Marilee Swirczek: Military deserve better from us, Abby

I’ve been thinking about the Sunday, Dec. 21 “Dear Abby” column (Nevada Appeal and nationwide). Abby’s advice, by syndicated columnist Jeanne Phillips, deserves some serious afterthought.

The advice-seeker in the column signs himself “Deployed Soldier,” 7 months into a 12-month deployment in Afghanistan. At first, his family sent him messages every week, but now it’s been nearly 2 months since he’s received communication from friends or family. He acknowledges they are busy with their own lives but says, “…sometimes it seems that I am forgotten. It would be comforting to know someone is thinking about me.”

His question to Abby seems simple enough: “I know if I reach out and send a message — which I have done — I’ll get replies, but am I wrong for not wanting to have to do that? Is it wrong to wish that I could come in, relax, and find a message waiting for me?” He adds, “Any day now could be my last.”

You might think Abby’s response to Deployed Soldier would be in a way that sends a message to his friends and family. “Show my reply to your parents (or spouse or friends)” she often writes when the problem lies not with the letter writer, but with other important people in the letter writer’s life.

Instead, she urges Deployed Soldier to share his feelings of loneliness with his friends and family because “They are not mind readers.” She speculates they probably assume he’s too busy “to stay in touch” and suggests he reach out to them again. I wonder if she has considered what being busy might mean in a war zone. Then she offers advice which could be hurtful, even accusatory, to someone living with the reality each day may be his last: “The surest way to get what you need is to communicate — and that applies to more situations in life than this one.”

Is that the best a nationally acclaimed advice columnist can do when responding to an American soldier serving in a foreign country during wartime? If this Dear Abby column represents mainstream American values, then shame on us.

We don’t have to be mind readers — but we must be mindful, lest we become so desensitized to our constant state of war we forget its costs: After 13 bloody years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, our nation is nearly 7,000 souls poorer. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports more than 1 million non-fatal war casualties among those service members returning, including multiple traumas, traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress, amputations and burns. Then there are the suicides — an estimated 2 Iraq or Afghanistan veterans kill themselves every day, among the 22 U.S. military veterans per day who take their own lives. Though the President announced the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from over.

Shouldn’t each of us in this great American family make a New Year’s resolution to understand our obligations to those we send into harm’s way on our behalf?

And Ms. Phillips, our dear Abby, please make a New Year’s resolution of your own: To use your national platform to help us remember the cost of freedom paid by those who gave their lives, those who made it home, and those who still serve.

If that means urging a lonely soldier’s friends and family to send him messages without being asked, then so be it.

Marilee Swirczek is professor emeritus at Western Nevada College and is part of WNC’s Always Lost: A Meditation on War project. She lives in Carson City.


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