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Prisoners of ‘Was’: from Boots on the Ground to Statistics on the Sidewalk

This weekend, I drove by a US Army veteran on the streets of Washington, DC who driven to panhandle in the same country he swore an oath to protect and uphold. Once his days in the military expired, he joined another army where the enlisted are the millions of homeless men and women stacking up in towns and cities throughout America. The sacrifices he gave—stories few of us will ever comprehend—were met with indifference by a government too busy making money from wars and a public to preoccupied by sensationalism to see true injustices that happen on a daily basis.

We are the richest nation in the world, yet we can’t muster the will to eradicate poverty and homelessness. It’s not for the lack of money or resources; for every homeless person in America, there are six vacant houses that are foreclosed and boarded up. Bankers would rather let homes collect dust than help out the very veterans they use as billboards to sell their financial services. They do so in order to inflate the demand for new homes. Scarcity requires a certain level of poverty; the dearth of hope and opportunity that is becoming all to rare these days is not by chance but by design. Instead of addressing the disease, we are treated to a political and social class who shine a light on the symptoms as they exacerbate the root causes that lead to insufficiency and hopelessness.

The military-financial complex keeps coming up with shiny new toys with the sole purpose of destroying lives while we ignore the lives that languish on our shores.

I admit, these things are personal to me. After shuffling in and out of homeless shelters for nearly two years and seeing the plight of the homeless on an intimate basis, I have a hard time closing my eyes to the suffering of the invisible citizens who have become a cost of doing business and a norm. It took a Jobian tribulation and getting swallowed up by the whale of indigence to shed blinders from my eyes. Our fraudulent politics, identity driven ideologies and faux-patriotism are the curtains that give cover to the a system of capital greed that is snuffing out hope for millions in America and billions around the globe.

Every 24 hours, twenty veterans commit suicide. Think about this for a minute; on a yearly basis, twice as many veterans die by their own hands than the number of people who were murdered on September 11th. Each year, we commemorate 9/11 yet we overlook of two brigades worth of suicides. Millions of veterans who survive have to navigate life battling the horrors of PTSD and trying desperately to make ends meet. While people who put on the uniform suffer, those who sell wars from the comforts of air conditioned conference rooms donning expensive suits make fortunes each time a bomb explodes overseas.

Every year, our government wastes over $600 billion on and endless array of weapons programs and defense contractors. We spend more money on the military-financial complex than the next ten countries combined. Last month, over $150 million dollars were flushed down the drain bombing Syria with 120 high-tech missiles. War is a cash cow that fattens many pigs and leaves those who served famished. $150 million could buy a house for every homeless veteran, alas greed demands that we keep declaring wars overseas and neglecting injustice. Click To Tweet

It is up to us, the people, to stop being medicated by the sensationalism of corporate news and the salaciousness of our politics and demand a government that works for us. Or else, one by one, we too will be enlisted the army of homeless and the join the company of the distressed. Stop letting demagogues in corporate media and the courtiers in politics distract us from the injustices that are happening right at our doors. More important, I hope each one of us can commit to helping the less fortunate.

Letting someone who is struggling in the shadows that they matter is infinitely more valuable than giving a dollar and walking away. I too was once there; the only thing that led me out of the darkness was the light of friendly strangers who imbued my heart with hope when I had none of it. Be the hope to someone in your vicinity—let them know that they are not alone. These small gestures of kindness will one day lead to the change we all keep waiting for. The issues many on the street face is thinking that their life is past tense; given hope, what was barren can one day flourish. Let us be the hope to each other and refuse to let others live in what was and show them that there is a future ahead. #PrisonersOfWas

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:13

Below is a poem I wrote after an encounter I had with a homeless veteran at a mission in Fort Collins, Colorado. May the pains all feel and the memories too many bear be stilled.

Silent Salute 

To the soldiers who sacrificed
Did their duty without asking
I express outrage against injustice
Over immoral wars and endless carnage
I am speaking out for you in the process
Veterans in the end understand one thing
Their fellow men were never their enemy
To this day fierce rivals from past conflicts
Embrace after the last bullets have been fired
Soldiers salute and do their duty that is best
The sorrows they go through alone
Trauma induced by bodies and reduced humanity
Only to come back home and encounter Satan’s embrace
Flash backs prompting cold sweats
Bullets and blood droplets
Too much for the mind to process
Those who die in wars are fortunate
It’s the veterans, the survivors
Who carry the burdens of these remembrances
Fallen comrades and innocent children
Indiscriminately swallowed whole by turbulence
Tears mixing with blood stains
Cries drowned out by battle drums
War is humanity’s utmost blemish
Concealed by propaganda and theatrics
Patriotism birthing negligence
Our conscience is subverted into ignorance
As we enjoy disengagement’s bliss
Veterans suffer depression’s kiss
Politicians, profiteers and Hollywood
Glorifying war horrors by bending reality
Obfuscating suffering with special effects and rhetoric
But to the soldier their truth is the opposite
Rat-tat-tat-tat bullets shattering God’s presence
Untold masses disappearing into graves and silence
We wave flags thanking them for service
They shiver alone bearing the cost of compliance
Final judgments by way of triggers and buttons
Only to come back home
Shock and awe replaced by shock trauma
Nightmares that never end
Being continually transported back to mayhem
The battle field redrawn into the mind’s synapses
Piercing quietness with shrieks and terrors
Spouses who grow estranged
Children unable to comprehend
Concern pixelating into absence
Loneliness the only friend that remains
The proud and few become islands
Invisible wounds breaking cognizance
This is why so many end up homeless
Many more embracing suicide’s cuddle
Despair muffles life and blends into darkness
To be met by society’s mind numbing indifference
We step over them daily
Once warriors turned into the indigent
Salutes being returned with diffidence
Yet in this silence I stand for you
May God forever bless you
Where you are broken
May you mend into fullness
Sergeant Black in DC
Vietnam War survivor
Gunny Stevens in Greenville
Korean War survivor
Derrick in Colorado
Iraq War survivor
Frank in Ankeny Iowa
World War II survivor
Countless others who I have met
Had the honor of sharing meals with
May your struggles be fleeting
But your blessings be eternal
In silence I salute you
Click on the picture below to donate to Wounded Warrior project today and help out someone who struggles in silence.


Below is a Ghion Cast where I conducted an interview with Lt. Colonel Rick Belt, a Vietnam War veteran who served his nation and has a story to tell. Hear his story and help others who struggle alone tell their stories as well.

Teodrose Fikremariam
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Teodrose Fikremariam

Writer at Ghion Journal
Teodrose Fikremariam is the co-founder and former editor of the Ghion Journal.
Teodrose Fikremariam
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