So far over 400 US soldiers have died in Iraq (during and after the "end" of the war). This by itself is having a big impact on US public opinion. However, the number of injured US soldiers is less known. There has been a concerted effort on the part of the US authorities to play down this side of the war. Now however the truth is beginning to leak out. Recently Time magazine in the US and The Independent in Britain published figures on what is happening. Over 1500 US soldiers have been injured in armed conflicts, and a staggering 9,341 have been flown out for various other health reasons, most importantly for mental stress.
The first place injured US soldiers are taken is the US Regional Medical Centre in Landstuhl in Germany. So far 7714 ill and injured troops from Iraq have been treated at this centre. Many are then moved on to the Reed Medical Centre in Washington. This centre has 250 beds. Practically all of them are occupied by soldiers injured in Iraq. The same facility has 600 rooms for visiting relatives to stay in. There are so many relatives arriving that many now have to share a room, and hundreds more are being put up in local hotels.
When these soldiers left for Iraq they were sent of as "heroes", but now as Time magazine points out, "When the wounded come home, they are rarely greeted with waving flags and parades." In fact the authorities try and minimise their presence. The Pentagon only announces those injured when they are involved in an attack which leads to the death of an American soldier. If no one is killed, then the injured are discreetly taken away out of the limelight.
Bush has gone so far to hide what is really going on that he has ordered that the coffins of the dead soldiers should not be photographed! Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, speaking to the Senate last month announced that, "The wounded are brought back after midnight, making sure the press does not see the planes coming in with the wounded."
One injured soldier, who lost his leg, Sergeant Mike Meinen, explained that, "When you join the Army, they send your picture to your hometown paper because they want everybody to know that you're leaving for the military. But if you're wounded, the military doesn't tell them, because they might be worried about the public getting negative about what's going on over there."
So much for objective press reporting. When the troops were being sent out to Iraq we were fed with TV reports of Bush speaking to soldiers and telling them what a great job they would be doing. Now that the real suffering of war is becoming apparent to all, Bush is nowhere to be seen.
And what about Britain? Wasn't Britain supposed to have a more sobre, objective media? Wasn't Britain supposed to have a more informative government? Well all we know about British troops in Iraq is that 52 have died, 19 of them since the war was supposed to have ended. On the number of injured we know absolutely nothing. The Ministry of Defence says, amazingly, that it is not in a position to give information on the number of wounded. And yet there must be British soldiers who have been injured. Has Blair been briefing his ministry officials? Has he also given orders, like Bush, on what can and cannot be told to the British public? No doubt he realises the effects this would have on public opinion, which has already turned against him. Sooner or later we will learn the truth about those unfortunate soldiers who have been maimed for life or have suffered untold psychological damage.
But let us return to the US sergeant we quoted earlier. The attitude of the US military chiefs to the plight of ordinary soldiers, once they have become unable to combat any more is revealed in this quote from Time magazine. "His [Meinen's] apartment in Colorado is near the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's home base at Fort Carson, and he hopes to remain in the Army. But his voyage back was not made easy. When Meinen wanted to head to Denver, the military would not buy him a direct ticket and said he had to hitch rides on military planes, which hopscotch the country and are not regularly scheduled. At one point he was stranded at an Illinois air base for a week, which delayed his therapy. He finally made it to Colorado when an outraged soldier got him a commercial flight."
Not exactly the treatment a "hero" is supposed to receive. Here is an ordinary American youth who joined the army to get a job. He ends up losing a leg and the generals can't even find it in themselves to approve the payment of a commercial flight to get him home to his family. It takes another ordinary soldier to fork out the money! Here we see the clear class division in the US army. We can be sure that if a US general was trying to get back home he wouldn't have to hitch a lift on military planes and he wouldn't have to hang around in military bases waiting for the next flight.
A colleague of Meinen, PFC Tristan Wyatt, also lost a leg in the same attack. He expresses his support for the war, and in this is united with Meinen. But what is interesting is what he says to Time magazine. Wyatt doesn't have much time for those who say Bush lied about the weapons of mass destruction. "That makes you feel like you fought for nothing or you fought for a liar. They're telling me I went out there and I got my leg blown off for a liar, and I know that's just not true," he says. We can understand this soldier. There is a logic in his thinking. He cannot accept he will live the rest of his life with a serious disability for a war that did not need to be fought. But the truth of this war is slowly but surely seeping into the consciousness of millions of Americans. In spite of the rhetoric and the attempts to hide the facts from the public, the truth will inevitably surface. And when it does it will come down on Bush and his gang with a vengeance.