T Nation

We're Not At War


An Invisible War
Bob Herbert
New York Times
May 3, 2007

Paul Rieckhoff looked across the crowded restaurant, which was not far
from Times Square.

?During World War II,? he said, ?we could be in this place and there
would be a guy sitting at that table who was in the war, or the bartender
had been in the war. Everybody you saw would have had a stake in the war.
But right now you could walk around New York for blocks and not find
anybody who has been in Iraq.

?The president can say we?re a country at war all he wants. We?re not. The
military is at war. And the military families are at war. Everybody else
is shopping.?

Mr. Rieckhoff is an imposing six-foot-two-inch, 245-pound former infantry officer who joined the military after graduating from Amherst College.
When he came home from a harrowing tour in Iraq in 2004, he vowed to do
what he could to serve the interests of the men and women who have fought
in Iraq and Afghanistan but have never fully gotten the support they
deserve from the government or the public at large.

He wrote a book, ?Chasing Ghosts,? which is now out in paperback, and he
formed a powerful veterans? advocacy organization called Iraq and
Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Mr. Rieckhoff is not bitter. He?s actually funny and quite engaging (and a
good writer). But he has very little tolerance for the negligence and
incompetence the government has shown in equipping the troops and fighting
the war in Iraq, and he is frustrated by the short shrift that he feels
the troops get from the media and the vast majority of Americans.

There?s a gigantic and extremely disturbing disconnect, he says, between
the experiences of the men and women in uniform and the perspective of
people here at home. ?We have a very diverse membership in I.A.V.A.,? he
said. ?We?ve got Republicans and Democrats and everything in between. But
one of the key things we all have in common is this frustration with the
detachment that we see all around us, this idea that we?re at war and
everybody else is watching ?American Idol.?

?I think that?s one of the main reasons why so many guys want to go back
to Iraq. They come home and feel like: ?Man, I don?t fit in here. You
know, I?m out of place.? ? Even though there?s never been a clear
statement of the military?s mission in Iraq, and the goals have shifted
from month to month and year to year, the soldiers and marines who have
been sent there have felt that they were carrying out an important task on
behalf of the nation.

?It?s tough to have such a serious sense of commitment,? Mr. Rieckhoff
said, ?and then come home and see so many people focused on such frivolous
things. So I think that frustration is serious and growing. And I?ll tell
you the truth: I blame the president for that. One of the biggest
criticisms of the president, and I hear this across the board, is that he
hasn?t asked the American people to do anything.?

Mr. Rieckhoff is convinced that if the public heard more from the soldiers
and marines who have actually experienced combat, including those who have been wounded and suffered emotional trauma, the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan would be viewed more seriously. Part of the problem, he said,
is that too many civilians have little or no understanding of what war is
really like, and of the toll it takes beyond the obvious toll of the dead
and wounded.

Among other things, there are family problems, drug and alcohol abuse,
untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide ? all
directly attributable to service in a war zone. ?Incredibly,? he writes in
his book, ?no government agency keeps track of the number of veterans who
kill themselves after their service has ended ? another sign of how little
value is placed on veterans? long-term well-being.?

I mentioned a young soldier I had interviewed in 2005 who worried that
because he had killed three insurgents during a battle in Iraq he might
not be ?allowed into heaven.? The soldier wondered whether he had ?done
the right thing.?

Mr. Rieckhoff nodded. ?Asking somebody to die for their country might not
be the biggest thing you can ask,? he said. ?Asking my guys to kill, on my
orders ? as an officer, that?s difficult. I?m telling that kid to squeeze that round off and take a man?s life. And then he?s got that baggage for
the rest of his life. That?s what you have to live with.?

I signaled for the check and we left the restaurant. It was a beautiful,
sunlit afternoon. New Yorkers were smiling and enjoying the spring
weather. There was no sign of a war anywhere.


Good article.


The IAVA website contains their positions on issues important to returning vets.


One of the IAVA's initiatives was to get returning vets to run for Congress. Sounds like a good idea to me.


If we want to get into technical we aren't at war we are just doing an occupation.


Fighting an insurgency is still war. The idea that if we're not fighting a big, conventional campaign against a state's army it's not "war" is stupid.


We are sitting there till the Iraqi government can protect themselves, this is what happens in an occupation.


Huh? Was Vietnam not a war?

Anyway, not really the point of the thread.


Actually, vietnam was a police action, war was never declared by congress. but anyways, just splitting hairs.


If American citizens have become complacent about our presence in Iraq it is because the threat was never real to begin with and we have become tired of the current administrations overblown scare tactics.

WE DONT REALLY CARE ABOUT IRAQ. We just want the military home protecting OUR country where they belong.


Isolationism works great. Conflicts don't get worse and spread to our shores.


The Twentieth Century


Isolationism only has one end result, take a look at pearl harbor for example.


The Luisitania, German involvement in Mexico, etc...

It's a ridiculous assertion that we can pull back behind our borders.

It wasn't feasible in 1917. With the advent of the internet, jet travel, etc.. it's even more ridiculous now.

However, one must consider the source.



I am againist this war and have been from the beginning. That said, I can understand the disconnect between going to war and coming home and seeing people engaged in frivolous pursuits.

Americans, for the most part, live a sort of secondary reality. We have never really had a war on our soil, so for most people it's an abstraction. Everything is mediatized to death and we've become desensitized. The media has to come up with more and more outrageous stories to catch our attention. Sometimes I think going to war is the only way most of us would ever wake up. Otherwise, we just slumber through life. The soldiers have, for better or worse, had a great awakening.



Thanks for the post. Just curious, you are George Bush circa 2003. How do you deal with saddam?

Secondly, were you high when you wrote that last post?

To say we haven't had a war on our soil is false. I'll bet the people who were at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field, and on the airliners involved would disagree with you.

Further, just off the top of my head I can name nearly 10 conflicts on American soil.

To say otherwise, validates the euro-weenies' assertion that Americans are uneducated.

In summary, I am a passionate defender of freedom of speech. However, you are pushing it.



When someone blows up a bus in the public square of Madrid, for example, is that war too...or is it just an American thing? I was in Madrid after the train bombings and many Spaniards feel the same way we dissenters feel about about this "war".

There is no such thing as a war against terror just because someone invented a phrase to describe an ideological conflict such as the one we have.

How do you propose we win a "war" against "terrorism"?

War is just like the term Jihad...it is merely a "struggle" and not necessarily indicative of military action abroad. Yes we are struggling with terrorism but it is not winnable by force. Witness: Sinn Fein.


Isolation is the conservative way. Though you certainly twist my meaning around. I am not proposing isolation I am proposing not firing missiles at other countries or sending our troops to gaurd other countries' borders.

Trade embargoes have always worked. How can someone make WMD if they can't get the supplies to do it? BTW, thats how I know Iraq didn't have WMD.



Did you just type that trade embargos always work?

Come on. Even you know that is completely false.

Do you seriously believe that people were honoring the embargo on Iraq?

Please google it. Or try, hitting russia and saddam.