The Untold Story of America’s War in Afghanistan Pt.2

Part two of our discussion with journalist Ann Jones on her new book: “How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story”

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

[incompr.] is part two of our Veterans Day special with journalist Ann Jones. She’s the author of the new book They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s War–The Untold Story.

So, Ann, we were just talking about some of the counterarguments that defenders of the military or defenders of U.S. war efforts make to justify our ongoing presence in countries like Afghanistan and our military presence around the world in dozens of countries. And you were about to answer the question I posed to you about your response to critics who might say that these U.S. wars, like the war in Afghanistan, or the U.S. military presence, is necessary to defend our freedoms. What’s your response, especially based on the time you spent in Afghanistan? Are we there to defend our freedom, to defend our interest?

ANN JONES, JOURNALIST, PHOTOJOURNALIST, AUTHOR: No. I mean, this is ridiculous. Nobody can believe that at this point, and certainly nobody believes that about the war in Iraq.

What we have here is a situation that is extremely damaging not just to the interests of the United States, but to the interests of the military, because we now have, as we know, this so-called all-volunteer army, a standing army that is remote from the general population of the U.S. This is 1 percent or less of the American population that’s affected, that goes to perform these wars. This is the 1 percent on the bottom that loses from these wars, as opposed to 1 percent on the top that’s profiting from from these wars.

But, you know, the founding fathers, who get so much credit for telling us all sorts of things, told us something about a standing army that we have completely forgotten and that none of these conservatives so eager to go to war remember, and that is they issued very strong warnings against having a standing army, and they predicted precisely what has happened. If you have an army of volunteers, a standing army, then the executive, especially one who likes to dress up in military uniforms and call himself commander-in-chief, gets to do pretty much whatever he and his pals in government choose to do with that military.

And I think as these wars have gone on and on, more and more Americans realize that the military has been severely misused by civilian leaders, and by some of the military leaders as well, although many, to their credit, resigned as a matter of conscience or took early retirement from the military rather than participate in what they saw going on.

So to argue that we need these people in the military and they’re protecting our freedoms is to abrogate our own responsibility as citizens to see what–to participate in these decisions and to take responsibility for what goes on. And that the American public has failed to do. We’ve let those kids go off and fight these battles, with disastrous results for them and for their families, and for us, who are going to go on paying the costs of their care for the rest of their lives.

NOOR: So I think you almost unfairly, though, foot the blame on conservatives when it’s, you know, liberals and Democrats that in many cases have been as supportive of these wars. And, you know, under the Obama administration, our war effort in Afghanistan was escalated for years.

JONES: Yes. That’s certainly true. And I take your point. And I don’t mean to pin the blame entirely on conservatives. I think there’s plenty of responsibility to go around among the whole population, actually, who have ignored, to a large extent, what goes on in our wars or who have taken the kind of easy out of waving a flag at the airport or putting a flag on their car or tying yellow ribbons around trees. You know, that doesn’t do it, really. That may make civilians feel good, but it doesn’t do anything for our military.

NOOR: And I wanted to jump back to the discussion we were having about the human toll of this war. And, you know, so the discussion of the impact on soldiers, I think that’s been getting more attention over the past several years, but it’s rarely talked about. What’s rarely talked about is the impact on the medical staff that treat these soldiers, and that’s something you spent some serious time documenting. Can you talk about what the impact is for nurses and for doctors and other people who are responsible for treating the soldiers that are injured in battle?

JONES: Well, you’re right. We hear practically nothing about that, so that I was very surprised when I started interviewing the medical staff at the field hospitals and at Bagram base. And I was talking to highly skilled professionals. Many of the doctors and nurses are members of the military who have received their medical education through the military and who have been practicing medicine in military hospitals in other parts of the world or in the U.S. for years. And they said, every one of them, that they were completely unprepared for the kinds of injuries they were called upon to treat as a result of these wars. The head surgeon at Bagram compared–tried to compare it to something she had seen in the U.S., and she said the only thing that even came partway close to what she was seeing was the injury of a man who had passed out and been run over by a train. But she said even that can’t touch the kind of injuries we see here. And the doctors, the surgeons were called upon to work on these cases day in, day out for a six-months tour of duty. And I think it was a rare doctor who spoke to me without at some point breaking down in the course of our interviews. And then they would all apologize that they were just overtired, they were coming to the end of their tour. But they were all devastated by the work that they had been required to do and that they were still doing on a daily basis.

And just from the time that I visited these hospitals and observed the kinds of work that they were doing, I understood very well how difficult it was for them to continue to do this day after day after day. It’s a terrible, it’s a terrible responsibility.

And the question that haunted all of the surgeons was when we patch these kids up, when we save their lives and we send them on and they finally wake up in Washington or Bethesda or someplace else in the States and realize that they’re missing two, three, or four of their limbs, are they really going to be glad to be alive? Is it right that we work so hard to save them, and are they going to feel any kind of pleasure in having their lives saved? And of course the word came back, oh, yes, they’re all very glad you saved their lives, they’re very happy to be alive. But privately, nurses and doctors told me differently in many cases. And if you try to imagine yourself in that situation waking up without your arms and legs, I think it’s understandable that many are not consistently glad to still be alive.

NOOR: Ann Jones, we’re going to wrap up this second part of our discussion. In our third part, we’re going to talk about the prescription drugs that so many soldiers are on, both active duty and veterans, as they deal with the trauma of what they’ve experienced and what they’ve seen in battle.

Thank you so much for joining us.

JONES: Thank you.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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