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From the Eastern Daily Press, Friday, April 23, 2004:

U-turn is a distraction

RICHARD CASEY,
Framingham Earl Rd,
Yelverton,
Norwich.

I will not be voting for Prime Minister Blair. If I had my way he would be made to stand trial for acts of treason against the British people but if we cut out the tabloid claptrap about U-turns we see once again, Tony Blair, the consummate politician, the Arch-Survivor.

Mr Blair was in the United states last week as one devastating piece of evidence after another blew the Bush-Blair reasons for attacking Iraq clean out of the water; Mr Blair did nothing to prevent President Bush making a deal with Ariel Sharon. Considering the present anger in the Muslim world, the deal bordered on the imbecilic. That plus the shambles in Iraq has left the reputation of the Bush administration in tatters, but not Mr Blair's.

Prime Minister Blair flew back to the UK, scarcely mentions the Middle East. Drops a hint about a "referendum", and his role in the Iraq-Israel nightmare is forgotten.

This, "U-turn", gave Michael Howard his moment of ecstatic bliss at the despatch box, and has doubtless ensured that, when the time comes, he is going to fall flat on his face as usual.

A majority of British ay oppose the euro, or this forthcoming constitution, but too many jobs depend on our membership of the EU. People know this, the Prime Minister knows this, and you can bet every penny you've got he'll plug that message home, again and again, and if a referendum is necessary, he will win it.


From Le Monde Diplomatique (English Edition), April 2004:

FORGOTTEN AND NEGLECTED US VETERANS OF THE IRAQ WARS

The ultimate betrayal

A year after the war on Iraq President Bush is appealing to patriotism to win re-election; but he is damaged by revelation of lies about the war, by continuing US losses and secrecy about the war's many wounded.

by Howard Zinn

I CANNOT get out of my mind the photograph on the front page of the New York Times on 30 December 2003, beside a story by Jeffrey Gettleman. It showed a young man on a chair facing a class of sixth graders in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. Next to him was a woman - not a teacher, but his mother, there to help him because he was blind.

He was Jeremy Feldbusch, 24, a sergeant in the Army Rangers. On 3 April 2003 he was guarding a dam on the Euphrates River when a shell exploded 30 metres away and shrapnel hit his face. When he came out of a coma in an army medical centre five weeks later, he could not see. Two weeks later he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, but he still could not see. At his bedside, his father said: "Maybe God thought you had seen enough killing." On the day of his award newspapers reported that 477 United States servicemen had died in the war. What they do not usually report is that for every death there are four or five seriously wounded. And "seriously wounded" does not begin to convey the truth. Sergeant Feldbusch's mother, who, like his father, had been at his bedside for two months, one day saw a young woman soldier crawling along the corridor. She had no legs. Her three-year-old son trailed behind her. Mrs Feldbusch wept. She told Gettleman: "Do you know how many times I walked up and down those hallways and saw people without arms or legs and thought: Why couldn't this be my son? Why his eyes?"

How many of the 3,000 or more seriously wounded came back blind or limbless? The actress Cher phoned C-Span broadcasting to say that she had spent a day at Walter Reed hospital in Washington DC with soldiers back from the war: "As I walked in, the first person I ran into was a boy of about 19 or 20 who'd lost both his arms. Everyone had lost a limb, some two . . . if there was no reason for this war, this is the most heinous thing I've ever seen. I wonder why Cheney, Wolfowitz, Bremer, the president, aren't having their pictures taken with all these guys? . . . I don't understand why they remain so hidden."

Sending young men and women half a world away armed with fearsome weapons but still vulnerable to attacks that leave them blind and crippled: this is the ultimate betrayal of our young by our government.

Families often understand this before the youngsters do, and remonstrate with them, as Ruth Aitken did with her son, an army captain. She told him it was a war for oil, he insisted he was protecting the US from terrorists. He was killed on 4 April in a battle around Baghdad airport. His mother says: "He was doing his job. But it makes me mad that this war was sold to the public and to the soldiers as something it wasn't."

The father of a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps, killed in action, held up a photo of his son for the cameras and said: "President Bush, you took my only son away from me." Another man told reporters that his son, a lance corporal in the Marines, had died for Bush's oil. They and their families are not the only ones betrayed. The Iraqi people, promised freedom from tyranny, have seen their country - already devastated by two wars and a decade of sanctions - attacked by the most powerful military machine in history. The US military proudly announced a campaign of shock and awe that left more than 10,000 Iraqis dead, thousands more maimed, the country in collapse. The occupying army, so efficient at destruction, then stood by and watched while Iraq's historic monuments were pillaged.

The list of betrayals is long. Bush's government has betrayed the hopes of the world for peace. The United Nations was set up after 50 million people died in the second world war and its charter promised to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".

Americans have been betrayed because, although the cold war is over and there is no longer the threat of communism to justify the subversion of trillions of dollars to the military budget, the theft of national wealth continues at the expense of children and the old, of those who are sick, homeless or unemployed. This has destroyed the expectation that after the fall of the Soviet Union there would be a peace dividend of prosperity for all.

But the ultimate betrayal is of the young, sent to war with grandiose promises and false words about freedom and democracy, duty and patriot ism. Americans are not historically literate enough to remember that these promises and lies began far back in the past of the US. Young men - boys, for the armies of the world have always been made up of boys - were enticed into the Revolutionary army of the Founding Fathers by the grand words of the Declaration of Independence. But they were mistreated, barefoot and in rags while their officers lived in luxury and merchants made war profits. Thousands mutinied and some were executed by order of General Washington. After the war a rebellion of western Massachusetts farmers, many of them veterans, against the foreclosure of their farms was put down by force.

When soldiers realise they have been betrayed they rebel. Thousands deserted in the Mexican war; in the Civil War many resented the rich buying themselves out of the obligation to serve and resented the financiers who profited. Black soldiers who joined the Union army and were decisive in its victory came home to poverty and racism.

Soldiers returning from the first world war, many crippled and shell-shocked, were hit by the depression just over a decade later; unemployed, with their families hungry, they descended on Washington - 20,000, from all over the US, pitched tents across the Potomac from the capital and demanded that Congress pay the bonus it had promised. The army was called out and they were dispersed with teargas.

The veterans of the second world war were the beneficiaries of the GI Bill of Rights, entitled to free college educations, low interest mortgages and life insurance, perhaps to wipe out the ugly memory of the earlier veterans, or perhaps as a result of the euphoria of the great victory over fascism. But the veterans of Vietnam came home to find that the government that sent them to an immoral, fruitless war, leaving so many wounded in body and mind, wanted to forget about them. During that war the US sprayed large areas of Vietnam with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, bequeathing the Vietnamese hundreds of thousands of deaths and birth defects. US troops were also exposed and many of them, aware of their sickness and their children's birth defects, asked the Veterans Administration (VA) for help. The US government denied responsibility. A suit against Dow Chemical, which made the defoliant, was settled out of court for $180m, each family receiving $1,000: that suggests that more than 100,000 families claimed.

The US government pours billions of dollars into war but has no money to take care of Vietnam veterans, homeless or in VA hospitals, suffering from mental disorders and vulnerable to suicide. Theirs is a bitter legacy.

The US government was proud that, though 100,000 Iraqis may have died in the 1991 Gulf war, there were only 148 US battle casualties. It has concealed from the public that 206,000 Gulf veterans filed claims with the VA for injuries and illnesses; 8,300 veterans have died and the VA has recognised 160,000 claims for disability.

The betrayal of military personnel continues in the war on terrorism. The promises that the US soldiers would be greeted as liberators have disintegrated; soldiers die daily in guerrilla warfare that lets them know they are not wanted in Iraq. An article in the Christian Science Monitor last year quoted an officer in the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq: "The level of morale for most soldiers that I've seen has hit rock bottom."

Those who return alive but maimed find that the Bush administration has cut funds for veterans. His State of the Union address, while thanking those serving in Iraq, continued his policy of ignoring the wounded in this increasingly unpopular war. He paid a quick, well-publicised Thanksgiving visit to Iraq. An army nurse in Landstuhl, Germany, where casualties from the war are treated, later wrote : "My Bush Thanksgiving was a little different. I spent it at the hospital taking care of a young West Point lieutenant wounded in Iraq. When he pressed his fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth he looked like a little boy. They all do, all 19 on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes . . . It's too bad Bush didn't add us to his holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you'll never read that in the paper."

Jeremy Feldbusch's home, Blairsville, an old coal-mining town of 3,600, held a parade for him and the mayor honoured him. In Dalton Trumbo's novel Johnny Got His Gun there is a blind, limbless soldier who lies on his cot, unable to speak or hear, remembering his hometown giving him a send-off with speeches about fighting for liberty and democracy. He learns how to communicate by tapping morse code with his head and asks the authorities to take him to schools to show children what war is like. But they do not respond. "In one terrible moment he saw the whole thing. They wanted only to forget him." The new veterans ask that we don't forget.

* Howard Zinn is a historian, professor emeritus at Boston University and author whose works include 'A People's History of the United States' (Harper Collins, New York, 2003) and 'You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times' (Beacon Press, Boston, 1994)

Original text in English

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 1997-2004 Le Monde diplomatique

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