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What’s In A Number?

What’s In A Number?

November 11, 2009

What’s In A Number?
by Beverly Gologorsky

“Troops,” what a neutral word. Makes me think of legs or marching toys or perhaps a unit of cavalry. In my computer dictionary, the first definition of “troop” is: “a large group of similar people, animals, or things.” “Things?” In fact, recent newspaper headlines declare the administration has been asked to consider sending more combat troops to Afghanistan. Imagine if the headlines were to read instead: “President asked to send thousands of young men and women into harms way.” Or: “Thousands of troops to be sent to Afghanistan will affect thousands of families.” Both assertions would be correct.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood in the South Bronx, New York, where people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds lived. No one talked of soldiers or veterans as “combat troops.” It was Mike or Sal, John or Charlie. It was Millie’s son and Mrs. Harris’ grandson, Tanya’s husband and Josie’s brother, Mary’s nephew and Jane’s boyfriend; the connections go on and on.

The pro and con arguments about sending more troops to Afghanistan also go on, various plans and strategies put forward. No one, however, has mentioned the consequences of such a decision to the thousands of non-combat troops here as well as in Afghanistan. Years after the end of the Vietnam War, architects of that engagement called it a “mistake,” “misguided,” some apologized; a mistake that affected hundreds of thousands of people at home as well as in country. Are we again to wait years for historians and politicians to revisit today’s decisions? Where are the apologies for what has been done in Iraq? Haven’t we learned yet? And if not, as in Vietnam, will it be too late, I fear?

Veteran’s Day is upon us. If we remember the trauma of Vietnam, the numbers of dead and maimed, then multiply it by the soldiers now returning (or not) from Iraq and Afghanistan, what do we see before us? Here is what I see: For every soldier killed, maimed, or damaged in a war zone, there will be men, women, children at home damaged as well. Who can really know how many? There are no monuments to the ones who suffer the aftermath of wars, no walls that list the names of the non-combat troops affected.

A decade ago I wrote a novel about the women and children who lived with Vietnam Veterans. The book revealed what the war brought home to families. Unfortunately, the content of the novel is still relevant, the situation even grimmer. Not only are veterans, men, but women, as well. Is it possible to truly comprehend the consequences of combat for returning mothers, sisters, wives, etc. and their ties to family members? Yes, I know, I’m a feminist; women must have the same rights as men. Yet … yet … in each situation, shouldn’t we ask what will this mean? One need only browse the Internet to find out about the suffering that has followed men and women home from Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering inflicted as well on the ones who care about them.

I can hear the steamy dissents. Save the United States from another 9-11. Of course, who wouldn’t want to do that? But is that what sending thousands of troops to Iraq did? Is that what sending more troops to Afghanistan will do? I seriously doubt it. Women and men, in and out of country, will perish, be wounded, their psychology forever changed. And what of the countries themselves, their peoples, destroyed as well. If Vietnam didn’t teach us the folly of certain wars, surely, Iraq should have.

We have heard the generals’ recommendation. Here is mine: consider the true numbers carefully.

For more from Beverly Gologorsky, see her debut novel, Things We Do To Make It Home, now reissued from Seven Stories Press, as well as her recent interview at AlterNet.

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