Cook: As We Wait For War To End

Cook: As We Wait For War To End

November 10th, 2011 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

I wonder if war will ever end. I wonder if the day will come when the powers-that-be decide to abolish war like governments abolished slavery.

Do you think that could happen?

Until the day comes when swords are beaten into ploughshares, our work should be to help heal as much damage that comes from war as possible.

And I believe the truest statement I can make about war is that no one is spared from the damage.

Friday is Veterans Day. I'd like to shine a light on three areas that will help honor, dignify and rehabilitate veterans in our area.

First: Create a Veterans Court within Chattanooga. Appearing in New York nearly four years ago, a Veterans Court helps detour veterans away from prison sentences.

Returning to the U.S. after the unimaginable stress of war-time tours, veterans often suffer post-war trauma, like some sort of societal hand-grenade exploding on their lives. Stats show the damage:

* The Veterans Administration estimates that 107,000 vets are homeless on any given night.

* The U.S. Interagency Council on the Homeless estimates that vets make up 23 percent of the country's homeless population.

Drug abuse among servicemen and women tripled between 2005 and 2008.

A Veteran's Court takes first-time criminal offenders who are veterans and reroutes them away from prison by offering counseling, substance abuse help, job training and alternative sentencing.

Vets promise to follow guidelines for treatment and rehab instead of jail. The original New York Veterans Court boasts a zero percent recidivism rate. No one appears before the judge more than once.

Why not here?

Second: A story-telling group of veterans needs to emerge. There is a massive gulf between civilian understanding of warfare and the experience of veterans. The flag-waving and ceremonies that come Friday are important, but perhaps a more meaningful experience would be to create a space that allows vets to tell their stories.

"Soldiers have a responsibility to defend their country, and it is our responsibility as citizens to heal those who have put their lives on the line for us, even if they fought a war for the wrong reasons or for lies. And we're not doing that," said Edward Tick, director of the Soldiers Heart program in an interview with The Sun magazine.

"We have a parade and shoot off fireworks, which scare the hell out of many veterans," said Tick, whose program helps heal the physical, emotional and spiritual wounds of war. "A better way to honor them would be to listen to their stories. We should give them new ways to serve and an honorable place in our communities."

Third: We must cutoff our dependency on fossil fuels.

"Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment," claims the 2010 Department of Defense Quadrennial Report. "Climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake.

The more we let the monster of fossil fuel dependency grow, the more likely future wars will occur. The military sees climate change and energy insecurity as two factors that will cause massive instability in the years to come.

To prevent future conflicts and wars, we must transfer to a clean-energy system. Every time I fill up my 15-miles-per-gallon car, waste energy at home and don't demand a cleaner system of energy, I am supporting practices that may one day put our troops in harm's way.

By 2020, the U.S. Navy plans on reducing by 50 percent its reliance on petroleum. The U.S. Army - which cut its water usage by 31 percent since 2004 - plans on securing 25 percent of its energy from clean sources by 2025. The Pentagon has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in many of its projects by one-third in 10 years.

If they can do this, so can Chattanooga.

View your energy bill the way folks in World War II viewed Victory Gardens. Demand TVA make a switch to cleaner power in the name of the veteran you know and love. Encourage Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield to make the city's Office of Sustainability a cabinet-level position.

Envision a city with 50 percent fewer gas-powered cars on the roads. Picture a city with roof-top gardens - all named after area vets - as nearby workers retrofit existing buildings to extremely energy efficient ones.

People's lives depend on it. God knows sacrifice goes both ways. We may not be able to end war in our lifetime, but we can at least start the healing.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.