“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.” — Jean-Paul Sartre
Private First Class Lori Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, Arizona, is listed as missing in action in Iraq. Piestewa, a Hopi woman, is the divorced mother of two young children.
Piestewa and Private Jessica Lynch, 19, who was rescued by U.S. Special Operations troops after being taken prisoner by Iraqi forces, were part of an Army mechanics unit that was ambushed in An Nasariya. Lynch enlisted in the Army because she could not find work near her home in rural West Virginia.
Piestewa and Lynch are examples of the demographics of America’s all-volunteer force. “Military Mirrors Working-Class America,” concludes a fascinating study in Sunday’s New York Times.
“They left small towns and inner cities, looking for a way out and up, or fled the anonymity of the suburbs, hoping to find themselves. They joined the all-volunteer military, gaining a free education or a marketable skill or just the discipline they knew they would need to get through life.”
Is it fair that we ask poor and working class youths to fight our wars? Is the all-volunteer system little more than an economic draft, conscription by poverty rather than lottery?
In July, 1972, I was inducted into the U.S. Army. After processing in downtown St. Louis, a remarkable thing happened: the Army treated us all to a baseball game. We became the willing tools of Army public relations.
Between innings, they marched the lot of us onto the playing field at Busch Stadium. With great fanfare, we were introduced to the spectators and the immense Cardinal radio audience as the “Cardinal Company” — the first all-volunteer company under a new program to upgrade pay and conditions in the transition to a total volunteer force.
The last serviceman was drafted in December, 1972. Since then, the character of the military has been radically transformed. Some in Congress want to restore the draft.
“It’s just not fair that the people that we ask to fight our wars are people who join the military because of economic conditions, because they have fewer options,” says Representative Charles B. Rangel, whose African-American constituents bear a disproportionate burden of military service.
While I oppose bringing back the draft, there is a fundamental issue of fairness involved when so many working-class Americans are putting their lives on the line while a lot of rich white men who have never spent a day in boot camp stand to make fortunes on the profits of war.
Take Dick Cheney. Without any bidding, the U.S. Army gave the Iraqi oil well firefighting contract to a subsidiary of Halliburton, once run by the Vice President. Half a billion dollars is being sought to repair Iraq’s oil fields.
In the five years Cheney headed Halliburton, the firm nearly doubled the amount of its government contracts. When he left, Cheney took his severance package, worth millions, as deferred compensation which he continues to collect. If this is not a conflict of interest, it should be. See “Halliburton’s Axis of Influence” by Frida Berrigan of In These Times (www.inthesetimes.org).
Then there is Richard Perle, who resigned as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board over alleged conflicts of interest. Perle remains as a member of the influential Board, which advises the Pentagon on many matters including weapons procurement.
According to a new report, “Advisers of Influence,” by the Center for Public Integrity (www.publicintegrity.org), nine members of the Defense Policy Board “have ties to companies that have won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002.”
Even as our soldiers risk injury and death on the battlefields of Iraq, the House Budget Committee voted to reduce the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget by $15 billion. Yet the House passed a $726 billion tax cut for the rich. Although halved by the Senate, a $350 billion tax cut during wartime deficit spending is unprecedented.
As for the $75 billion requested by President Bush to fight the war, it’s only a down payment. Colonel David Hackworth, who unequivocally opposes this war, observes that the United States still has a military presence in Japan and Germany 57 years after the end of World War II. He predicts we could stay 60 years in Iraq, costing $2 to $3 trillion. Where will the money come from to fund their health care as we face the prospect of a new generation of veterans needing assistance?
Hackworth told Ellis Henican of Newsday, “there’s a real possibility we take catastrophic casualties,” worse than the first Gulf War which disabled thousands of veterans suffering Gulf War syndrome. “All of us that were there, we look in the mirror and still wonder if something is going to happen to us.”
David L. Winkler (email@example.com) is a Valley resident.