Children of the War
I was simply going through my usual morning routine, scanning various media outlets on the Internet, when I checked Bob Herbert’s latest column in the New York Times. I suppose it was the title that prompted me to take a look: “A Fearful Price.”
Herbert started the column by reporting on a conversation he had with a bright young student at Columbia University who “argued that a full-blown counterinsurgency effort, which would likely take many years and cost many lives, was the only way to truly win the war.” Herbert then asked him the question that immediately came to my mind: was he going to sign up and go over there to help make this war a success? The student’s answer was no.
This is a typical response by those who support the war. Let someone else carry the burden and risk their lives doing it. Let those poor kids from the ghetto and from the impoverished rural areas of the country get the dirt and blood of war on their hands. Toward the end of the column Herbert writes: “The nation will always give lip-service to support for the troops, but for the most part Americans do not really care about the men and women we so blithely ship off to war, and the families they leave behind.”
But I digress, for it was what he said much earlier in the column that really got my attention. He made reference to a recent study, published in the very prestigious journal Pediatrics, that showed in more detail some of the not so publicized costs of war: the effects on those left behind, in this case the children.
When Herbert mentioned the study and gave a link, I could not resist. The study is available for all to see on this link. (A brief fact sheet published by Rand Corporation, the sponsors of the study, is available here.) The title of the study is: “Children on the Homefront: The Experience of Children From Military Families.”
Briefly stated, the study (of 1,500 children who were part of Operation Purple® summer camps, a program of the National Military Family Association for children of military service members, plus their non-deployed parent or other caregiver) found that these children suffered emotional and behavioral difficulties at rates above national averages, while one-third reported symptoms of anxiety. Closely related to delinquency was this finding: “Older youths and boys reported more difficulties with school and more problem behaviors, such as fighting.” Also, the longer the parents were deployed, the greater were the problems experienced by these youths.
The timing of the release of this study is noteworthy, as it comes shortly after President Obama’s announcement that there will be an increase of about 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, ostensibly to “win the war.” It is also noteworthy that UNICEF has recently “identified Afghanistan as one of the three worst places in the world for a child to be born,” as reported by Phyllis Bennis in her devastating critique of Obama’s plan.
Meanwhile, more than 4,600 have died and more than $940 billion has been spent in both wars. More than 300,000 returning soldiers are suffering from PTSD and about 320,000 are suffering traumatic brain injuries; growing numbers of these soldiers are ending up in the criminal justice system charged with violent crimes, like this case in Oregon.
Finally, on any given night there are thousands of veterans without a home – numbers ranging from 131,000 to almost 200,000. What has happened to their children?