BRIAN HOWEY: We never learned the lessons of Vietnam

2014-06-22T00:00:00Z BRIAN HOWEY: We never learned the lessons of VietnamBy Brian Howey nwitimes.com
June 22, 2014 12:00 am  • 

We should remember Staff Sgt. Richard Blakley of Plainfield. And Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Smith of Anderson, Spec. Gregory Paul Sanders of Hobart and Sgt. Craig A. Boling of Elkhart.

These were Hoosiers who answered their nation’s patriotic call to duty, left their families behind, went to the Iraq War, and paid the ultimate price. As did Pvt. Robert L. McKinley of Kokomo, Sgt. Kyle William Childress of Terre Haute, Cpl. Cody A. Putman of Lafayette and Sgt. Brock A. Babb of Evansville.

Today, we watch in horror as an army of terrorists, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, sweep down from the failed state of Syria into the teetering state of Iraq, stealing millions of dollars from banks in Mosul and slaughtering thousands of “infidels” in their midst. The Iraqi troops we spent billions of dollars training and equipping laid down their arms, climbed out of U.S. built Humvees, slipped out of their uniforms and fled, leaving a cache of military hardware for the invaders.

What is so painful about all of this is that in addition to the nearly 100 Hoosiers and 4,300 Americans who laid down their lives in Iraq, the more than 32,000 more who were wounded, the estimated 134,000 Iraqi civilians killed and millions who became refugees, we spent an estimated $1.7 trillion on a clueless adventure. We owe another $490 billion to Iraq war veterans in benefits.

A Brown University Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies estimates the ultimate cost could grow to $6 trillion. Reuters reported a 2011 study found U.S. medical and disability claims for veterans after a decade of war totaled $33 billion. Two years later, that number had risen to $134.7 billion.

Imagine if that $1.7 trillion had been invested in infrastructure, education, research and development at home?

The National Priorities Projects, a nonprofit research group, puts the cost of the Iraq War “military action” at $816 billion, saying that this figure could have provided 4.75 million students Pell Grants of $5,550; equipped 4 million households with wind power; hired 65,000 new police officers; supplied 5 million veterans with VA medical care; and paid 100,000 elementary school teachers each year for a decade.

And then there’s the wasted money. In its final report to Congress, the Commission on Wartime Contracting reported an estimated $60 billion of U.S. taxpayer money had disappeared by fraud and waste due to lax oversight, poor planning and payoffs to warlords and insurgents.

Even more appalling is the Veterans Administration scandal that has our surviving veterans consigned to long waiting lists and, in some cases, shoddy treatment.

All of this was set up by the administration of President George W. Bush based on cherry-picked intelligence, outright lies and an appalling lack of intellectual curiosity from people who should have known better. It has been compounded by the Obama administration that told us we were leaving behind a stable and secure democracy when we pulled out the last of our troops in 2011.

It was anything but.

The deteriorating Iraq situation is a disaster for the U.S. and a disgrace that now spans two presidencies. In the era when the U.S. military commenced the Iraq War by talking about “going in with overwhelming force,” what we quickly learned was that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Instead of rose-petal parades, our troops ended up in a classic quagmire. We “won” a shallow military war and lost the political battle. We created a vacuum that is now being filled by religious fanaticism and brute sectarian violence. The terror state of Iran is now bolstering our “ally.”

Presidents, congressmen and generals, Republicans and Democrats, Bushes and Clintons, Lugars and Bayhs, and the press all got it wrong. Mistakes were compounded. This is an appalling disaster of this era of American governance.

And this is just a preview for Afghanistan. We never learned the lessons of Vietnam.

When I graduated from high school in 1974, we watched more than 50,000 Americans die, and in 1973, Henry Kissinger’s declaration of “peace is at hand.” In 1975, we watched North Vietnamese tanks and the Viet Cong sack Saigon.

It begged the question, “For what?” What did we earn for all the lost life and treasure and the cavalier manner in which they were dispatched? Why serve under such reckless leadership? Our generation vowed to never let it happen again. And now we’re in the process of doing it not once, but twice more.

We should remember Spec. Nicholas Idalski of Crown Point, Spec. Christopher Monroe of Kendallville, Sgt. James Faulkner of Clarskville, Spec. Roy Buckley of Merrillville and Cpl. Bryan Wilson of Otterbein.

They made the ultimate sacrifice. But now we find American taxpayers and a recalcitrant Congress unwilling to properly care for their surviving colleagues.

In the wake of blood and valor from our Hoosier patriots, from our leaders in Washington and, by the silence of the masses, we find a gutless and appalling squander of the sacrifice. We are failing to invest in those who stepped up. Applauding our uniformed men and women at NFL games and at parades is not enough, folks.

America is the home of the brave, and a shelter for the disgraced in our highest reaches of power.

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinions are the writer's.

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