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My Turn: Another war that ‘was not worth even one life’

It all began 100 years ago June 28. And it still goes on.

The absolute madness masquerading as honor and glory.

Spending bottomless buckets of taxpayer money on mechanized death without any discernible purpose.

On this date in 1914, all those fragile European pieces began to crumble and fall as Austria-Hungary’s monarch in waiting Franz Ferdinand was gunned down in the sunny streets of Sarajevo. With great precision, in chaotic horror, untold millions died horrible deaths and accomplished not a thing.

Harry Patch, the last British veteran of the Great War died in 2009. As he neared the end, he said of that war, “It was not worth even one life.” And without question it was not.

Glory, honor, hero, courage are words that have been evoked again and again ever since. Now 100 years later, a New Hampshire native Lance Cpl. Brandon Garabrant is just the latest killed in the current senseless folly called Afghanistan.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen both called Garabrant “a true American hero.” These words are certainly well intentioned, meant to reduce the searing pain of his family and friends. But the truth is he and thousands of others should still be alive and whole and with us today. But rather than acknowledge an error, we keep sending good young Americans into the mechanized meat grinder.

The best news is that more Americans are getting sick of it and questioning the purpose.

A few brave souls in 1914-18 dared to speak the truth, calling for an end to the obvious madness. They were, of course, shut down, often jailed for long terms.

The uncomfortable truth is that, since the sputtering end of the first world war, many in power keep trying to reinvent a the innocence of those bright sunny days before Sarajevo.

And in a dreadfully macabre manner, that desperate recurring reach for a lost world pretty much guarantees that the needless horror happens again and again.

For example, instead of learning the obvious lesson from America’s useless and massive tragedy in Vietnam, Ronald Reagan tried to erase that discomfiting memory and replace it with a mythical re-assertion of national glory and historic destiny using the tiny island of Grenada as a stage for reasserting the myth.

So we never had to think about the loss in Vietnam. That way we were free to pursue more military adventures.

So here we are 100 years later, and again way too many American young men and women have died and lost limbs subjected to horror, now in Afghanistan and Iraq. And like that war of 100 years ago, what has been accomplished?

Again nothing.

Of course the Great War paved the way for tremendous profits for weapons makers. When England needed optic lenses for their periscopes, they bought them from Zeiss, a German company. And when the Germans needed rubber for their vehicles, they bought them from England, of course. One hundred years later, companies like Halliburton have once again profited handsomely.

As is detailed eloquently in Adam Hochschild’s recent book To End All Wars, during the war those British who dared to oppose the mindless folly were vilified and jailed.

Years later, with a better perspective, monuments went up praising and thanking them for their brave insight. He knew that hero worship yielded nothing but horror in the trenches.

Harry Patch’s sobering perspective on the Great War remains true today: It is not worth one life.

In Iraq and in Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, our country is sacrificing our young and our national treasury in some heroic fantasy seeking to reinstate a lost idyllic past, not to defend ourselves, but for what?

Like the patriotic fervor and hero worship of the First World War, the horror is that it is worse than merely not necessary. It is dreadful, easily avoidable horror. Instead of learning from loss, our policy remains denial, affixing blinders to our own range of sight.

The price for refusing to recognize the folly is as the same it was in the summer of 1914.

(Burt Cohen is a former state senator. He lives in New Castle.)

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