Those stupid yellow ribbons. None of the U.S. soldiers in Iraq benefit when someone slaps a "Support Our Troops" magnet on the back of their car. It's Chinese manufacturers and their stateside retailers that benefit from each sale. The proceeds do not "Support Our Troops."
I asked, but Wal-Mart won't disclose how much money it has made selling the feel-good stickums. Nor will other retailers. And they're not donating their profits to the cause. To these corporations, yellow ribbons are just another line item in their inventory management programs.
While merchants ring up the next sale, Iraq war veterans are joining the ranks of the homeless in Albuquerque and other cities. These are shockingly young men, so shaken by their experience they cannot re-enter society. They are not getting the help they need. These new recruits join 3,000 homeless veterans from previous wars already on New Mexico's streets.
People in the Veterans Administration say they are too understaffed and underfunded to deal with the anticipated 100,000 soldiers who will require treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. One VA employee says the severity of casualties from Iraq is far worse than he saw during the Vietnam War. The prolific attacks with high explosives have produced nightmarish injuries that previously would have resulted in death. The staggering incidence of brain injuries, by some estimates reaching 60 percent of the evacuated wounded, is setting a grim new standard for the horrors of war.
But forget all that. Slap on a magnet, and your duty as a citizen is done. No need to question the war. Because the rear end of your car proclaims "Support Our Troops," you can stop thinking about how we really treat them.
Wounded soldiers are not done fighting when they come home. Their next battle is with our own government. Santa Fe journalist Zelie Pollon, who recently spent two months in Iraq with the Army and New Mexico National Guard, relates a story about a man who lost an arm and his hearing to an improvised explosive device, or IED. The Veterans Administration fought his claim for full disability, arguing that, despite his certification of fitness for combat, his hearing was failing before he enlisted. Only intense pressure from veterans' support groups made bureaucrats back down.
Other veterans have less luck. They spend half their time in rehab and the other half fighting for benefits to pay their medical and living expenses. Too often the Veterans Administration acts more like a claims adjuster trying to minimize what it pays out than a government agency grateful for a citizen's heroic sacrifice. And this Congress is egging them on. The Republican leadership sent a clear message by replacing the chairman of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee because he was too sympathetic to veterans' causes.
For some in the yellow ribbon cult, one ribbon won't do. They'll have up to a dozen ribbons, in various states of weathered decay, marching across their trunks.
Right-wing Christians turn the ribbons sideways because it looks like the fish symbol used by Christ's early followers.
Some people stick their "Support Our Troops" ribbon above the gas cap on their SUV, never seeing the irony.
The Albuquerque Journal covers the war unevenly. Sometimes you have to dig to find mention of American losses. Frequently our paper of record doesn't even bother to spend ink on word of casualties. I was told by a Journal employee that's because the daily loss of lives to snipers, booby-trapped corpses and dogs with explosives crammed up their ass has become "old news."
Well, here are the most current numbers: 1,612 American men and women killed, 12,364 wounded. The numbers will be higher by the time you read this.
In his April 26, 2005 press conference (not reported by the Journal) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would not answer the simple question of whether we are winning or losing in Iraq. General Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted that, despite all our losses, the capacity of the insurgents remains undiminished.
No weapons of mass destruction, no connection to 9-11, no end in sight. Yes, Saddam is history, but now we've been sucked into a sectarian and tribal feud a thousand years old.
Want to really support the troops? Volunteer at the VA hospital. Give to the Veterans Integration Center that helps veterans stay off the street. Insist the media stop disrespecting our soldiers and cover the war in-depth. Call on Congress to provide generous benefits for veterans. Democrats, demand your party finally oppose Bush's war. Republicans, demand the Commander in Chief end this misadventure.
But, if you really must have a yellow ribbon, go for one that reads "Support Our Troops ... Bring Them Home." Opt for one with room to add the word "Now."