Curtain Raiser

Phony Leaders & a Weary Hero, Colltalers

President Obama, always one for words, has summarized the aftermath of the latest prefab crisis brought about by the extreme right: we’ve got to get out of this habit of governing by crisis. It’s not a habit, though; it’s an addiction. And it’s not ‘we.’ Most Americans didn’t cause this. We’re just sick of it.
With the end of the U.S. government shutdown, at least for now, we’ve entered a period that some have smartly characterized as a ‘cease fire.’ We wonder how much further damage can the Tea Party inflict on us in the next assault, and how much more it’ll cost to this country’s economy.
For while the attempted hijack may have flushed over $20 billion and counting down the drain, the same shady characters giving public service a bad name have shown no remorse to those millions of poor Americans who voted or not for them, and are getting ready for some more come February.
That they’ve further weakened an already tenuous U.S. credibility, at least financial, in the world, and their folly hurt thousands of families for months ahead, is not even a factor in their public pitches. No, they actually act as if they’ve truly enjoyed having brought the world to an almost standstill.
As their well paid cronies in the media dutifully fail to report, it’s as if the crisis was a result of mutual intransigence, so ‘natural’ in politics. The fact that it wasn’t, and that it had a well known cast of architects, bent on getting by force what the polls have denied them, goes virtually unchecked.
Not surprisingly, a good look at the weekend news, plus the almost all-white male cast of Sunday talk shows, only reinforced the idea that preparations have already started to demand more cuts in government spending which, if the recent past serves as an example, means only slashes in social programs.
Yes, there’s talk about some trimmings in the military budget, but we’re afraid that they refer to further restrictions in health coverage for Vets, both by reducing choices in the specialized care they need, and by slowing down even more the processing of the shameful backlog of their claims.
Talking about Vets, there’s an interesting, if somewhat discouraging, tale surrounding Ret. Army Captain William Swenson, who’s just received the first Medal of Honor given to an army officer since the Vietnam War. Hint: it’s not about his feats of courage in a hellhole battle in Afghanistan.
He’s earned it by saving fellow soldiers, rescuing Afghan troops and retrieving bodies of several Americans who died during the Battle of Ganjgal in 2009. Between then and last Tuesday, when he was finally given his award, lies a disturbing tale that says something about America, circa 2013.
For right after that particularly gruesome combat, Capt. Swenson broke ranks and dared to openly criticize his superiors for not providing enough air and artillery support. And here comes the interesting part: despite indicated for a medal for his actions, the Army said his nomination packet got lost.
So, for four years, while many within the organization wished that people would forget all about his bravery and independent position, a behind-the-scenes struggle took place to grant him the well deserved honor. It’s doubtful that anyone will offer an explanation about what really happened.
Even now, since having ‘quietly resigned’ from the Army in 2011, the case is a glaring example that despite ample financial support to whatever the Pentagon decides are national security goals, the buck stops at the doorsteps of those actually making the ultimate sacrifice to fulfill such goals.
Capt. Swenson is unemployed and, by some accounts, detached from any productive segment of civilian life, a fate not unlike the great majority of Vets, in the name of whom some of the most catastrophic foreign policies have been enforced, and who once back in the U.S., are promptly ignored.
In a David Nakamura story, on the Washington Post, he emerges as a deeply troubled, still young, man, visibly hurt by the 4-year dispute with his employer over the narrative of the firefight and what really went on that day. There’s no dispute, though, over his leadership and sacrifice in battle.
Five U.S. soldiers, 10 Afghan troops and an interpreter were killed in Ganjgal, with more than two dozen coalition troops injured, when they were ambushed by some 60 heavily armed Taliban combatants. It’s very likely that many more would have died if it hadn’t been for Capt. Swenson.
But what this tale illuminates goes beyond his personal ordeal. For with all due respect, his is far from being a unique story about someone who fulfilled his duty with valor but whose life now is all but wasted in the outskirts of society, in his case, in the rough mountains of Seattle.
What it illustrates is the disconnect between thousands of highly trained young Americans, who can find no way to employ their hard-earned, valuable skills to the task of making this country better, and the wealthy minority in Washington that gets to drive it to a ditch every few months.
As Capt. Swenson and many like him have all but given up the hope of ever seeing their sacrifice transformed into a palpable sense of contribution, we also agonize that many stories like these don’t even get to be told. Our children may never know that some of us really do make a difference.
President Obama thanked the captain for ‘being there for his brothers’ and for ‘all of us.’ We hope the president doesn’t forget that we count on him for the same reason, against those who’d never even consider sacrificing themselves with such altruistic fervor as the good captain and many like him did.
As they regroup to lead another charge against programs crucial to the most vulnerable among us, all disguised under the pretext of balancing the budget, we may have less defenses than the last time, let alone the sort of leaders that are being forged by fire, blood and betrayal in Afghanistan. Have a good one. WC


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