Tom (Yusha) Sager
The Misfit Mathematician

tom (at)

Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007
Musings of a
misfit mathematician:
Of straw dogs and veterans

“Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs,” wrote the Chinese philosopher, Laozi. I couldn't help thinking of this ancient saying as I read The War Comes Home: PTSD; Addiction; Homelessness and Suicide All Coming to a Neighborhood Near You! by Tony Newman and asha bandele of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Statistics on our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are staggering. Every week, 100 veterans take their own lives -- far more in a single year then have died in combat over the entire length of the War against Iraq.

During the course of a year, more than a half million veterans will be living on the streets or in homeless shelters. Almost one of three veterans returning from the wars develops mental illness or post traumatic stress disorder within a few months. In many cases, the illness is never treated. Substance abuse has grown to be a serious problem, both within military ranks and among veterans.

In ancient Chinese ritual, a straw dog was an offering to the gods, to be honored and treated with the utmost reverence, but in the end to be trampled on and tossed aside as a useless object. This is how we treat our veterans. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day we honor them. The other 363 days of the year, we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the sufferings and illnesses caused by their military service.

Here is a cadence I learned from brothers and sisters at Veterans For Peace:

If they tell you you must go,
Here is something you should know.
They wave the flag when you attack.
When you come home, they turn their back.

As Newman and bandele point out, “It’s easy to buy a bumper sticker and demand that everybody 'Support Our Troops.' But if we’re going to walk the talk, we better be ready to offer compassion and treatment &mdash not just a jail cell, the street or a morgue when it comes to helping our brothers and sisters heal from the damages of war."

Or even better, let’s stop driving our youth to suicide and despair by demanding that they risk body, mind, and soul for the lies of politicians and the profits of corporate executives. Let's seek to abolish war as an instrument of foreign policy. Let's try to understand the true costs and consequences of militarism and war &mdash and seek peaceful, effective alternatives.

(Tom Sager is a retired University of Missouri-Rolla professor. His column will appear weekly in the Rolla Daily News.)