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NCLB Outrages

An Invisible War

Ohanian Comment: On this site, I try to stick to the narrow topics of high stakes testing and NCLB, but as any subscriber knows. . . Things happen.

The link to Bob Herbert's column is, of course, the military recruitment provision of NCLB, but the story here is much bigger than fighting NCLB. We are fighting for the hearts and souls of these poor young people shipped off to Iraq. And as Herbert poignantly shows, their hearts and minds are very troubled.


I mentioned a young soldier I had interviewed in 2005 who worried that because he had killed three insurgents during a battle in Iraq he might not be âallowed into heaven.â The soldier wondered whether he had âdone the right thing.â

Mr. Rieckhoff nodded. âAsking somebody to die for their country might not be the biggest thing you can ask,â he said. âAsking my guys to kill, on my orders â as an officer, thatâs difficult. Iâm telling that kid to squeeze that round off and take a manâs life. And then heâs got that baggage for the rest of his life. Thatâs what you have to live with.â


We must worry about these young soldiers for the rest of their lives. We allowed them to be sent to do this.

By Bob Herbert

Paul Rieckhoff looked across the crowded restaurant, which was not far from Times Square.

âDuring World War II,â he said, âwe could be in this place and there would be a guy sitting at that table who was in the war, or the bartender had been in the war. Everybody you saw would have had a stake in the war. But right now you could walk around New York for blocks and not find anybody who has been in Iraq.

âThe president can say weâre a country at war all he wants. Weâre not. The military is at war. And the military families are at war. Everybody else is shopping.â

Mr. Rieckhoff is an imposing six-foot-two-inch, 245-pound former infantry officer who joined the military after graduating from Amherst College. When he came home from a harrowing tour in Iraq in 2004, he vowed to do what he could to serve the interests of the men and women who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan but have never fully gotten the support they deserve from the government or the public at large.

He wrote a book, âChasing Ghosts,â which is now out in paperback, and he formed a powerful veteransâ advocacy organization called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Mr. Rieckhoff is not bitter. Heâs actually funny and quite engaging (and a good writer). But he has very little tolerance for the negligence and incompetence the government has shown in equipping the troops and fighting the war in Iraq, and he is frustrated by the short shrift that he feels the troops get from the media and the vast majority of Americans.

Thereâs a gigantic and extremely disturbing disconnect, he says, between the experiences of the men and women in uniform and the perspective of people here at home. âWe have a very diverse membership in I.A.V.A.,â he said. âWeâve got Republicans and Democrats and everything in between. But one of the key things we all have in common is this frustration with the detachment that we see all around us, this idea that weâre at war and everybody else is watching âAmerican Idol.â

âI think thatâs one of the main reasons why so many guys want to go back to Iraq. They come home and feel like: âMan, I donât fit in here. You know, Iâm out of place.â â Even though thereâs never been a clear statement of the militaryâs mission in Iraq, and the goals have shifted from month to month and year to year, the soldiers and marines who have been sent there have felt that they were carrying out an important task on behalf of the nation.

âItâs tough to have such a serious sense of commitment,â Mr. Rieckhoff said, âand then come home and see so many people focused on such frivolous things. So I think that frustration is serious and growing. And Iâll tell you the truth: I blame the president for that. One of the biggest criticisms of the president, and I hear this across the board, is that he hasnât asked the American people to do anything.â

Mr. Rieckhoff is convinced that if the public heard more from the soldiers and marines who have actually experienced combat, including those who have been wounded and suffered emotional trauma, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be viewed more seriously. Part of the problem, he said, is that too many civilians have little or no understanding of what war is really like, and of the toll it takes beyond the obvious toll of the dead and wounded.

Among other things, there are family problems, drug and alcohol abuse, untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide â all directly attributable to service in a war zone. âIncredibly,â he writes in his book, âno government agency keeps track of the number of veterans who kill themselves after their service has ended â another sign of how little value is placed on veteransâ long-term well-being.â

I mentioned a young soldier I had interviewed in 2005 who worried that because he had killed three insurgents during a battle in Iraq he might not be âallowed into heaven.â The soldier wondered whether he had âdone the right thing.â

Mr. Rieckhoff nodded. âAsking somebody to die for their country might not be the biggest thing you can ask,â he said. âAsking my guys to kill, on my orders â as an officer, thatâs difficult. Iâm telling that kid to squeeze that round off and take a manâs life. And then heâs got that baggage for the rest of his life. Thatâs what you have to live with.â

I signaled for the check and we left the restaurant. It was a beautiful, sunlit afternoon. New Yorkers were smiling and enjoying the spring weather. There was no sign of a war anywhere.

— Bob Herbert
New York Times
2007-05-03


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