Home Front: The Government’s War on Soldiers
By Rick Anderson
(Clarity Press)
ISBN: 0-932863-41-8

Rick Anderson, a reporter for Seattle Weekly, opens his book, Home Front: The Government’s War on Soldiers, by referring to then US Secretary of Defense [sic] Donald Rumsfeld’s jaw-dropping rant about Vietnam draftees “adding no value, no advantage” to the US forces. This rant belongs with the government sentiment expressed toward soldiers previously by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who considered them to be “dumb, stupid animals,” mere pawns to achieve oligarchic aims abroad.

Why would anyone expect a regime that shows no care or compassion for the lives of others to show compassion for its soldiers? President George W. Bush does not even deign to pay last respects for fallen US soldiers. Bush’s administration even charged combat troops in Afghanistan for their meals while hospitalized. But Bush had made clear who his constituency was: the haves.

Bush pushes cuts to the Veterans Affairs staff and an increase in cemeteries, to which Anderson sardonically quips, “Apparently, in a Superpower, you can never have too many boneyards.”

In a more serious vein, Anderson reasons, “The thing is, the ultimate sacrifice of young men and women demands a noble reason. When there isn’t one such as a demonstrable threat to the country’s safety, the government’s strategy is to designate soldiers themselves as the reason.”

Anderson compellingly spins the story about the web into which soldiers enter, often to their great detriment.

Anderson notes the greater number of casualties that occur after combat due to biological and chemical hangovers. He points to the low number of fatalities during Desert Storm: 148. But since Desert Storm, government and army figures reveal that at least 11,000 veterans, with an average age of 36, have died! 214,000 veterans — and climbing — have filed claims for disability!

Anderson calls Desert Storm at that point in time the “most toxic war in military history.” Soldiers were exposed to chemicals, radioactive munitions, oil-fire contaminated air, unapproved test drugs, mixtures of vaccines, anti-botulism and anti-malarial medicines, and pesticides, dubbed the “cocktail effect” by veterans of the Persian Gulf Slaughter. The veterans, themselves, are saddled with having to prove that they suffer from the cocktail effect.

He notes that soldiers are compelled to receive vaccinations. Those who refuse vaccination are forced out of the military. This is staggering because it reveals that the domestic economic prospects are so bleak for the soldiers that many would rather risk their health and life than lose their low-paying job as a conditioned killer.

Anderson characterizes the order for troops to receive the “unlicensed experimental [anthrax] vaccine” as “death by friendly fire.” Air Force Reserve colonel Redmond Handy is quoted as calling it “forced experimentation.” Soldiers are forced to submit to the AVA (Anthrax Vaccine Absorbed) although it is: “Fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration to combat anthrax only when it is absorbed through the skin, cutaneously, and not when it is inhaled.”

The maker of AVA, MBPI and its predecessor BioPort has been plagued by production difficulties and failed FDA inspections. Despite this, the laboratory remained indemnified by the Army against legal culpability. Rejecting expressed fears, all military personnel were slated for the six-shot AVA series.

Army major Jon Ireland became sick after his fourth vaccination and was told by the flight surgeon not to receive further shots, but an Air Force doctor scoffed at the surgeon’s warning. Ireland’s patriotism and military belief, nevertheless, were reportedly unfazed by the incident.

The National Organization of Americans Battling Unnecessary Servicemember Endangerment described the AVA program as an abandonment of the Nuremberg Code against illegal military experimentation. The government insists that the vaccine is safe and continues to press ahead with inoculations.

The self-inflicted wounds are myriad. There are warnings about exposure to depleted uranium’s radioactivity and, in particular, toxicology being implicated in cancer.

Then there are the military (and civilians) who became unwitting guinea pigs for military experimentation, which the military and government usually deny. Such testing includes biological and chemical exposure, including bacterial, viral, infected mosquitoes, and gas releases.

A Senate study found that military testing is seldom included in military medical records, presenting veterans an impossible task in trying to prove a link between their disability and testing.

Anderson criticizes the double standard of the US in opposing biological and chemical weaponry globally while pursuing the same weaponry itself.

The Pentagon, military, and government cover their tracks with disinformation. Anderson calls it a “pattern of deception and denial.”

In another chapter, Anderson details how chemicals are implicated in the commission of serious crimes by soldiers. These chemicals range from a “safe” anti-malarial being linked to a murder-suicide, to uppers given to pilots who gun down the friendly side. Disturbingly, Anderson writes of rape as “another military drug.” Army records reveal that almost 5,000 sex offenders have avoided prosecution since 1992 — sometimes continuing to serve with their victim.

Why no action? It is suggested that the military has a huge investment in its soldiers that would be negatively impacted if it took action against offenders.

The priority is profits for the military-industrial complex (MIC) over the lives of servicemen and women. War is profitable for the MIC. Faulty equipment, manufacturing and construction delays, and overcharging of the military tend to be readily forgiven. As mergers have proliferated, the competition among military suppliers has diminished, and the military’s hands have become tied. “Ultimately,” writes Anderson, “troop lives depend on less accountable suppliers to provide reliable products.”

The unrelenting resistances in Iraq and Afghanistan point to an inescapable conclusion: that capitalism is consuming itself. Neoliberal policies like privatization threaten the MIC and the military-bound US economy.

Caring for the veterans is a moral obligation of the government — an obligation it takes insincerely. Anderson describes a situation akin to a shell game: the government trumpets increased funding for veterans’ care on the one hand and cuts back funding with the other hand.

What is one to make of military personnel who risk their lives — maybe more so to government corruption and military chicanery than on the battlefield, a battlefield against a government-conjured enemy — for dubious causes? The troops are unwittingly going against their own best interests, as well as the interests of the masses of people in the US. It is the need to feed the MIC that draws money away from Veterans Affairs. It is the need to feed the MIC that draws money away from social programs like health care, education, and job creation — social programs that may have provided opportunities for men and women other than as a killer for the US government. The protection of social rights would have been something worth fighting for.

It would be a mistake, however, to consider the treatment of a country’s veterans in isolation from the actions of the military in serving the government. It is the soldiers who carry out lethal orders; it is soldiers who aggress the victims of far off lands. They are not operating in defense of the homeland, as Haiti, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan are obviously no threat to a military superpower.

Certainly, disparaging the people who unknowingly or gullibly serve a wicked regime is not the answer. The answer must lie in informing potential military recruitees and the general public of the evil of the MIC and warmongering. Anderson’s books should be flogged side-by-side every military recruitment center and recruitment fair booth. Every high school should have several copies readily available for students. If people are to “volunteer” for military service, they should be fully aware of what they are getting themselves into. Will this stop enlistment? Certainly not. Many people will still succumb to the intelligence-defying devotion to patriotic sentiment that Anderson described of Jon Ireland. Patriots should ponder that their own irrational devotion to a geopolitical entity is an equally valid sentiment for the designated “enemy.”

The purpose is not for the government and Veterans Affairs to adhere to the responsibility to care for servicemen and women. That would allow the scourge of war to continue. It would allow an unrestrained military superpower to continue its serial violations of Nuremberg Law. No, the ultimate aim must be to throw a wrench into the MIC and shut it down. The ultimate aim must be peace.