The unvarnished truth is that the three upstate New York army reservists — Dain Venne, Ryan Jayne and Brett E. Gornewicz — killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Nov. 3, did not die defending the United States, did not die defending democracy and, Middle East politics being what they are, died either in vain or for petropolitics, (which account partly for our presence in the region even if Afghanistan itself doesn’t have oil).
That being said, these three young men deserve our respect. Everything about their lives reveals that they were outstanding men. Gornewicz earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology just a few years ago. Venne was honored for saving people’s lives during heavy flooding in Essex County in 2011, and Jayne was planning to attend college with his brother when he got out of the service. The quality of their lives only makes their deaths all the more tragic.
When I read the Associated Press article about their deaths on Page A8 of The Daily Gazette, right above an ad for a ziti dinner at a church and another for snowblower tuneups, I could not help but reflect on the ho-humness with which we react to American deaths in Afghanistan, which now total 2,150.
We react only slightly less complacently to them than we do the hundreds of thousands of deaths of Middle Easterners. Americans shed tears over abandoned puppies, lost football games and over making or failing to make it on American Idol, but except for their relatives and friends, American soldiers die virtually unmourned and unnoticed.
Why has there been so little anger over our 11-year war in the Middle East, when there was so much anger over the Vietnam War? Part of the answer may be the greater number of casualties in Vietnam. Or that the media took a more active role in showing what went on in Vietnam. Or that there is more justification for this war than Vietnam.
But a bigger reason might be that during Vietnam there was a draft, and many people who protested the Vietnam War weren’t so much against the war as they were against being drafted. “Hell no, we won’t go.” I wonder if the military learned from the Vietnam War that it is easier to hire Hessians (e.g. private security firms) to do some military tasks, when you cannot recruit enough volunteers, than it would be to reinstate the draft and deal with the fallout from it. Whether or not that is true, I have no doubt if it had been reinstated 11 years ago, there would be more people protesting the war, more attention paid to the deaths of soldiers and the war would be over.
A Daily Gazette article by Justin Mason on Oct. 28 featured a handful of people who have faithfully protested the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since October 2001, people like Jack Jacknowitz, Joe Seeman, Mabel Leon and Dave LaCart, among others. They, too, have my respect. They are true patriots who love their country enough to point out, as a true friend would, that there is something hanging from our nose. Those I have no respect for are the politicians who started this war and the ones who are perpetuating it.
The war in Afghanistan might have been Bush’s war initially, but it has been Obama’s now for four years. In fact, 71 percent of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan have occurred since it became Obama’s war in 2009, twice as many as died during Bush’s war.
Obama and those Democrats who support him on the war in Afghanistan as well as our illegal, costly and futile attacks on Libya last year are now as responsible for the war and its casualties as are President Bush and the Republicans who started it.
Democratic leaders have a moral obligation to tell their party head that this war is wrong, and from my research it appears that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is one of the few in New York who have done so. Sen. Chuck Schumer has been a hawk right along. Congressman Bill Owens is comfortable with troops in Afghanistan. Congressman Paul Tonko voted to bring the troops home by the end of 2011 but supported the president’s war against Libya.
The party that used to be anti-war, or at least claimed to be, is as guilty of waging war as the Republican Party, and the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Obama should be rescinded.
No recruiting poster
Last week, two Army recruiters asked me to hang a poster in my store. I agreed but days later reconsidered. While the Army does provide economic opportunities for kids in upstate New York, it also provides the opportunity to die before their time.
Dying to defend our country or to defend freedom, as in World War II, is one thing. But asking young people to die for oil, empire or futile efforts to bring democracy to a nation that doesn’t want it is another thing. So the poster went into the garbage because the last thing I want on my hands is the same blood that is on the hands of so many politicians.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.