I suppose now that the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives weeps openly and frequently it is OK for me to cry. But John Boehner and I weep for entirely different reasons. Among the things that sadden me are the endless Afghan war and the lingering occupation of Iraq. And I’m sure he is gung-ho for that kind of craziness.
It would be impossible for me to list all the reasons why I find America’s military adventures so tragic. I am sure you can think of many of them without my help – the death and maiming of young men and women, the slaughter of civilians, the bribery, corruption and profiteering, the flourishing opium trade, the devastating burden on the economy…
And there are many, many more reasons to grieve over this wretched folly.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson sent me an email today, reminding me of one more:
The death of 41-year-old Army Sgt. William (Bill) McKenna, who was from New York and lived in Florida, from cancer linked to fumes he inhaled while on duty in Iraq. The toxic fumes came from open-air garbage pits.
It’s not enough that the troops must risk their lives in combat. They are endangered by their own side. A report last fall from the Government Accountability Office found that garbage pits used on some bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, are burning items “that generate harmful emissions” despite regulations forbidding it. And a congressional committee was told that the constantly smoldering pits expose soldiers to mercury, arsenic, dioxins and other toxic products.
Senators Nelson and Charles Schumer (D- New York) sent a letter this week to the Department of Defense asking authorities to provide respirator masks to all troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who are exposed to potentially toxic fumes from open air garbage pits. It seems so little to ask.
And even if the senators get their wish, it won’t do much for Sgt. McKenna.
(Photo above by Ed Betz shows the coffin of Army Sgt. Bill McKenna being carried out of a funeral home.)