More US Soldiers Die in Vain

Exclusive: Adding to the painful death toll in America’s seemingly endless war in Afghanistan, 30 U.S. soldiers were killed on Saturday when their helicopter was shot down. The deaths provoked predictable comments about how they didn’t die in vain, but ex- CIA analyst Ray McGovern says the hard truth is that they did.

By Ray McGovern

Many of those preaching at American church services on Sunday likely extolled as “heroes” the 30 American and eight Afghan troops killed Saturday west of Kabul, when a helicopter on a night mission crashed, apparently after taking fire from Taliban forces.

In churches across the country, the U.S. troops were surely praised for protecting “our way of life,” and few would demur given the painful circumstances.

But, sadly, such accolades are at least misguided if not dishonest. Most preachers do not have a clue as to what U.S. forces are doing in Afghanistan or why.

Yet, should we fault these American preachers who reach for words designed to give comfort to their fellow citizens who are mourning the deaths of so many young servicemen?

As hard as it might seem, yes, we should. It is high time these preachers be held to account, since the patriotic pap they dish out serves merely to perpetuate unnecessary killing.

Many preachers are intelligent enough to see through the propaganda for perpetual war; but most will not take the risk of offending their flocks with unpalatable truth.

Better not to risk protests from pew patriots, and to avoid, at all costs, offending the loved ones of those who have been killed and, understandably, want to give some meaning to the young, snuffed-out lives.

Best to Just Praise and Pray

Far better to pray for those already killed now and those who in the future will “give the last full measure of devotion to our country.”

By and large, American preachers are afraid to tell the truth. They lack the virtue that Thomas Aquinas taught is the foundation of all virtue, courage. He wrote (to use the vernacular) that all other virtue is specious if you have no guts.

Writer James Hollingsworth hit the nail on the head: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Like the truth.

Those who ache the most in the face of unnecessary death are mothers. And many mothers do summon the courage to say, and say loudly, ENOUGH.

Yes, my son died for no good purpose, these mothers painfully acknowledge. He did die in vain. Now, we all must deal with it. Stop the false patriotism. And most importantly, stop the killing.

Cindy Sheehan is one such mother. She and others have tried to put a dent into the specious logic that attempts to translate unnecessary death into justification for still more unnecessary death.

But they get little air or ink in the Fawning Corporate Media. Rather, what you can expect to hear today in the FCM is fulsome rhetoric about how these troops “cannot have died in vain;” how their deaths must redouble our resolve to “honor their sacrifice.”

Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, has already primed the pump, saying on Saturday: “All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom.”

And Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, said, “the best way we can honor that sacrifice is to keep at it, keep fighting, keep moving forward. I’m certain that is what our fallen would have wanted, and it is certainly what we are going to do.”

All this was duly reported in Sunday’s Washington Post and other leading U.S. newspapers, without context or comment.

Throughout the day, TV viewers got a steady diet of this kind of specious logic from talk show hosts feeding on the grist from Mullen, Allen and others. After all, many pundits work for news organizations owned or allied with some of the same corporations profiteering from war.

Too bad CBS’s legendary Edward R. Murrow is long since dead; and the widely respected Walter Cronkite, as well.

Taking the CBS baton from Murrow who had challenged the “red scare” witch hunts of Sen. Joe McCarthy, Cronkite gradually saw through the dishonesty responsible for the killing of so many in Vietnam and finally spoke up.

Corporal Shank & Specialist Kirkland

Five years ago, as I was lecturing in Missouri, the body of 18-year-old Cpl. Jeremy Shank of Jackson, Missouri, (population 12,000) came home for burial. He was killed in Hawijah, Iraq, on Sept. 6, 2006, while on a “dismounted security patrol when he encountered enemy forces using small arms,” according to the Pentagon.

Which enemy forces? Two weeks before Shank was killed, Stephen Hadley, then President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, acknowledged that the challenge in Iraq “isn’t about insurgency, isn’t about terror; it’s about sectarian violence.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Makiki added, “The most important element in the security plan is to curb the religious violence.”

So was Shank’s mission to prevent Iraqi religious fanatics from killing one another? What do you think; was that worth his life?

On Sept. 7, 2006, the day after Shank was killed, President Bush, in effect, mocked his death by drawing the familiar but bogus connection to 9/11, claiming, “Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, America is safer, and American is winning the war on terror.”

Back at the First Baptist Church in Jackson, Missouri, Rev. Carter Frey eulogized Shank as one of those who “put themselves in harm’s way and paid the ultimate sacrifice so you and I can have freedom to live in this country.”

Correction: It was not Cpl. Shank who put himself in harm’s way; it was those who used a peck of lies to launch a bloody, unnecessary war, first and foremost, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, not to mention the craven Congress that authorized it and much of the U.S. news media that went cheerily along.

Was separating Shia from Sunni a mission worth what is so facilely called the “ultimate sacrifice,” or, for other troops, the penultimate one paid by tens of thousands of veterans trying to adjust to life with brain injury and/or lacking limbs?

Despite the self-serving rhetoric about “heroes,” the young, small-town Shanks of America stand low in the priorities of Establishment Washington. They are pawns in the war games played by generals and politicians far, far from the battlefield.

In the Army in which I served, the troops were often referred to simply as “warm bodies;” that is, at least before they became cold and stiff. But that term was normally not accompanied by the mechanistic disdain reflected in the memo by a Fort Lewis-McCord Army major that came to light last year.

On March 20, 2010, Specialist Derrick Kirkland, back from his second tour in Iraq, hanged himself in the barracks at Fort Lewis-McCord, leaving behind a wife and young daughter. Kirkland had been suffering from severe depression and anxiety attacks, for which he had been ridiculed by his comrades.


As for his superiors, it was Army policy to do everything possible to avoid diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And so, Kirkland became a new entry in a little-known statistic; namely, the one that shows more active-duty soldiers are committing suicide than are killed in combat.

Not a problem for Maj. Keith Markham, Executive Officer of Kirkland’s unit, who put the prevailing attitude all too clearly in a private memo sent to his platoon leaders. “We have an unlimited supply of expendable labor,” wrote Markham.

And, sadly, he is right. Because of the poverty draft (aka the “professional Army”), more than half of which comes from small towns like Jackson, Missouri, and from inner cities, where good jobs and educational opportunity are rare to nonexistent.

I suspect that one factor behind the very high suicide rate is a belated realization among the troops that they have been conned, lied to, that they have been used as pawns in an unconscionably cynical game.

I would imagine that corporals and specialists, as well as high brass like the legendary two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Marine Gen. Smedley Butler, often come to this realization belatedly, and that this probably exacerbates the pain.

Butler wrote War is a Racket in 1935, describing the workings of the military-industrial complex well before President Dwight Eisenhower gave it a name.

It is not difficult for troops to learn that the phenomenon about which Eisenhower warned has now broadened into an even more pervasive and powerful military-industrial-corporate-congressional-media-institutional-church complex. Small wonder the suicide rate is so high.

And for what? Please raise your hand if you now believe, or have ever believed, that the White House and Pentagon have sent a hundred thousand troops to Afghanistan for the reason given by President Barack Obama; namely, “to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” the 50 to 100 al-Qaeda who U.S. intelligence agencies say are still in Afghanistan?

And keep your hands up, those of you who are about to throw something at the TV screen the next time Gen. David Petraeus intones the squishy phrase “fragile and reversible” to describe what he keeps calling “progress” in Afghanistan.

Troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan know better. It must be particularly hard for them to hear the lies about “progress,” and then be ridiculed and marginalized for having PTSD.

The Establishment Church

I added “institutional church” into the military-industrial-corporate-congressional-media-institutional-church complex coined above because, with very few exceptions, the institutional church is still riding shotgun for the system, and the wars.

Thus, instead of an indictment of “wars of choice” (formerly known as wars of aggression) in which many people die, including thousands of civilians, most men and women of the cloth are likely to fall back on platitudinous, fulsome praise for those who “have given their lives so that we can live in freedom.”

And there will be very few outspoken folk like Cindy Sheehan, painfully aware that courage and truth are far more important than fear, even when that fear includes the painful recognition that the life of a beloved son was wasted.

There may be just a few who will dare point out that the mission given our troops has made us less, not more, safe at home, and even ask what is so hard to understand about the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill or the peaceful message from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount?

In commenting on Saturday’s killing of the 38 troops in the helicopter crash, preachers could consider using something less “quaint,” less “obsolete”, something more realistic and truer than the customary encomia for those who have made “the ultimate sacrifice.”

It might be more appropriate to turn to Rudyard Kipling for words more to the point, if politically and congregationally incorrect: “If they ask you why we died, tell them because our fathers lied.”

Or: “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.”

Ray McGovern served as an infantry/intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for almost 30 years. He now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington, and serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

17 comments for “More US Soldiers Die in Vain

  1. Ludwig1251
    August 21, 2011 at 18:05
  2. Bob Marshall
    August 21, 2011 at 01:30

    Wars are started for the profit of coporations tied to the industrial military complex at the expense of many lives. The US is nation building.In 2003 the PNAC stated the US has a list of enemes that will be taken out by 2010.This is those countries.Iraq,Syria,Lybia, Lebanon,and Iran.After the embarrasment of Vietnam it was agreed that the US would never fight another war they wouldn’t be able to win.Iran was chosen last because in 2003 the US didn’t have bases to surround Iran and Russia.The PNAC already had plans to use mini-nukes against Iran as early as 2003. A research of the former PNAC will prove interesting! It was no coincidence the PNAC was composed of war hawks.Russia has been added to this list.

  3. Murphy
    August 11, 2011 at 19:24

    A staggering sense of grief:

    That’s what I felt when the first kid I “fixed” showed up on a casualty list from Afghanistan. I’m a military doctor, and my job is to “fix” these poverty stricken kids we recruit so they can go to Iraq or Afghanistan to get killed or maimed for nothing.

    There was no way for me to mistake who this kid was: he was born when O.J. Simpson was still a hero,
    and his parents named him, “Orenthal James”. Never mind if it was Smith or Jones, the last name was one nobody could forget. That was the kid I “fixed”. He was quiet, polite, respectful, and grateful. I was probably the first real “doctor” that had ever touched him, injected him, cut him, or sewed him. I am white, and he was black, but he trusted me, and I am humbled by that.

    So, I “fixed” this beautiful kid, who had every prospect and possibility before him. He had the right attitude, the right sense of purpose, and the right inclination to serve his country, albeit in the only way his country gave him the opportunity to serve.

    The hypocrisy of the “health care” debates really cracks me up. Every day as one of those military doctors, I do stuff as a matter of routine that “civilian” providers would stretch out for months and years, and thousands and thousands of dollars. The scams I see from the “bottom feeders” who have denied these kids appropriate care based on what their “copay” would cover is an atrocity. They should be in jail, along with the insurance underwriters who enable them.

    I gave “Orenthal James” back his dignity just long enough to have a picture taken that his mother would be proud of, and he went off and died for nothing. I have only a profound sense of guilt.

  4. gib1pointseven
    August 8, 2011 at 22:52

    I like everything I’ve ever read by Ray McGovern, and this latest is perhaps my favorite of them all. There is nothing I like better than this kind of thing. It gives me hope. I want to nominate him for this month’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award, for pointing out realities that so many still choose to not see. But bit by bit eyes are opening.
    The evil of the American wars has put on a phony Christian mask to a big extent.
    Usually either people realize this, and see it for what it is, or else they think me very odd, or worse, for suggesting it.

    The wars are a way for a force (speaking generically) that is the exact opposite of “christian” to do its destruction under a shield of, if not overt Christianity, professed Christian-like virtues. “God” is invoked not only by those seeking peace, but perhaps even more often when there is state-sanctioned killing to be done. To try and erase the shame and the crime of killing, religion is used and then the killers can imagine that “God” has said that the killing was right and in His service, not wrong.
    But some people can’t fool themselves, or not forever, and I suspect the suicides are often these ones.
    And so there is a comprehensive tragedy. No winners, only victims in the end, and the Devil laughs.
    So many of the conventional words about these wars, and all wars, are only lies to cover up hidden deeds that are in service of not “God” or “Jesus” but their alleged opponent.
    Just as the wolf put on a sheepskin to gain trust and then kill, kill, kill, the warmongers have put on a skin of false piety to cover their real purposes.
    The churches have stood aside, sometimes have enabled or participated or cheered. But mostly they have stood aside by which i mean not speaking out against the wars. As ray discusses, they have tended to withdraw into the banalities and generalities an,d politically correct phrases.
    They should look and see- their very Church is being hijacked.

  5. August 8, 2011 at 16:38

    Tom Williams has it right: the military enterprise has craftily embedded itself into every region of the country, ensuring that congress members will not dare to cut it back. We need to find appropriate peaceful ends for all this productive capacity to turn to. Why should the pentagon be entirely devoted to war & its offshoots? Two fifths of the pentagram could easily be spared to rebuild the national infrastructure.

  6. James Clark
    August 8, 2011 at 15:59

    “Shit hooks” letter to some fellow vets

    Remember? That’s what we used to call them . When the first helicopter ” accident” was reported from Afghanistan it involved 15 to 20 G.I.’s and I thought— ChinookI They said they thought it was mechanical even though they had total access to the crash site and you know immediately if anything from small arms fire to something bigger is involved. The bastards initially would not even tell you what kind of aircraft and the ” Embedded” liberal media kept their mouths shut like a good Pravda reporter would. Later it came out it was brought down by enemy fire. They were so hellbent on avoiding a ” Vietnam parallel that they tried to lie thinking that the whole thing would be finished shortly. Fast forward ten years and we are in the quagmire Progressives warned we would be in.

    The Chinook was a “hydraulic nightmare” when I would talk to crew chiefs in Vietnam. Of course they have improved much the lift capability and other factors since then. I have seen and forwarded to you pictures of one unloading at a small mountaintop base, the kind we used to land on with ” Hueys” and it is in midair, holding steady with the tailgate down. Amazing to be sure…HOWEVER although it’s an airborne equivalent of a Mayflower moving van it is just as slow and vulnerable to any airborne hand held missile. This latest one, the largest loss of life in one incident so far was brought down by a lousy R.P.G. A WW2 bazooka could actually achieve the same results. One wonders if the RPG was one we gave the Taliban in the “80”s or was it purchased at the Kandahar Bazaar?

    Chinooks are wonderfully useful in SAFE areas but in a guerrilla war, which “Rummy”, Dickhead etc. didn’t understand, they are tremendously vulnerable. I can’t believe they would be used at all where there is a chance of fire from the ground. This latest one took 31 lives.

    Satan on toast don’t these mother fuckers learn anything?

    Post Script: Bobby, Steve was in my helicopter unit. Steve, Bob was a snakeater I met after coming back. Chuck was in my unit too but is from New Jersey so who cares?

    Also, I bet you can’t find one Repub, teabagger or Democrat on the street that even knows this has happened. If they hear it on the news tonight they will have forgotten two weeks later. What a moral outrage this is and such an insult to the parents and children who are left behind, many of whom will go to their graves insisting these troops ” Died for our freedoms”.

  7. tom williams
    August 8, 2011 at 12:06

    As one of the preachers and a disabled Vietnam veteran, I truly appreciate Ray’s article and perspective. Having preached and worked to end this stupidity, there are several things to confront regarding the institutional church and the military-industrial complex and begin with the defense budget. We spend around a trillion dollars a year on so called defense. Some of that money trickles its way down to every community and in those communities are “pillars” of the churches who each Sunday sit in the pews and look at you as you preach. It’s very simple to talk about cutting the defense budget but because our economy has become so dependent on this spending for jobs and economic development, it can’t simply go away without great negative impact on so many. We need not just a peace movement but a reconstruction movement which demands that we stop spending on weapons and killing and start spending on infrastructure, education, and other such domestic needs. I think that’s why it’s too simple to preach about the enormity of the defense budget and agree with the tea partiers who want just want to cut cut cut.

    Deaths in our endless wars will be in vain if we continue to fail to learn that war is not the answer to terrorism or hatred or religious fanatacism. There needs to be an honest appraisal of the why of such and not simply a knee jerk reaction of reaching for the military response button.

  8. SuLee
    August 8, 2011 at 08:48

    I’m old enough to have had a husband in Vietnam….

    Frankly, I’m quite tired of having every man and woman who joins the military automatically being considered a “hero” in the eyes of the media and the general population.

    While someone in the military certainly can do something heroic, and thus earn the title, for the most part these days, people are joining the military because they cannot find a job in the civilian world. This makes them a hero?

  9. novocaine38
    August 8, 2011 at 01:52

    President Eisenhower actually wanted to refer the “military-industrial-congressional complex” but his advisors spoke against this more realistic reference. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in his “War and the American Presidency”
    (p. 70, Patriotism and Dissent in Wartime) quotes President Wilson: “We have been
    told that it is unpatriotic to criticize public action,” said Woodrow Wilson. “Well, if it is, then there is a deep disgrace resting upon the origins of this nation. This nation originated in the sharpest sort of criticism of public policy…We have forgotten the very principle of our origin if we have forgotten how to object, how to resist, how agitate, how to pull down and build up.” Schlesinger continues, that going to war does not change the originating principle (thought in Wilson’s case, it lamentably did in the end, when he was manipulated by the American and German war fanatics). Going to war does not abrogate the freedoms of conscience, thought and speech. “The Constitution of the
    United States,” the Supreme Court declared in ex parte Milligan, “is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace.” (p.73)…As Theodore Roosevelt—no greater hyperpatriot, he—said in 1918 during the First World War, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”…Senator Robert A. Taft took the same line. “I believe,” Taft said, there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government…Too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think it will give some comfort to the enemy…If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and it will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur…” This is were he have come to, a “dystopia” of errors…From the Alien and Sedition Act to the Patriot Act.
    And Schlesinger also said, that the Bush Administration has done “singelhandedly” more harm to the aggregate of national and international interests of the people of the United States than any number of putative or actual enemies could have accomplished…Bravo Ray, keep it up.

  10. Jym Allyn
    August 7, 2011 at 22:42

    Thank you Ray.
    I learned at Army Reserves OCS in 1971 that it was “illegal to obey an illegal order.” Not wanting to obey “illegal orders” is why I joined the Reserves in the first place to avoid going to the war in Vietnam.
    I also learned as a Scoutmaster that the first thing you do in the Planning Process is determine if the Plan is worth doing.
    When we declared war on Iraq in 2003 I thought that there was “no way” our government would commit the same types of lies and travesty that got us into Vietnam and WASTED the lives of 68,000 American soldiers.
    I was wrong.
    And the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld lies have done more harm to our country, in the last 12 years in terms of our lives lost and financial costs due to the Kleptocracy that caused our financial mess, than Al Qaeda ever did.
    At the same time, ironically, Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld almost pulled off a victory.
    If they had NOT demobilized the secular Iraqi Army in 2003, they could have had the Iraqis fill the vacuum caused by the disappearance of Saddam. We then could have gone after what should have been the primary target: Bin Laden in Afghanistan & Pakistan.
    Bush would have seemed a hero instead of the inarticulate idiot he actually is. And our loss of military lives in Iraq and Afghanistan would likely have stayed below 500 which was the number of soldiers lost when we had “Mission Accomplished.”

  11. Regina Schulte
    August 7, 2011 at 22:11

    U.S. military generals and assorted leaders continue rationalizing in favor of our futile wars. OF COURSE MILITARY LEADERS HOPE FOR PERPETUAL WAR. WHY WOULDN’T THEY? WAR-MAKING IS THEIR CHOSEN PROFESSION. It’s a career they studied and trained for–one that can provide a sense of personal fulfillment. So, regardless of what wars “do unto others”–“damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.”

  12. Howard Bleicher
    August 7, 2011 at 19:09

    It is not enough to point accusing fingers at our almost totally corrupt elected officials and the inept bought and controlled major news media. The public has sat back, nurtured and supported this country’s nefarious politicians and are getting all excited about the coming elections so that they can do it again. The public, in their normal trance like lack of comprehension, still has been made aware of the hundreds of thousands of innocents murdered by the American military and really, by their evident lack of outrage, to this day, couldn’t care less. And this, fine people, is the tell tale evidence of a decaying country.

  13. Tom Baxter
    August 7, 2011 at 19:08

    Nobody has ever been able to tell me what freedoms I defended when I was helping murder millions of Vietnamese in 1968, the same year Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.

  14. ilse
    August 7, 2011 at 18:53

    “It is high time these preachers be held to account, since the patriotic pap they dish out serves merely to perpetuate unnecessary killing.”
    That should include politicians on all levels!
    Thank you Mr.Ray McGovern.

  15. Ernesto
    August 7, 2011 at 18:15

    Another excellent editorial from Ray.

    I go to mass hoping for a homily on the horrors & sins of perpetual wars but non are forthcoming.

    I’ve concluded that the churches are afraid of offending parishioners and of losing their donations. And of complaints to the local bishop who’ll then chastise the pastor or worse send him off to teach in some far off seminary.

  16. August 7, 2011 at 18:14

    Well said. Everyone in congress should have to serve a term in the war before serving on Washington. That may change things. Wonderful article.

  17. rosemerry
    August 7, 2011 at 18:13

    Another point about Iraq is that the Shia-Sunni differences were not an issue before the invasion-mixing, intermarriage, working together were the rule, and the sectarian problems and suicide bombings only began as a result of the invasion and occupation. The “blaming the Arabs” for defending their country, or what remains of it, is typical of many ignorant US military men and women.

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