War without honor?

The Chronicle is publishing a series this week they’re calling War Without End. It appears to be the brain child of Joan Ryan, who often serves as the lone conservative voice on their op-ed page. Luckily she’s not as annoying as Mark Morford, but sometimes it’s a close call. I would say I agree with Ryan some of the time, and other times I violently disagree with her. She’s a little too rah rah Bush administration for my tastes. Sometimes her language betrays her in the articles–words like “sacrifice” crop up a trifle too often. She has her beliefs and she defends them, though, often very articulately and rationally, and I must give her points for that.

Ostensibly, the series is about two injured Iraq veterans, Sgt. Michael Buyas and Sgt. Brent Bretz. Sgt. Buyas lost both his legs in a roadside bombing, and the two articles thus far are a discussion of his day to day struggles as a double amputee.

Make no mistake, being a double amputee is serious business. With advances in prosthetics, Sgt. Buyas may be able to walk and even run normally with intensive physical therapy. But there are a lot of problems associated with being a double amputee, not least of which is the loss of both legs. Amputees also experience painful out of control bone growth known as heterotopic ossification (HO). Commonly associated with head injuries, HO happens when your body sends mixed messages–and “cauliflower like” growths of bone start appearing at amputation sites. If operated on, it often gets worse, so doctors are forced to wait until the HO is done growing and then operate, all the while hoping that it hasn’t caused permanent damage. Amputees also content with painful exposed nerve bundles and phantom limb syndrome. In addition, there are the psychological costs of amputation, which are often particularly difficult for soldiers.

It’s sort of hard to look a man who lost both legs in the war in the face and say “sorry dude, your legs were wasted.”

I’m not quite sure what Ryan’s point with the series is. The title is an interesting choice, to begin with. Is she suggesting that the war has dragged on too long? That as long as veterans of the war are alive, it will never truly be over? Or is it a catchphrase the Chronicle’s editors chose?

At face value, the story is what it is–a description of what it’s like to come back from the war injured, and the difficulties disabled veterans face. But there’s more than that going on in these articles, I can sense it. She uses a lot of interesting language, and some of her selective quotes are priceless, like the one from Sgt. Buyas in the first article: “Freedom isn’t free.” My goodness, that’s not a loaded statement at all, especially coming from a wounded veteran. Soldiers are “damaged” and they are “tormented” by physical therapy. It almost sounds as though there’s an epic battle of good vrs. evil being fought at the Walter Reed Medical Center.

Embedded reporting from the military hospital. I imagine it must have been an intense experience for Sgt. Buyas to be followed around by reporters for months while they documented his recovery. I wonder what his thoughts were. It’s also interesting to me that Sgt. Buyas is from Washington–I know California has picturesquely injured soldiers as well, and I’m curious to know why Ryan didn’t follow any of them. Maybe because they were Mexican-Americans, and not as wholesome as a white boy from Washington?

Look. I’m not belittling the state of the thousands of men and women who have been injured in this war, and who are currently in Iraq fighting it. On the contrary, to use Ryan’s language, I think that these people made extreme sacrifices, and they should be respected, whether or not we agree with the cause they fought for. At this point, a lot of them don’t believe in the cause they are fighting for…or at least they’re not sure Iraq is the place to be fighting for that cause.

I think that the government and the VA have a long history of shafting injured veterans, even those who are permanently disabled and will probably never work again. That angers me. It angers me that the military promises to take care of these men and women and that when the shit hits the fan the soldier loses.

But I don’t think that’s what Ryan is going to talk about. I think she’s shoving the facts of their lives in our faces (including a vulnerable shot of Sgt. Buyas in the shower) in order to force us to confront the realities of the war. Now, maybe she wants us to confront the realities and come away saying “yeah, the war is awesome, it really sucks that all those people are getting fucked up, but hey, it’s for freedom.” Personally, I’m reading the series and getting angry. Angry about wasted lives and broken promises–perhaps this is her intent. Only time and the conclusion of the series will tell.

Personally, I think that seeing disabled Iraq veterans would have a galvanizing effect on the populace. We don’t have ticker tape parades anymore, and I personally think that’s a shame. It’s unfortunate that we can hide from those injured in the war, with the joyful collusion of the Department of Defense. I’m sure that in urban areas or cities heavily settled by military families, soldiers with extreme injuries are a more common sight, but out here in the boonies you don’t encounter them much. Perhaps if we faced the people who are losing limbs and eyes and minds in pursuit of the Iraq war, we might be able to do more than write about it in protest. Perhaps if those injured were your family members, you might feel a more personal investment in trying to put a stop to the war. Perhaps if so much of the left wasn’t so ardently anti-military, these men and women would feel more comfortable out in society, knowing that people respect them (although they might have different feelings about their former employers).

This is the sort of small town where active duty military and members of the Coast Guard serving here get discounts at local businesses. I think that’s a great goodness, a small way of thanking people for their civil service. But maybe we need to thank them in more constructive ways too, like lobbying for better health care throughout life. Like making sure they don’t get sent to sand filled shit holes to fight pointless wars. Like caring. Have you hugged a veteran today?

[disabled veterans]
[Iraq war]