|EDINBURG, May 19 - With the spring/summer fighting season beginning, U.S. losses in Afghanistan, predictably, are increasing.
Also predictably, the Rio Grande Valley has lost another son. Specialist Kevin Cardoza, a graduate of Edcouch-Elsa, was killed with four other soldiers when their armored vehicle hit an IED. He joins another Edcouch-Elsa graduate, Staff Sergeant Estavan Altamirano, # 41, who died in Iraq 18 Sep. 2011.
Kevin was given a hero’s welcome home as family and friends mourn. He was 19, in love, and engaged to marry Ashley Marie Vasquez upon his return home. In a phone conversation shortly before his death, one of the last things Kevin said to Ashley was he loved her very much.
Now, instead of marrying her love, Ashley joins his parents, siblings and two daughters in burying him. Melanie, aged two, probably will have no memories of her father. Delilah, aged four, at best, will have only a few impressionistic memories.
Why should they have to grow up without their father? What objective is worth that, especially when some version of this has been repeated for the Valley 47 times? Somebody explain how that can be justified, and don’t spew any of that “war on terror” garbage. If we want to stop terrorist attacks, we need to stop wars of imperial aggression where we terrorize other peoples.
We, citizens of the Valley, have a vested interest in ending these wars. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have hit the Valley much harder than almost any other place in the U.S. For one, Edcouch-Elsa school district would do well to stop encouraging its students to join the military.
Contrary to Principal Rene Ramos, graduates who join the military are not defending the nation. That may be what they are supposed to do, what many believe they do. In actuality, they become part of an imperial occupation force, part of the slaughter of mostly civilians to expand the empire.
That is what breeds the “blowback” we refer to as terrorism. When we terrorize a people who have no means of defending themselves against the constant rain of bombs and bullets, they find other ways to defend themselves, to strike back at their attackers. And the Valley disproportionately bears the burden.
According to the 2000 census, taken just before these damnable wars of imperial aggression were begun, the Valley constituted 0.35 of one percent of the nation’s population. But we have lost 0.7 of one percent of the total number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is, our proportionate loss is twice our proportion of the nation’s population.
Using the 2010 census, as the Afghanistan war grinds well past ten years, making it our nation’s second longest war, the percentages change slightly. In 2010, the Valley comprised 0.41 of once percent of the nation’s population due to the Valley’s faster population growth than the rest of the nation. This reduces the Valley’s proportionate losses from twice our proportion of the nation’s population to 1.7 times.
KGBT-TV is to be commended for reporting an accurate count of those whom we have lost in these wars. However, neither KGBT nor any other major Valley news media have bothered to report how disproportionately the Valley has sacrificed its sons in these wars. For that, everyone in the major Valley news media should be ashamed. That silence makes them complicit in every one of these deaths.
Because of media silence, few people know of our disproportionate losses; and few voices are raised to ask why this senseless killing goes on, and why the Valley suffers losses far greater than its proportion of the nation’s population.
The answer, of course, is simple. Wars of imperial aggression always are fought by those the empire considers expendable. In the U.S., as in all other empires, those are the poor and the ethnic outcasts.
We no longer have a draft. In theory, the draft meant people were taken into the military regardless of ethnicity, social class or economic status. Of course, the draft, at least after W.W.II, never was fair in the sense young men from all ethnicities, and social and economic classes were taken equally.
There always was a class and ethnicity bias. Thus, we had “McNamara’s 100,000” during the Viet Nam war. We were running out of people to draft without drafting heavily from the middle and upper classes. To avoid the problem of my white, middle class, upwardly mobile college classmates being drafted, the fitness requirements for military service were lowered to entrap an additional 100,000 young men monthly into the military.
Those 100,000 came from the most impoverished members of our society who had attended schools so substandard they had little meaningful education. But, one does not need a lot of education to become a “mobile sandbag” destined to be “cannon fodder” on the battlefield.
Today, instead of the draft, we have the “poverty draft,” where the least affluent members of our society--meaning ethnic minorities in particular--join the military because it is the best paying job they can find. At least it pays relatively well so long as they do not come home in a box, gift wrapped.
In the movie “Platoon”, protagonist Chris Taylor writes to his grandmother:
The men in his platoon are “guys nobody really cares about--they come from the end of the line, most of 'em, small towns you never heard of--Pulaski, Tennessee; Brandon, Mississippi; Pork Bend, Utah; Wampum, Pennsylvania. Two years' high school's about it, maybe if they're lucky a job waiting for 'em back in a factory, but most of 'em got nothing; they're poor; they're the unwanted of our society; yet they're fighting for our society and our freedom and what we call America; they're the bottom of the barrel - and they know it; maybe that's why they call themselves 'grunts;' cause a 'grunt' can take it, can take anything. They're the backbone of this country, grandma, the best I've ever seen, the heart and soul....”
Toss in the Rio Grande Valley, and that pretty much sums it up. Of course, these are guys someone cares about. We care. But most of us are part of the expendables, those who run (ruining?) this nation do not give a damn about.
We should be fighting back, not sitting back, doing nothing while our loved ones are sacrificed for the interests of empire.
Samuel Freeman is a political science professor based in the Rio Grande Valley. His “Left is Right” columns appear regularly in the Guardian.