most powerful military machine in history. The
      Pentagon proudly announced a campaign of "shock and
      awe," which left 10,000 or more Iraqi men, women, and
      children, dead, and many thousands more maimed.

      The list of betrayals is long. This government has
      betrayed the hopes of the world for peace. After fifty
      million died in the Second World War, the United
      Nations was set up, as its charter promised, "to save
      succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

      The people of the United States have been betrayed,
      because with the Cold War over and "the threat of
      communism" no longer able to justify the stealing of
      trillions of the public's tax dollars for the military
      budget, that theft of the national wealth continues.
      It continues at the expense of the sick, the children,
      the elderly, the homeless, the unemployed, wiping out
      the expectations after the fall of the Soviet Union
      that there would be a "peace dividend" to bring
      prosperity to all.

      And yes, we come back to the ultimate betrayal, the
      betrayal of the young, sent to war with grandiose
      promises and lying words about freedom and democracy,
      about duty and patriotism. We are not historically
      literate enough to remember that these promises, those
      lies, started far back in the country's past.

      Young men--boys, in fact (for the armies of the world,
      including ours, have always been made up of
      boys)--were enticed into the Revolutionary Army of the
      Founding Fathers by the grand words of the Declaration
      of Independence. But they found themselves mistreated,
      in rags and without boots, while their officers lived
      in luxury and merchants were making war profits.
      Thousands mutinied, and some were executed by order of
      General Washington. When, after the war, farmers in
      Western Massachusetts, many of them veterans, rebelled
      against the foreclosures of their farms, they were put
      down by armed force.

      It is a long story, the betrayal of the very ones sent
      to kill and die in wars. When soldiers realize this,
      they rebel. Thousands deserted in the Mexican War, and
      in the Civil War there was deep resentment that the
      rich could buy their way out of service, and that
      financiers like J. P. Morgan were profiting as the
      bodies piled up on the battlefields. The black
      soldiers who joined the Union Army and were decisive
      in the victory came home to poverty and racism.

      The returning soldiers of World War I, many of them
      crippled and shell-shocked, were hit hard, barely a
      dozen years after the end of the war, by the
      Depression. Unemployed, their families hungry, they
      descended on Washington, 20,000 of them from every
      part of the country, set up tents across the Potomac
      from the capital, and demanded that Congress pay the
      bonus it had promised. Instead, the army was called
      out, and they were fired on, tear-gassed, dispersed.

      Perhaps it was to wipe out that ugly memory, or
      perhaps it was the glow accompanying the great victory
      over fascism, but the veterans of World War II
      received a GI Bill of Rights--free college education,
      low interest home mortgages, life insurance.

      The Vietnam War veterans, on the other hand, came home
      to find that the same government that had sent them
      into an immoral and fruitless war, leaving so many of
      them wounded in body and mind, now wanted to forget
      about them. The United States had sprayed huge parts
      of Vietnam with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange,
      resulting for the Vietnamese in hundreds of thousands
      of deaths, lingering cancers, birth defects. American
      GIs were also exposed in great numbers, and tens of
      thousands, pointing to sickness, to birth defects in
      their children, asked the Veterans Administration for
      help. But the government denied responsibility.
      However, a suit against Dow Chemical, which made the
      defoliant, was settled out of court for $180 million,
      with each family receiving $1,000, which suggests that
      more than 100,000 families claimed injuries from the

      As the government pours hundreds of billions into war,
      it has no money to take care of the Vietnam veterans
      who are homeless, who linger in VA hospitals, who
      suffer from mental disorders, and who commit suicide
      in shocking numbers. It is a bitter legacy.

      The United States government was proud that, although
      perhaps 100,000 Iraqis had died in the Gulf War of
      1991, there were only 148 American battle casualties.
      What it has concealed from the public is that 206,000
      veterans of that war filed claims with the Veterans
      Administration for injuries and illnesses. In the
      dozen or so years since that war, 8,300 veterans have
      died, and 160,000 claims for disability have been
      recognized by the VA.

      The betrayal of GIs and veterans continues in the
      so-called war on terrorism. The promises that the U.S.
      military would be greeted with flowers as liberators
      have disintegrated as soldiers die every day in a
      deadly guerrilla warfare that tells the GIs they are
      not wanted in Iraq. An article last July in The
      Christian Science Monitor quotes an officer in the 3rd
      Infantry Division in Iraq as saying: "Make no mistake,
      the level of morale for most soldiers that I've seen
      has hit rock bottom."

      And those who come back alive, but blind or without
      arms or legs, find that the Bush Administration is
      cutting funds for veterans. Bush's State of the Union
      address, while going through the usual motions of
      thanking those serving in Iraq, continued his policy
      of ignoring the fact that thousands have come back
      wounded, in a war that is becoming increasingly

      The quick Thanksgiving visit of Bush to Iraq, much
      ballyhooed in the press, was seen differently by an
      army nurse in Landstuhl, Germany, where casualties
      from the war are treated. She sent out an e-mail: "My
      'Bush Thanksgiving' was a little different. I spent it
      at the hospital taking care of a young West Point
      lieutenant wounded in Iraq. . . . When he pressed his
      fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth
      he looked like a little boy. They all do, all nineteen
      on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes, or
      worse. . . . It's too bad Bush didn't add us to his
      holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you'll
      never read that in the paper."

      As for Jeremy Feldbusch, blinded in the war, his
      hometown of Blairsville, an old coal mining town of
      3,600, held a parade for him, and the mayor honored
      him. I thought of the blinded, armless, legless
      soldier in Dalton Trumbo's novel Johnny Got His Gun,
      who, lying on his hospital cot, unable to speak or
      hear, remembers when his hometown gave him a send-off,
      with speeches about fighting for liberty and
      democracy. He finally learns how to communicate, by
      tapping Morse Code letters with his head, and asks the
      authorities to take him to schoolrooms everywhere, to
      show the children what war is like. But they do not
      respond. "In one terrible moment he saw the whole
      thing," Trumbo writes. "They wanted only to forget

      In a sense, the novel was asking, and now the returned
      veterans are asking, that we don't forget.

      Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of the
      United States," is a columnist for The Progressive.




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