By Ross Caputi
Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Originally appearing: UD’s The Review
Veterans Day is one of the worst days of the year for me. It makes me remember what I am a veteran of, and I think about the city I helped destroy as a Marine in Iraq, the thousands of civilians I helped kill and the hundreds of thousands of civilians I helped drive from their homes during the 2nd siege of Fallujah. Those are memories I would like to forget. Also, the way that we celebrate Veterans Day is particularly upsetting for me. The selective remembering and forgetting that characterizes this holiday pains me as I watch a new generation of Americans be indoctrinated with all the same mistaken conceptions of war, honor and what it is to be a veteran that I once had.
On Veterans Day, we applaud politely as veterans march in parades. Ribbons, medals, flags and fancy uniforms flood our senses, and everyone is content with the atmosphere of honor, pride and patriotism. The victims of our wars are invisible. There are always victims of war, but most Americans never see them. On Veterans Day, we are spared the inconvenient memory that millions of civilians were killed in Iraq, Vietnam, Korea and other places throughout our nation’s short history.
Most Americans have never seen their blood or smelled their rotting corpses. And few veterans will tell their tales. All the unpleasantries that might give us pause about the nobility or the benevolence of our wars are spared for us on Veterans Day.
On Veterans Day, we make believe that support for the troops is apolitical. Just like the victims of our wars, the historical and political context of why we are veterans—the reasons why we went to war and the consequences of those wars—are also conveniently omitted, and nobody seems to notice.
What we are called on to remember on Veterans Day are America’s wars, sanitized of the harm they brought to countless victims around the world, and abstracted from their historical and political context. We are asked to support our veterans while forgetting the reality of what they participated in. It is a pleasant fairytale, and I wish I could partake in it. But my experience in Iraq has forever changed the way I look at war and the way I feel about being a veteran.
I participated in the second siege of Fallujah, which is commonly regarded as the bloodiest operation of the occupation of Iraq. There are many important things to note about this operation—the high civilian casualties, the indiscriminate manner in which the operation was carried out and the fact that we leveled 70 percent of a city three times the size of Wilmington. But what will forever stick with me is the enormous gap between the reality of what we did to Fallujah and what the American public believed that we did. We were welcomed back home as heroes, parades were thrown in our honor and books were written about our heroic “liberation” of Fallujah.
I never know what to say when people approach me to shake my hand and thank me for my “service.” How do I begin to explain to them that what I did in Fallujah in no way served my country, nor did it serve Iraq? And it wasn’t just the operation that I participated in. Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and no connections to 9/11. Our invasion and occupation of Iraq was without justification. It was illegal. It was a war crime. But, on Veterans Day, we do not speak of such things.
There is another way. We need to change the way that we celebrate Veterans Day. Veterans Day should be a holiday of learning, not forgetting. We should be sympathetic to the ways that veterans have suffered, but without ignoring the ways that civilians have suffered as a result of our wars. We should learn about the wars that our veterans participated in, but without glossing over the historical and political context in which they occurred.
Veterans Day must cease to be a day of reflexive support for popular mythology. The jingoism, the cheerleading and the forgetting must end. Instead, Veterans Day must become a day of learning and questioning. We need to question our reasons for going to war. We need to question the morality of going to war. We need to question the calls from politicians to send young men and women to kill and be killed.
Most importantly, veterans need to lead the way. That is why I made a documentary film about the human consequences of my unit’s mission in Fallujah. I want to show that when we sit back and passively applaud veterans, we miss not only the roots of their posttraumatic stress disorder and moral injury but also the suffering of the human beings that we too often dismiss as collateral damage.
The Marines who laid siege to Fallujah are not blood-thirsty killers, nor are they heroes. The reality is more complex, and we do a disservice to humanity by passively accepting the narrative presented to us by the politicians and the mainstream media.
I will be screening this film on November 20th with UD Students for Justice in Palestine in Sharp Lab, room 130 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. I invite people to come, to question and to think beyond the abstract, moralistic terms that we usually use on Veterans Day.
The views of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Review.