Today, we honor the sacrifices of the men and women who have served in uniform. Traditionally, we remember those who died in combat, but it is equally if not more important to remember those who still live but for whom the fight is not over. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in record-breaking statistics for post-service traumas. According to this story in the NY Times, there are 25 veteran suicides for every one soldier killed in the field. Additionally, the rates of divorce, PTSD, substance abuse, and homelessness are off the charts. The good news is that there seems to be enough awareness about these issues, at least among professionals, that the VA and other organizations are responding to these problems rather than sweeping them under the rug. Still, it is ultimately the majority of civilians who must pay attention, if we are to avoid repeating mistakes in the future.
What motivated me to make gone Elvis was a frustration with the contrast between how complexly costly these wars have been and how over-easily they were sold to the American people. Particularly with the invasion of Iraq, I don’t believe many civilians, from the safety of their unaffected lives, really considered the potential cost in its many forms. During the early days of the invasion, I wrote an article questioning whether or not Americans might be shocked if service-memeber death toll were to reach 10,000; and at the time, even I didn’t think the number would go that high. But if we combine service deaths with post-service suicides (at an estimated rate of 1 every 80 minutes), the number is almost double that and still counting. Of course, the total cost of war — civilian lives, diplomatic instability, dollars, opportunity costs, domestic social trauma — will have lasting effects long after the dead have been buried and saluted. This is why their sacrifice can only be honored, I believe, if we can learn that there is, and never has been, anything simple about a war.
- David Newhoff -