He may be the commander in chief of America’s armed forces, but President Donald Trump seems to have no clue about what life is like for the men and women who defend our country.
Worse, he doesn’t appear to care.
We now know that, despite what we were told at the time, U.S. troops were injured when Iran hit an air base in Iraq with missiles in response to Trump’s airstrike that killed an important Iranian general. Fifty U.S. service members have been diagnosed with concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
But, true to form, President Trump has dismissed those injuries as “headaches and a couple of other things,” saying they were “not very serious injuries,” not like “people with no legs and no arms.”
With that latest ignorant, callous remark, Trump dealt a blow to the Pentagon’s efforts to deal with a particularly daunting problem in today’s military. Traumatic brain injuries are among the most common injuries in the long-running, unconventional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But because the injuries aren’t visible — unlike, to use Trump’s crude example, missing legs and arms — ignorant people dismiss them. The military has long struggled with just that sort of stereotype, making light of real problems because they’re not readily apparent.
Service members who are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, TBIs and other conditions have long felt a stigma, mistakenly believing that they don’t have “real” injuries and that seeking treatment shows weakness.
TBIs cause severe headaches, depression, memory loss, severe fatigue, dizziness and other long-lasting effects. They contribute to the growing problem of suicide among service members and veterans as well as veterans’ homelessness. Trump’s remarks have outraged veterans groups.
Trump’s remarks, unfortunately, follow his all-too-familiar pattern. He’s claimed that because he was sent to a military school as a teen, he knows all about military life.
He has called avoiding sexually transmitted diseases his “personal Vietnam.” He said that the late Sen. John McCain, who spent 5½ years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, wasn’t a war hero because he was captured. He has disparaged Gold Star parents. He has dismissed PTSD as a problem for troops who “can’t handle” what they encounter in war.
All this is worse because it comes from a man who got five questionable draft deferments to avoid the Vietnam War. And it’s made worse by Trump’s recent actions that undermine military discipline and justice to glorify those punished for acting more like lawless thugs than honor-bound professionals.
Serving in the military isn’t some sort of macho game. It’s a tough, stressful job that makes great demands on the men and women who volunteer to protect and defend our country and its Constitution, and on their families.
Our service members put their lives on the line for us.
Only a tiny percentage of Americans now serve in the military, and most of us don’t have much understanding of the lives of those who do.
With the military draft long gone, we can no longer expect that presidents will have spent some time in service.
But we ought to be able to expect — even demand — that the person who becomes the commander in chief, the person in a position to put the troops in harm’s way, will make every effort to learn the realities of what these men and women endure, and to show respect for their sacrifices.