Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bitter Sweet Independence, Service and the cost of Freedom

Fireworks are one of the greatest fun things to watch! I'm full of wonder at them, thrilled and moved by crowds and music and the magic to stand in awe, and also to remember all the hard struggles of our country.

My prayer is that we don't ever lose sight of the key ingredient in democracy - people who care and therefore, pay attention. Then act.

WE the People are a critical part of the checks and balances in our system. Yes, there are the three branches of our government: The presidency, the judiciary and the congress. But there is also us.

We decide to serve - in the military, in government or in other public service. We decide to get involved, to make our voices heard.

The bad rap that government has gotten is well earned, in many cases. But many many more public servants do a good job, care about their work and their role as servants.

Nothing is harder than dealing with the public, and of course no one should stay in a job they don't perform well. But your one bad incident with a DMV official doesn't make them all incompetent.

I just wrote a scathing letter to Sprint for, once again, screwing up my bill. However, I made it clear that I blame their IT systems. Their employees cannot be so incapable as a group!

I include teachers as public servants, especially those in public schools. Take a moment and think of all the great experiences you had in school. I know the system is plagued, and in Georgia we have more problems than most states (with one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country). But most teachers are not power hungry or abusive. Most are devoted to the kids, our kids, and are good people. Their devotion shows because they stay in it despite overwhelming bureacratic demands, children without adequate home support or self respect (and therefore don't respect anyone) and with ridiculously low pay.

Memorial Day just passed, but this weekend I've been thinking about not only our dead, but also our living veterans and soldiers. I read an estimate yesterday that over 300,000 of our military has suffered TBI (traumatic brain injury) which included PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, from the Middle East wars.

5,014 have died in combat in our two Middle East wars. Now multiply those 5,014 deaths by - what? How many lives are irrevocably changed by a death?

Is it 20 family and friends who are deeply affected by the loss of each life? Many many have more like 50 people or even a hundred who knew them well enough to grieve deeply. If we use 50 each, that's about 250,000 people directly affected by the loss of EACH of our service men and women.

If we add the number of wounded up, there have been 34,508 to date
. We don't know how serious the wounds (there doesn't seem to be a "level" system readily found to break down these figures), but almost half of them leave solders out of commission for at least 72 hours. If even just a fourth of those casualties are critical, then that is over 8,000 serious injuries.

Using the same logic as above, if there are even just 10 family members who lives are deeply changed, heavily affected by a serious illness(es)/wound(s) in a service member, that is 80,000 people.

I think of the dead and injured as being the center of concentric circles of love and care. There are their immediate family, and then close family and then close friends, and then good friends and then their communities. Everytime I hear of a death or injury from the wars, I know there are hundreds affected. Ripples of pain and fear and grief.

Now how many soldiers suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)? One estimate is 1 in every 8 soldiers returning from combat. Some estimates put PTSD at 30%, over time, for Vietnam vets. More soldiers from WWII than ever are seeking professional help to deal with their untreated mental suffering.

The good news is more new veterans are seeking help - about 60% according to the story linked above. But that still leaves up to 40% who aren't getting help. The walking wounded. Unaided they will turn to many other means to medicate their pain - alcohol, drugs, estranged from family, divorce, etc.

So the news is grim.

I'll end on an even more sobering thought. While at least (from a ball park guess of the figures above) a million Americans are deeply affected by the war and it's devastation to our troops, here are some numbers on lives lost in the Middle East, just in Iraq since 1980.

It's difficult to quantify how many Iraqi lives have been lost, in the midst of so much turmoil, in the middle of a war. But the link above at least attempts to look at both lives lost in the war, as well as under the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Over a million Iraqi lives lost. Men, women and children.

Evil must be fought at every turn. And we must be careful and wise in our willingness to sacrifice for the freedom of others. More than anything we must continue, imnho, the deadly serious conversations about our role in the world - as keepers of Democracy, as moral and ethical leaders in the world, as role models and as defenders of the innocent and helpless.

We cannot leave a power vacuum in Iraq - and I've always said we must finish what we started. But it will cost us.

Democracy is not easy. Nothing good ever was.

It isn't conferred, but earned.

It's messy and frustrating and maddening at times. But we owe it to ourselves, our founders, our children's children, especially to freedom fighters every where in all of history, to continue the struggle.

"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."


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