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Stop making more veterans

November 11, 2018

A uniformed veteran walks into a Sarah Palin-style “real American” bar. You know the place. Budweiser on tap, not those craft beers the hippies drink. When our steely-eyed U.S. Army vet settles into his stool, a couple of guys raise a glass, thank him for his service and offer to by him a round. They see the mud on his boots and immediately think, now this guy is the real deal.

“So son, did you see any action?” asks the first patron to work up the nerve. “Yeah, it was rough,” comes the reply. “Saw my share of combat, but it’s great to be home.” Now the fellas at the bar want details that go beyond the rosy picture Fox News paints of Afghanistan and Iraq.

“No sir, I wasn’t in Afghanistan or Iraq,” says the now relaxed trooper. Not Afghanistan or Iraq? But Sean Hannity says those are our current wars, so where else could ... oh yeah, Syria! “No, not Syria either.”

Wait, not Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan? But Fox and the president say those are our current wars, where we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here. Are there other places around the world where we’re at war and we just don’t know about it?

As it turns out, yes we are, and no we really don’t pay a lot of attention to them. See, earlier this year, the White House acknowledged in a little noticed document called the “Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Military Force and Related National Security Operations,” that we are currently at war in seven countries around the world. Not “deployed,” not “peacekeeping.” But conducting military operations, under the authority of the president (and to be fair, several presidents before this one), where we plan and execute missions and ultimately kill bad guys, high value targets, and often tragically, civilians.

You may not have been aware that the other countries where U.S. troops are also fighting and getting shot at are Yemen, Niger, Libya and Somalia but I assure you, the people in those countries know. Seven wars! How did this happen?

Well, the Constitution says only Congress can declare war but during Korea and Vietnam presidents waged war without really asking Congress. So in 1973, Congress checked and balanced presidents with the War Powers Act but some presidents said, “yeah, sure” and still invaded and bombed, daring Congress to do anything about it. After 9/11, Congress finally did do something, but it was actually the wrong thing.

What they created was the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants. A good idea, except the AUMF “contains no geographic limitation on where authorized force may be employed ... to defend the national security of the United States.” So if the president says, “let’s go get the terrorists in Belgium,” and tomorrow Seal Team Six lands in Antwerp, under the AUMF that’s OK. That’s the terrible but perfectly legal way you get to seven wars.

They say we don’t make anything in this country anymore, but you know what we’re really good at making? Veterans. As a result of the AUMF and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars alone, 2.7 million service members have been deployed to those war zones, often more than once. A Brown University study showed that at least 970,000 of those veterans have some degree of officially recognized disability as a result and 22 commit suicide every day. Experts estimate that the total monetary cost for the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, including long-term veterans care, may eventually total as much as $4 trillion. And that’s if we pulled the plug today.

American soldiers take on awful, life-threatening jobs and do them spectacularly. But the best solutions to global challenges are rarely military ones, and we should listen to the veterans who tell us war is hell and that there must be better ways to coexist. So today, the best way to honor veterans isn’t with salutes at football games, sweet cell phone deals or 25 percent-off coupons for nachos. The best way to honor veterans is to think differently about our approach to the world, and stop making more veterans.

David Rafferty is a Greenwich resident.

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