Speaking at the Michigan Military Academy in 1879, William Tecumseh Sherman famously opined about the nature of war:
"I've seen cities and homes in ashes. I've seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is hell!"
Have truer words so succinctly described the nature of warfare? But Sherman's observation only addresses those locked in the moment of war's treacherous grip.
What about those who return "safely" from the theater of war?
If war is hell, it is equally so for many returning to civilian life who must suffer in silence. A report issued last year by the Department of Veterans Affairs shockingly reveals 22 veterans commit suicide daily -- one veteran every 65 minutes.
Even more disheartening is that the number could actually be higher. The Department of Veterans Affairs based its findings on data provided by 21 states between 1999 and 2011. The two largest states, California and Texas, along with the fifth-largest state, Illinois, did not participate in the study.
The enthusiasm as America plays the overture before troops go into battle, boldly proclaiming unwavering support, is sadly paired with a passionless finale that hardly garners the attention of most not related to returning soldiers.
A sad commentary, indeed, it unveils the brazen hypocrisy of those who eagerly sound the trumpet for battle. One would be hard-pressed to find an elected official in Washington, regardless of party, who has not been trained to begin any statement about war with, "I support the troops."
But the report issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs strongly suggests such words are at best a poorly crafted exaggeration.
The report also stated that 69 percent of those who commit suicide are over 50. While the majority of veterans committing suicide are currently over 50, what will be the impact from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? With an unprecedented number of soldiers embarking on multiple tours of duty it is difficult to see how the current trajectory for veteran suicides will decrease.
As the nation grapples to understand the recent shooting at Fort Hood, where Spec. Ivan Lopez killed three soldiers and wounded 16 before taking his own life, the full truth of this absurdity may never be known.
But it is hard to believe, as Army investigators have offered, that Lopez's "escalating argument" before the rampage may have been a contributing factor. Assuming momentarily that the argument prompted Lopez to go on a shooting spree, it still exceeds what reasonable people would conclude as garden-variety anger management issues.
Instead of hunkering down in their predictable reactionary silos, Republicans and Democrats could use the Fort Hood massacre as an opportunity to demonstrate that support for the troops goes beyond a tattered slogan.
In January, President Barack Obama's State of Union Address was halted by minutes of applause after he introduced Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was on his 10th deployment when he was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
It's unlikely members of Congress and the president were unaware that 22 veterans take their lives daily as they stood in appreciative applause. Did they forget that Afghanistan was the war that began on one pretense but morphed into another, making it the longest conflict in America's history? It was a war that began with clarity of mission that methodically bogged down into uncertainty.
Ex post facto applause should never be confused with actual support.
This is a national embarrassment. Not just for the elected officials in Washington, but also for we the people.
Why aren't the inboxes of Congress and the White House flooded with emails demanding action? Until appropriate measures are taken to lower the rate of veteran suicides, every proclamation implying support for the troops marks another low point in American history.
Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.