My dad was the 7th of 9 children. The youngest, my Aunt Carleen, was a high school classmate and best friend of my mother, years before she met my dad. My aunt’s oldest son, Dave, was my age and we were classmates in high school. Dave and I were eligible for the draft during the Vietnam war. A few who graduated a year or so ahead of us had already been drafted and one I knew had died. Recently I asked my aunt if she had ever talked to her son Dave about the Vietnam war. She had not and appeared to think it was a crazy question. My parents had not. My teachers had not. I had not even asked any of my childhood adults until now.
I see our children heading into climate catastrophe, suffering and dying, possibly to extinction, while few adults even talk about it let alone take action. This appears similar to families that do not acknowledge incest or do not learn and warn their children about the horrors of wars chosen by our leaders for the profit of a few and justified with lies.
It is clearly very difficult for us to acknowledge problems in our family or in our country. But there are consequences when we fail to look deeply and honestly; fail to acknowledge; fail to take action.
For nearly all of my life, I failed to acknowledge the problems, learn more, and stop passing on the deceptions. I failed to warn my son as he entered the Air Force.
I only changed as I started to actually see the victims. I will share some of what I have seen.
Our paths crossed on a peak. I had just descended from enjoying the view from a fire watch tower. I was on my last of 10 days of solo backpacking, only seeing people a few times. She was just starting, also solo to deeply enjoy nature. We only talked a couple of minutes before we both needed to continue in opposite directions.
Subsequently I managed to get an address and about a month later wrote her a letter. She wrote back and soon she was mailing a hand written letter every day on hand painted stationary, a craft income of an elderly neighbor. We had met early September and were writing by my 50th birthday in October. We made our first plans to meet, for Thanksgiving at a Devil’s Lake, a Wisconsin State Park. We had both grown up in Chicago and this had been a favorite vacation spot of our families. It is a deep, clear lake, beaches at the South and North ends, and rock bluffs on both sides.
We met at the North end and hiked the West bluff. After descending at the other end, she asked me if I contra-dance and held out both arms. I do, recognized the move, and accepted the invitation to a fast swing. She had worked for a church in Boston, home of Wild Asparagus, the best contra-dance band. I had enjoyed a week of dancing with them in St Croix among other places. While returning on the East bluff she said, “Have I ever kissed you here?” and explained that her father would say that to her mother when they had been hiking this lake.
It was getting dark by the time we were getting back but our way was blocked by a train on the tracks that run along the East side. It had been stalled for hours. Where the trail crossed the tracks, a young, heavy man was attempting to replace a broken coupling. He had driven up from Rockford Illinois. He was using a sledge hammer trying to beat the 80 pound coupling into place. He was sweating and explained that he had no experience. He was frequently answering the phone to give updates. Vehicles were backed up on several rural roads. Eventually I asked if I could help. He accepted and I installed the coupling through a sequence of various angles. A sledge hammer was neither necessary nor sufficient.
It was heading into winter, no one else was camping, and the only sites open were for trailer camping in an open field. That was not nature for her. She did not even want to use a tent. In the dark, on the icy rocks, we hiked back up the West bluff with only our sleeping bags to spend the night with a view of the lake. Seven inches of new snow fell during the night. At one point a pine branch bent under the load and dropped the snow directly on my head. She started laughing and I joined her. The sleeping bags were more than adequate. I do not like to break any rules, but her plan was great.
She was 47 years old but had lived alone her whole life. She was a biologist, involved in field research, teaching and protecting nature. She was clever, funny and playful. She does so much to help others, particularly youth and elderly. She was athletic, once writing that she had run 52 miles through forest that day to enjoy the fall colors. She was skilled at everything from knitting to carpentry. She cooked on her aunt’s 1939, cast iron Roper oven/range, in beautiful condition.
Late January, a few days before our plans to meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan to join my friends and enjoy a music festival, she wrote and canceled. In her letter, she told how her grandfather had raped her when she was 5 years old. A couple of years later, while swimming in the Atlantic, an undertow took her far out. It was a frightening struggle to survive. But after coming to the surface, she realized that she preferred to die. She repeatedly dove down to allow the current to take her.
She sits awake most nights. The thoughts of suicide are her comfort. Her father died a year earlier. She was trying to hold out until her mother died or she turned 50.
Our love continued to strengthen while at the same time she was realizing that having a connection to anyone interfered with her plans for suicide, the only way she could handle the pain. In March she wrote that she truly loves me. The next day she wrote that she needed to continue with her plans and could never write or see me again.
At an earlier point she wrote that she had written me a more detailed account of her trauma with some corrections to what she initially shared, but she tore it up and could not share it with anyone. I suspect that it was not her grandfather, but her father. She had intense feelings for her father and a complex mix of obligation, disdain and anger with her mother. As I write this, I realize the similarities between her and my mother. Both enjoyed camping with their dads and were a clever team which excluded their moms.
It is with great hesitation that I shared the private struggle of another person but we face a very serious crisis. The barriers to talking about problems in a family are the same as talking about problems with our country. Perhaps some of you are able to look at this example and perhaps start to look at the climate emergency, the betrayal of all of our children.
In May 2012, at the NATO Summit in Chicago, I marched with Veterans for Peace holding a rope perimeter around more than 40 veterans of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including Jacob George who hurled their military medals toward the NATO summit gates in an act of protest against U.S. wars.
We were given instructions to only allow Amy Goodman of Democracy Now to cross the perimeter and document the event. All of the main stream media was giving a very distorted view to the public. Watch her coverage, “No NATO, No War”: U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit.
At the protest of the NATO summit, I was a few feet from the stage when the veterans hurled their military medals toward the NATO leaders from 60 countries.
ASH WOOLSON: No NATO, no war!
VETERANS: No NATO, no war!
ASH WOOLSON: We don’t work for you no more!
VETERANS: We don’t work for you no more!
ASH WOOLSON: N-A-T-O!
ASH WOOLSON: We don’t kill for you no more!
VETERANS: We don’t kill for you no more!
ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: At this time, one by one, veterans of the wars of NATO will walk up on stage. They will tell us why they chose to return their medals to NATO. I urge you to honor them by listening to their stories. Nowhere else will you hear from so many who fought these wars about their journey from fighting a war to demanding peace. Some of us killed innocents. Some of us helped in continuing these wars from home. Some of us watched our friends die. Some of us are not here, because we took our own lives. We did not get the care promised to us by our government. All of us watched failed policies turn into bloodshed. Listen to us, hear us, and think: was any of this worth it?
ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: Do these medals thank us for a job well done?
ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: Do they mask lies,corruption, and abuse of young men and women who swore to defend their country?
ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: We tear off this mask. Hear us.
IRIS FELICIANO: My name is Iris Feliciano. I served in the Marine Corps. And in January of 2002, I deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. And I want to tell the folks behind us, in these enclosed walls, where they build more policies based on lies and fear, that we no longer stand for them. We no longer stand for their lies, their failed policies and these unjust wars. Bring our troops home and end the war now. They can have these back.
GREG MILLER: My name is Greg Miller. I’m a veteran of the United States Army infantry with service in Iraq 2009. The military hands out cheap tokens like this to soldiers, servicemembers, in an attempt to fill the void where their conscience used to be once they indoctrinate it out of you. But that didn’t work on me, so I’m here to return my Global War on Terrorism Medal and my National Defense Medal, because they’re both lies.
SCOTT KIMBALL: My name is Scott Kimball. I’m an Iraq war vet. And I’m turning in these medals today for the people of Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine, and all victims of occupation across the world. And also, for all the servicemembers and veterans who are against these wars, you are not alone!
CHRISTOPHER MAY: My name is Christopher May. I left the Army as a conscientious objector. We were told that these medals represented, you know, democracy and justice and hope and change for the world. These medals represent a failure on behalf of the leaders of NATO to accurately represent the will of their own people. It represents a failure on the leaders of NATO to do what’s right by the disenfranchised people of this world. Instead of helping them, they take advantage of them, and they’re making things worse. I will not be a part of that anymore. These medals don’t mean anything to me, and they can have them back.
ASH WOOLSON: My name is Ash Woolson. I was a sergeant. I was in Iraq in ’03, and what I saw there crushed me. I don’t want us to suffer this again, and I don’t want our children to suffer this again, and so I’m giving these back!
MAGGIE MARTIN: My name is Maggie Martin. I was a sergeant in the Army. I did two tours in Iraq. No amount of medals, ribbons or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by these wars. We don’t want this garbage. We want our human rights. We want our right to heal.
JACOB CRAWFORD: I’m Jacob Crawford. I went to Iraq and Afghanistan. And when they gave me these medals, I knew they were meaningless. I only regret not starting to speak up about how silly the war is sooner. I’m giving these back. Free Bradley Manning!
JASON HURD: My name is Jason Hurd. I spent 10 years in the United States Army as a combat medic. I deployed to Baghdad in 2004. I’m here to return my Global War on Terrorism Service Medal in solidarity with the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan. I am deeply sorry for the destruction that we have caused in those countries and around the globe. I am proud to stand on this stage with my fellow veterans and my Afghan sisters. These were lies. I’m giving them back.
STEVEN LUNN: My name is Steven Lunn. I’m a two-time Iraq combat veteran. This medal I’m dedicating to the children of Iraq that no longer have fathers and mothers.
SHAWNA FOSTER: My name is Shawna, and I was a nuclear biological chemical specialist for a war that didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. So I deserted. I’m one of 40,000 people that left the United States Armed Forces because this is a lie!
STEVE ACHESON: My name is Steve Acheson. I’m from Campbellsport, Wisconsin. I was a forward observer in the United States Army for just under five years. I deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005. And I’m giving back my medals for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan. May they be able to forgive us for what we’ve done to them. May we begin to heal, and may we live in peace from here until eternity.
MICHAEL THURMAN: Hello. My name is Michael Thurman. I was a conscientious objector from the United States Air Force. I’m returning my Global War on Terrorism Medal and my military coins on behalf of Private First Class Bradley Manning, who sacrificed everything to show us the truth about these wars.
MATT HOWARD: My name is Matt Howard. I served in the United States Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006 and in Iraq twice. I’m turning in my campaign service—Iraq Campaign Service Medal and Global War on Terror Service and Expeditionary Medals for all my brothers and sisters affected with traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
ZACH LAPORTE: My name is Zach LaPorte, and I’m an Iraq war veteran from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thank you. I’m giving back my medals today because I feel like I was duped into an illegal war that was sold to me on the guise that I was going to be liberating the Iraqi people, when instead of liberating the people, I was liberating their oil fields.
SCOTT OLSEN: My name is Scott Olsen. I have with me today—today I have with me my Global War on Terror Medal, Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal, National Defense Medal and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. These medals, once upon a time, made me feel good about what I was doing. They made me feel like I was doing the right thing. And I came back to reality, and I don’t want these anymore.
TODD DENNIS: My name is Todd Dennis. I served in the United States Navy. I have PTSD. I’m returning my Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal because it was given to me, according to my letter, because of hard work and dedication and setting the example. I was a hard worker because I buried my PTSD and overworked myself in the military. And I’m throwing this back and invoking my right to heal.
MICHAEL APPLEGATE: My name is Michael Applegate. I was in the United States Navy from 1998 to 2006. And I’m returning my medal today because I want to live by my conscience rather than being a prisoner of it.
NATE: My name’s Nate. I served in the U.S. Navy from ’99 to 2003 and participated in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. I was wrong to sign myself up for that. I apologize to the Iraqi and Afghani people for destroying your countries.
BROCK McINTOSH: My name is Brock McIntosh. I was in the Army National Guard and served in Afghanistan from November ’08 to August ’09. Two months ago, I visited the monument at Ground Zero for my first time with two Afghans. A tragic monument. I’m going to toss this medal today for the 33,000 civilians who have died in Afghanistan that won’t have a monument built for them. And this is for the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.
VINCE EMANUELE: My name is Vince Emanuele, and I served with the United States Marine Corps. First and foremost, this is for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Second of all, this is for our real forefathers. I’m talking about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I’m talking about the Black Panthers. I’m talking about the civil rights movement. I’m talking about unions. I’m talking about our socialist brothers and sisters, our communist brothers and sisters, our anarchist brothers and sisters, and our ecology brothers and sisters. That’s who our real forefathers are. And lastly—and lastly and most importantly, our enemies are not 7,000 miles from home. They sit in boardrooms. They are CEOs. They are bankers. They are hedge fund managers. They do not live 7,000 miles from home. Our enemies are right here, and we look at them every day. They are not the men and women who are standing on this police line. They are the millionaires and billionaires who control this planet, and we’ve had enough of it. So they can take their medals back.
CHUCK WINANT: My name is Chuck Winant. I’m here on behalf of six good Americans who really wanted to be here but they couldn’t be. They couldn’t be, because when they came to the U.S. border, they’d be immediately arrested. And the crime they’d be arrested for was refusing to continue to participate in the crimes against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. And these good Americans, who are exiled now from this country, who deserve amnesty, are Private Christian Kjar of the U.S. Marine Corps; Private Kim Rivera, Army, Combat Action Badge, refused redeployment to Iraq; Corporal Jeremy Brockway, U.S. Marine Corps, Combat Action Badge, refused redeployment to Iraq; Specialist Jules Tindungan, Combat Infantry Badge, paratrooper, refused redeployment to Afghanistan; Sergeant Corey Glass, Army, refused redeployment to Iraq; and Sergeant Chris Vassey, paratrooper, CIB, refused redeployment to Afghanistan. I have their awards in my pocket, and I’m throwing them back, mad as hell!
AARON HUGHES: My name is Aaron Hughes. I served in the Illinois Army National Guard from 2000 and 2006. This medal right here is for Anthony Wagner. He died last year. This medal right here is for the one-third of the women in the military that are sexually assaulted by their peers. We talk about standing up for our sisters—we talk about standing up for our sisters in Afghanistan, and we can’t even take care of our sisters here. And this medal right here is because I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. I’m sorry.
One of the veterans who hurled their medals to NATO was Scott Olsen of Wisconsin. The prior December I watched live-stream from Oakland, CA as police fired a bean bag at his head and then fired flash grenades at the people trying to help him. He had been standing at attention with another veteran, between police and the non-violent protesters. Watch Scott Olsen, U.S. Vet Wounded at Occupy Oakland, on Recovery, Protests, Iraq and Bradley Manning.
Amy Goodman of Democracy NOW interviewed Scott Olsen after he hurled his medals to NATO. Watch Scott Olsen, U.S. Vet Who Nearly Lost Life at Occupy Protest, Brings Antiwar Message to NATO Summit.
I was there and watched her interview Scott. After hurling their medals, the riot police hurried Amy Goodman and all of the veterans away from the stage to a grassy area. After we were far enough away, they entrapped the thousands of other protesters, told them to disperse while actually preventing them from leaving, and started clubbing them. The Quaker friend from Peoria who arranged the “Eyes Wide Open” and her daughter were trapped in this lesson from Obama, not to disrupt his event, in his city. When I later told my aunt Carleen about this, she made her position clear by showing me a picture of three neighbors from this Illinois farm community, in body armor, being trained to protect Chicago from us. I had baby-sat for one of them.
Tragically, as with Jacob George, the public denial of what veterans had experienced in war and had learned about the lies promoting war, are too much to bear and every day about 22 active military and veterans commit suicide.
Here are excerpts from two reports. Note that the focus of the second is attempting to downplay the significance in that the 2012 figure of 22 suicides every day included active-duty but was often reported as veterans. It also notes that the VA gets the numbers from state death certificates but only 21 states record if the deceased was military, which excluded California and Texas, which have large veteran populations. They do not say if and how they include veteran suicides from the other 29 states.
US military suicides surge to record high among active duty troops
The number of suicides across the military increased from 511 in 2017 to 541 in 2018. According to the Pentagon, the most at-risk population is young enlisted men, and at least 60% of the time they chose a gun as their suicide method. Army suicides went from 114 to 139, while the marines went from 43 to 58 and the navy went from 65 to 68. The air force dipped from 63 to 60. “Our numbers are not moving in the right direction,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, director of the Pentagon’s office of force resiliency. She said that most of the military rates are comparable to civilians, but added, “that’s hardly comforting”.
The rate of suicide among active-duty troops was 24.8 per 100,000 people in 2018. In 2017, that figure was 21.9 per 100,000 troops. Five years ago, the suicide rate among troops was 18.5 per 100,000 service members.
That compares with 18.2 people per 100,000 for all Americans ages 17 to 59. The report maintains that, adjusting for age and gender, the military’s rate is roughly the same as American society.
VA reveals its veteran suicide statistic included active-duty troops
June 20, 2018
WASHINGTON – For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported an average of 20 veterans died by suicide every day – an often-cited statistic that raised alarm nationwide about the rate of veteran suicide.
However, the statistic has long been misunderstood, according to a report released this week.
The VA has now revealed the average daily number of veteran suicides has always included deaths of active- duty servicemembers and members of the National Guard and Reserve, not just veterans.
Craig Bryan, a psychologist and leader of the National Center for Veterans Studies, said the new information could now help advocates in the fight against military and veteran suicide.
“The key message is that suicides are elevated among those who have ever served,” Bryan said. “The benefit of separating out subgroups is that it can help us identify higher risk subgroups of the whole, which may be able to help us determine where and how to best focus resources.”
The VA released its newest National Suicide Data Report on Monday, which includes data from 2005 through 2015. Much in the report remained unchanged from two years ago, when the VA reported suicide statistics through 2014. Veteran suicide rates are still higher than the rest of the population, particularly among women.
In both reports, the VA said an average of 20 veterans succumbed to suicide every day. In its newest version, the VA was more specific.
The report shows the total is 20.6 suicides every day. Of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active-duty servicemembers, guardsmen and reservists, the report states. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 servicemembers who died by suicide in one year.
The VA’s 2012 report stated 22 veterans succumbed to suicide every day – a number that’s still often cited incorrectly. That number also included active-duty troops, Guard and Reserve, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Wednesday.
VA officials determine the statistic by analyzing state death certificates and calculating the percentage of veterans out of all suicides. The death certificates include a field designating whether the deceased ever served in the U.S. military.
Information in the 2012 report wasn’t as complete as the newer ones. At the time, only 21 states shared information from their death certificates. California and Texas, which have large veteran populations, were two of the states that didn’t provide their data.
Susan Schnall joined the Navy in 1965 when she was going to Stanford Nursing School. Her dad was in the Marine Corps in the Second World War and was killed on the island of Guam, 1944. She went into the Navy as a nurse and felt that she would be taking care of those who were harmed and hurt in the war in Southeast Asia. At Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California she took care of the guys who were coming back from Vietnam.
As a nurse, Susan was doing her best to care for those physically and psychologically injured by war, while working within the military system promoting the war. My family members with military experience, but not having been in combat, live in a different world than all of my colleagues in Veterans for Peace. Susan’s daily job straddled that chasm. She dedicated her life to support for the veterans and educating active-duty military. She hung meeting notices in the hospital but they were removed during the night. Using U.S. propaganda methods, she hired a plane to drop leaflets over military bases. Listen and read her story, After dropping leaflets over military bases from a plane, Susan Schnall.
Several weeks ago a very young Colombian soldier made a self video. In Colombia, as everywhere today, governments are extracting more than the people can bear, and the people are protesting in the streets. This young soldier could not participate in the harsh crackdown on university students in Bogota. He asked to be transferred but it was denied and he was harshly treated by his fellow soldiers. He killed himself. With his last words, he told the students that he is with them.
This is where the world is heading. Police and military are increasingly being ordered to attack the people of their own country, the ones they swore to protect.
The young climate activist Greta Thunberg was in deep depression from when she starting learning about the climate emergency. She was about eight years old. She barely ate and rarely spoke. She could not understand why her parents, all of the adults and her classmates were not talking about it and acting appropriately (watch interview).
Except for my new activist friends and one cousin, none of my existing friends or family are even talking about the climate emergency. Very tragically we are creating this catastrophe for our children and grandchildren. They will suffer not only the impact of the catastrophe, but that the adults are in denial, neither protecting them or even allowing them to talk about it.
I am amazed at the resilience of many people through years, sometimes centuries, of struggle. It also appears that betrayal, particularly by those we most trusted, our parents and government, is tragically more than many can live with. They take their lives.