CONTENT WARNING: This article contains mentions of violence, PTSD and suicide, among other potentially sensitive topics. Please use caution before reading.
I hear seven shots to my right. I turn, raise my M4 rifle and attempt to fire five shots in the direction of the fire. Like I was trained to do. Like I had done numerous times before.
But I don’t fire my weapon because I’m standing next to a Ben & Jerry’s in the middle of Times Square. The shots are muffler backfire.
This is the result of a previous war many advocated for, and now many of those same people are pushing the idea of going toe-to-toe with Russia in Ukraine.
Time after time, as the United States creeps closer to another conflict, another war, citizens coast to coast start beating their chests, calling for military action.
“The only good commie is a dead commie” flows across my timeline from those I served with and others who swear they would have been fighting overseas the past 20 years if only they didn’t have this damn medical condition, or a family, or a book of excuses ready to cite.
Don’t try to paint me as an apologist for Russia’s invasion. It’s obvious that Vladimir Putin is trying to bring the band formally known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), back together once again. Something that must be stopped.
But at what cost?
Let’s go ahead with the glorified vision of American military supremacy that knocks out the Reds. How many Americans are needed to win that fight?
The wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the special tours peppered throughout that history, created nearly three million veterans, according to the Cost of War Project.
For the United States to care for their injuries and disabilities from service and combat it will cost nearly $2.5 trillion over 50 years.
In 2019, the Department of Veterans Affairs paid out more than $80 billion in disability compensation. Our government cannot sustain another long-term conflict let alone what others believe to be World War III with a near-peer adversary like Russia.
That war would be crippling to the American people and more importantly, the veterans of that war. But hey, the military-industrial complex will make hand-over-fist every year that conflict continues.
To my fellow Americans, who never served yet are calling for open combat with Russia, war is not something to be romanticized. It may be a place for heroics but there is nothing heroic about killing and being killed for a country.
When bullets start being exchanged on that two-way firing range, no one cares about communism, imperialism, terrorism or freedom. All you have are a bunch of young men and women who want to make it out alive from a situation they are put in by politicians with a beef.
Those same folks must come back home, be a part of society and thrive in a post-war world.
And many do. Don’t mistake the first half of this essay as calling out all veterans as broken, it is not.
Yet, combat never leaves you. A mistress you cannot shake. She may have scared the hell out of you, but don’t you miss her when she is gone.
Still, it leaves you in the middle of the Big Apple, surrounded by eight million folks and nothing but the replay of being ambushed at a crossroad, moving toward the fire while you push your guys back to safety.
It’s not heroics. It’s a fear of failing your guys and it sticks with you, creeping up a decade after the fact, while you are out with friends.
It doesn’t deserve a pat on the back.
I share all of this to say, I and three million Americans stepped up believing future generations would not have to know this reality, this cruelty. Yet here we are, advocating for war.
I don’t care why, and anecdotally, most Americans don’t care either. The longer a war carries on and never touches U.S. soil, the less it matters in our collective daily lives. Our misadventure in the Middle East and Afghanistan showed us that.
So, why should we scar these young men and women?
Why leave them with sleepless nights?
Why leave them with a heightened sense of paranoia and anxiety around crowds or loud noises close by?
Why leave them with a temper that can shoot straight to the top over a minuscule comment?
Why leave them with the difficulty of forming personal relationships and straining current relationships with their family?
Why leave them out and about yet incapable of shaking those frightening moments of combat no matter where they are?
Why set them up for suicide?
Why leave them less than whole emotionally and physically?
Why drape another coffin with the American flag?
Because of the Russians? Because of democracy? Because of our status on the global stage?
Is it worth it to you?
Because let me tell you, I wish I could have just enjoyed a night out at the ice cream shop with some friends.