Max Cleland is a Vietnam veteran who came back from the war a triple amputee. Cleland, who prefers to go simply by “Max”, spent eight months at Walter Reed Hospital. In his autobiography, Strong at the Broken Places, Max writes that he felt like “a discarded warrior who’d been warehoused as a long-term patient.” He recalls being transferred to a local VA hospital and feeling left behind, tormented and lonely. He was bitter. Afraid. And he wanted to die.
This, from a man who courageously fought for the country he loved.
When Max returned to his home state of Georgia, an interest in politics saved him from immersing into a deeper depression. At the age of twenty-eight he won a seat in the Senate. Later, Max was appointed to run the Veteran’s Administration. Years later, he would win the Georgia election for secretary of state. He held the position for twelve years until he won the election as US Senator in 1996.
He would lose his re-election bid to retain his seat in 2002 when his Republican opponent, Saxby Chambliss, played dirty by meshing Max alongside Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in attack ads because Max had voted against President Bush’s homeland security bill. He was criticized for this even though he supported a Democratic version of legislation that was very similar to Bush’s.
But that fact was never considered, and Max lost his Senate seat because he was lumped up with two evil men. Max Cleland fought for his country and suffered physical injuries plain to the human eye, as well as invisible injuries his mind will never recover from, yet he lost his seat to an opponent who never stepped foot in Vietnam, citing a bad knee.
Max suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He has anxiety and fear. “And it never goes away.” (Patriots Act)
Max lost his limbs while exiting an aircraft when he had noticed a grenade at his feet that he thought was his own. He bent down and picked up the grenade. Seconds later, the grenade exploded in his hand. Max would later learn that the grenade that blew off his limbs belonged to one of his fellow soldiers. A U.S soldier, active only days from basic training had “foolishly straightened out the pins of his grenade for quick access.” (Patriots Act)
The book, Patriots Act, written by Bill Katovsky, tells the individual stories of people who have risked their career and reputation to speak out against the masses.
I could summarize Max’s story for you, but I think it’s better to hear his experience through his own words. I’ve had this book for quite a few years and each story twists my insides in such aggravated frustration every time I reread it. But Max’s story stands out the most for me because many innocent lives were taken, in a brutal way, because of the lies and deception from people elected to lead this country.
Katovsky interviews Max for Patriots Act, published in 2006, and almost immediately the dialogue turns to the comparisons between Vietnam and the Iraq war, in which Max states, “I wish I’d done more to prevent the current disaster in Iraq that’s exactly mocking the first disaster in Vietnam that I was personally a part of.
“…Seeing all these young Iraq War veterans blown up, missing arms and legs and eyes, I just can’t stand it. It triggers all of my stuff from Vietnam…Iraq is Vietnam on steroids…Anybody who understands Vietnam or went through it…sees this war in Iraq as nothing more than total folly…Bush has created a war that didn’t have to happen…Instead of going after bin Laden and all of his terrorists in the mountains, Bush transferred those resources and those men on the ground to Iraq
“…Bush has gotten young Americans killed and wounded and blown up in a shooting gallery in Iraq…What they created in Iraq is a terror haven, a civil war that has no end. We destabilized Iraq. It had a stable government. We didn’t like it. We had Saddam Hussein in a box. But this President went in and took Saddam Hussein out and thought that was gonna be the end of it…Not only didn’t he know the consequences of those decisions, Bush wanted to be macho and be better than his daddy…It will take a Democratic president to come in, make peace, extricate the American forces and replace it with an international community.
“This Republican crowd is a Trojan horse. They say one thing and do another…You have to tell the truth and seriously connect with people. Average citizens thought they were doing the right thing by voting for Bush [in 2004] and this crowd.
“…Instead of watching American Idol on TV, we ought to be focusing on the lives of these young kids coming back with injuries that would have killed them in Vietnam, like concussions to the brain, because 85 percent of the casualties in Iraq are due to explosive devices….It blows up your insides and your brain in a concussion that you won’t ever get over….But these kids are so brave and so courageous that we ought to be focusing on them: Instead, many people put a sticker on the back of their car that says, ‘We support the Troops,’ and then they put a Bush/Cheney sticker on the other side. And think that’s America.
“Meanwhile, the Democrats are trapped in a mixed message. Anytime you have troops at war, you are reluctant to criticize it. Because then you are attacked as un-American and unpatriotic. So it’s hard to stand up and speak the truth. Those who do get trashed…The price to go up against them is awful. I was on the 9/11 Commission, but I resigned after a year because we would never get access to all of those presidential daily briefs…it’s all part of this massive cover-up that somehow we are fighting the war on terrorism in Iraq.”
This book was published a decade ago, but all the stories, especially this one, are still so relevant today. People say “Never Forget 9/11” and I don’t know how anyone can, but we also can’t ever forget the lies we were told immediately after that tragedy. Our fears were preyed upon and the American people were manipulated. Hundreds of thousands of civilian and military lives were lost in Iraq, and those who survived, like Max, never completely heal.
As we head into another Presidential election year, I will vote for the candidate who is more likely to keep this country out of war. There are way too many fear-mongering politicians out there who seemingly can’t wait to activate our “beefed-up” military first chance they get.
But I wonder if George Bush would have been so quick to invade Iraq, on all those false pretenses, if it were his own children on the front lines.
The war that didn’t have to happen killed other people’s children, and husbands, and wives, and mothers, and fathers. But for so long we weren’t supposed to express our dissent against the war because we would be deemed unpatriotic.
But the people need to speak up and protest peacefully against social injustices and political lies.
Otherwise, we’re just going along with the masses, which is exactly what crooked leaders want us to do.
Let’s not do that, people.
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