The Final Indignity, the Last Insult, the Real America
by William Rivers Pitt
9 December 2011
“The Air Force dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 American troops in a Virginia landfill, far more
than the military had acknowledged, before halting the secretive practice three years ago, records show. The landfill
dumping was concealed from families who had authorized the military to dispose of the remains in a dignified and
respectful manner, Air Force officials said. There are no plans, they said, to alert those families now.”
Think about that for a long moment.
This is a nation with a big, fat, fancy, shiny, appealing opinion of itself. The mythology of American Exceptionalism
perseveres, even unto this dark and dilapidated day. We are not as others are. We are different. We are better. We honor
and fete our soldiers, our veterans, our war heroes. We make movies about their bravery and their deeds, we throw
parades for them annually, and when it suits us politically, we attack our political rivals for "not supporting" those
who carry our banner in the field of combat.
We take care of our own, right? That's who we are, as Americans, right?
No, that is not who we are. We have not been thus for many, many years. We, like so many allegedly "lesser" powers
throughout history, also hurl our children into the meat grinder of meaningless warfare on the word of the powerful ones
who control the day...and when it suits, the broken bodies of those spent children - each of whom is nothing more than
the chink of another gold coin into the coffers of those "leaders" - are anonymously and dishonorably cast into a
convenient ditch, to be plowed under and forgotten, because it is easier that way, and far less expensive.
For the record, this program of indecent disposal of dead American service members began, and concluded, during the
administration of George W. Bush. It is no accident, for that administration - despite perhaps the slickest PR campaign
about America and patriotism and "Supporting The Troops" ever undertaken in our history - had no more regard or concern
for the troops they consigned to death and dismemberment than a dog has for the snowbank it pisses on. They consigned
thousands of US service members to death, tens of thousands of US service members to gruesome injury and the permanent
aftermath of PTSD, and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to the same fates, for two reasons: to
win elections, and to make money.
The soldiers themselves? The ones who have borne the battle? They are turned away from VA hospitals for lack of funds or
insurance coverage, foreclosed upon by predatory lenders, left to shrift for themselves if alive, buried in the cold
ground of a soldier's grave if not, or simply tossed into a landfill like a bag of household garbage. If anyone ever
needed to see and fully encompass the true sum and substance of the administration of George W. Bush, and of all that
has gone wrong in America, this despicable scandal tells you all you need to know.
That, for the record, is why I support "Occupy Wall Street." That is why you should, too. It is all of a piece - the
wars, the profiteering, the looting of our most essential social protections, the evisceration of the most basic
promises afforded by what was once a civil society. Even as so many of us in America have suffered from the aftermath of
that greed, it is the soldier who has bled for it, died for it, suffered for it in ways most of us cannot fathom, and
has done so over and over and over again - as well as that soldier's family, now seemingly bereft of even the token
comfort of a proper, honorable burial for the one they hoped would someday come home, but never did.
I have, since these wars began, spent countless hours at countless bars with countless service members from every
branch, with their arms slung around my shoulder, well-met in their ever-temporary homecoming, in that fragile and
fleeting slice of time between their return from their last tour and their government stop-gap-mandated departure for
their next tour to either Iraq or Afghanistan, or both. They were all unutterably grateful to be home, to have the
simple privilege of tipping a beer on their native soil, an act those who cheered them into combat and slaughter take
absolutely for granted even unto this very day, though they cheer the dead and maimed and shattered for "protecting our
These troops and I would get nice and drunk, more often than not, and they would spend the later hours of the evening
leaning into me to whisper the horrors they had seen and done into my ear. I kept in touch with many of them, and some
of those I stayed in touch with never came home, except in silence by way of Dover Air Force Base. The idea, the remote
possibility, that those fine people could have been discarded in such a heartless, soulless, despicable, un-American
fashion is a towering insult to everything I hold dear...and a horrible thing to encompass. Those troops I have known
who gave that last full measure of devotion deserve better, in whole and in part, than a burial beside garbage in an
When you don the uniform of the United States, when you pledge to spend your life in defense of the Constitution, you
are making a sacred oath. That is only half the truth of it, however. The nation you have sworn your life to, and the
government which represents it as it accepts that oath, is making a promise, as well. It is the oath pledged by Abraham
Lincoln in his second Inaugural Address, when he spoke the words that became the sworn duty of the Veterans
Administration, written in tall letters at their door
: "Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne
the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among
ourselves and with all nations."
That we have not done so, that they swore an oath, died, and were thrown away like garbage - both the living and the
dead - after fulfilling that oath, is a mortal stain of indelible shame.
William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling
author of three books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know
," "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence
" and "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation
." He lives and works in Boston.