"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence ... by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist ... Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
— President Eisenhower, 1961
In America, we honor those who fought and died for our freedom on Memorial Day and on the Fourth of July, express our patriotism with fireworks and bonfires.
But while we celebrate our independence this month, we cannot forget all the men and women suffering from visible and invisible wounds after multiple tours of duty in wars undeclared by Congress, unsupported by taxes, and ignored by many Americans.
I've read many commentaries on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11, but "The fatal touch of war" by Kevin Cullen in the Boston Sunday Globe on April 24, 2011, is a stunning reminder of the futility of endless wars and "nation building," while our own country deteriorates.
I first read about the incident described in Cullen's article in 2005, but his description of innocent human beings killed and wounded at a checkpoint in Iraq by Stryker Brigade soldiers revealed much more than facts; it exposed the common humanity of everyone involved, including the reporter imbedded with the troops at the time.
It is a story worth repeating, and with Cullen's permission, I quote freely from his article.
"Chris Hondros piled out of the Stryker with soldiers from the First Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, and when they aimed their guns, he aimed his camera ... The soldiers — kids, most of them — stood there, waving for the car to stop. They were sleep-deprived, jumpy, absolutely terrified, wondering if this was yet another suicide bomber. The car didn't slow down and the soldiers stopped shouting and started shooting."
The results were that an Iraqi couple in the front seat were dead and their children in the back seat were "splattered with their parents' blood. One of them — a boy, Rakan — couldn't feel his legs. A bullet had hit his spine."
Cullen quotes Hondros: "It's like slow motion ... you see this stuff, this terrible stuff, happen, right in front of you, and it's like slow motion. You keep shooting. You're thinking about angles, and light. But mostly you think — keep shooting."
Hondros' pictures "were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, showing a family ruined, a platoon of soldiers forever haunted, because this is what happens when we send young people to war."
The story would have been tragic enough if it ended there, but Cullen relates the rest of the story. The reporter, Chris Hondros, told Maria Ruzicka, a humanitarian worker, what happened and showed her the photos. Together, they worked to get Rakan out of Iraq and eventually, to a San Francisco hospital.
"And then, right before Rakan was to fly out of Iraq, Ruzicka and her colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, were on Route Irish, the road that connects Baghdad and the airport, and a bomb went off and they were dead ... A disabled postal worker in Rockland, Adam Burnieika, read about Ruzicka dying before she got Rakan out of Iraq, and he wrote a letter to Sen. Ted Kennedy, asking him to finish the job. Kennedy and Donald Rumsfeld ... worked together to get Rakan to Boston, where Dr. Larry Ronan and the people at Massachusetts General Hospital and the physical therapists at Spaulding Rehabilitation put Rakan back together. He learned to walk again."
But it didn't end there. Rakan returned to Iraq and was killed by a bomb in his family's house three years ago. Hondos and another photojournalist were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade a few months ago in Libya.
Cullen's conclusion: "These were not wasted lives, none of them ... This is what happens when we send young people to war. Not just soldiers, but everyone around them. The civilians. The journalists. Everybody. This is what war does. It kills good people."
Fifty years after Eisenhower's prophetic warning, U.S. forces and weapons spread throughout the world while members of both political parties argue about the economy, completely ignoring the cost of endless conflicts that cannot be won militarily — even by the only "superpower" left on the planet.
Eileen Ford is Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist.