Opinion Columns & Blogs

Seth L. Ewing: Issues of returning veterans

As a returning veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I would like to address some areas of concern in the local Merced community that affect our returning veterans who currently study at Merced College and UC Merced.

First is the issue of the Individual Readiness Reserve, or IRR. Many people are unaware of what the IRR is. People who are familiar with it refer to it loathsomely as "the back-door draft." Every service member signs an eight-year contract, regardless of how many years are spent on active duty.

For example, if a soldier signs up for two years active duty, he or she will have to wait out a remaining six years on the IRR roster. A majority of young people join the military in order to receive money for college. This is especially true for the community of Merced, where poverty is a major affliction.

The problem is that there is no special protection for student-veterans who are being recalled into active duty. Some feel that soldiers and other members of the military deserve everything that happens to them in Iraq or Afghanistan simply because they volunteered for it. Such apathetic thinking is absurd.

Young veterans who've come home as I did look at war in many ways. Some continue to believe in the truth and worth of their mission. Others, as I have done, question whether their commitment was worthwhile.

Every member of the military takes an oath to defend the United States, uphold the Constitution and obey the president, who is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. The notion that the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is vital to our defense is absurd. Iraq never harbored al-Qaida until the United States made it possible by removing the previous government, therefore creating a suitable environment for anarchy.

Al-Qaida in Iraq has now grown into a myth that is a moral justification for an illegal war unsanctioned by the United Nations. The United States is a member of the U.N., and, as a member, the U.S. is required to follow the rules of the U.N. The U.S. is in no way exempt from following those rules.

It is important to remember that the reason for the initial invasion was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass-destruction. It's now known that there never were any of these weapons, and some suggest that Vice President Dick Cheney forged the evidence of WMDs. This raises the question: is it possible that if the government lied about Iraq, could it possibly be lying again? The answer is yes -- it is possible.

Afghanistan is even more easily refutable. The true intentions of the Bush administration are to set up an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea, through Pakistan, Afghanistan and finally ending at the Indian Ocean. The Caspian Sea is one of the world's main sources of crude oil and natural gas.

Hamid Karzai, the Bush-appointed president of Afghanistan, is a former Unocal employee. The exact hour is now known when Osama bin Laden crossed over from Afghanistan into Pakistan, eluding the CIA and U.S. forces in 2001. The only reason the Bush administration keeps letting him get away is so he can be their Orwellian Snowball, the pig in "Animal Farm" who received all the blame for anything going wrong.

Pakistan used to be No. 1 on the list of terrorist states until 9/11 when it became an ally of convenience that could facilitate the pipeline. It should also be noted that each and every 9/11 terrorist had a Pakistani visa stamped on his passport.

The final clause in a service member's oath states that a service member must obey the orders of the president. This is true. But what do you do when the orders of the president are unlawful -- as proven previously.

In a free society, leaders are held to the same laws as the citizens. When you break the rules, you must be held accountable.

It seems only just that when the Bush administration leaves office that some of its members be put on trial for their unlawful actions. These include fraud, abuse of power for financial gain and the murder of innocent lives, among many other crimes including the legalization of torture as an interrogation technique.

It is unfortunate that an act of free expression -- the incident of Iraqi journalist Al-Zaidi throwing his shoes at President Bush -- has shifted attention away from the Bush's most recent treaty guaranteeing U.S. occupation until the year 2011. This undermines President-elect Obama's authority, whose plan calls for a full troop withdrawal by the end of 2009.

It is unconceivable that even now, veterans who have left the Army are now getting recall orders in their Christmas stockings. Veterans who have already suffered through numerous combat deployments. Veterans who have families with children they will never see growing up. Veterans who are struggling financially who are going to college on the GI Bill.

Our local community doesn't need to sit idly by. Giving special protection for student-veterans isn't enough. We need to end these two conflicts. A small idea in Merced County can spread and change America. Spread the word -- it is never too late for justice to be served.

Specialist Seth L. Ewing is an Army combat veteran of two tours in Iraq. His first tour was the initial invasion of 2003, in Mosul for 10 months. The second came in 2006, in pre-surge Baghdad for a year. His awards include two Army Commendation Medals, the Army Achievement Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. He now studies journalism at Merced College.