Categorized | USA, Syria

First U.S. soldier killed by ISIL marks the lasting legacy of U.S. imperialism

By Ryan Endicott


Master Sgt Joshua L. Wheeler

The author was a U.S. Marine Infantryman (Corporal USMC) who served in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005, and is currently a member of March Forward!

The Pentagon has reported that the first soldier killed fighting ISIL was Master Sgt Joshua L. Wheeler. A 20-year veteran, Wheeler was killed during a special operations raid near the city of Kirkuk. In a moment of heroism, Wheeler was seen running into the fight when Kurdish forces were being pushed back by ISIL. As a result, an estimated 70 prisoners were freed.

Wheeler enlisted in the Army infantry after high school, in 1995, and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan three times before 2004. After being stationed with a special operations command out of Fort Bragg, Wheeler deployed 11 more times to Iraq and Afghanistan. A highly decorated soldier, he was awarded 11 Bronze Star medals, the Purple Heart (posthumously), and has received many additional commendations. Wheeler graduated high school in a class of 100 youths in a small Oklahoma town. He was known and highly respected by everyone in his community. One classmate said, “He was just laid back, but he would keep you laughing. Everybody loved him, everybody. He had a kind heart, and he was a really funny guy.”

A legacy of death: Imperialism out of control

By the time the U.S. officially “ended” the war in 2011, the reality of the occupation was a grim story plagued with a bloody trail of millions of dead Iraqi women, men, and children. While estimates range greatly, it can be safely said that well over 1.5 million people, or five percent of the total population (with some estimates as high as two million), were killed by the brutal U.S. occupation of Iraq. For comparison, in the “most bloody war in U.S. history,” the U.S. Civil War, only 2.5 percent of the population was killed. At least another four million people have been injured, and at least two million Iraqis have been displaced. In 2003 alone, the U.S. carpet bombed Iraq conducting 29,200 airstrikes in the invasion.

For the next eight years, the U.S. conducted another 3,900 bombing missions. After nine years of relentlessly bombing hospitals, schools, bridges, electricity and trash depots, the entire Iraqi infrastructure has been obliterated. Consequently, the occupation has left the war torn people of Iraq in an apocalyptic land poisoned with depleted uranium. With no access to clean water, food, and basic utilities, in conjunction with the chemical toxicity, the conditions are so difficult that one in three babies born in Fallujah died before their first week. Of those new babies that survived their first week, another one in three died before their first month, and many children that made it to their first birthday, will suffer an exorbitantly high deformity rate. Furthermore, an entire generation of Iraqi children has grown up from toddlers to adulthood in a country devastated by war, forced to survive as nearly five percent of the population is murdered, just over eleven percent are brutally injured, and roughly six percent become refugees.

To add insult to injury, once the U.S. had secured its interests—oil and valuable nature resources—the U.S. “ended” the war by pulling out some of its military forces while increasing its private contractors, essentially privatizing much of the war effort. The U.S. paid no reparations to rebuild the country it had destroyed. The result was the Iraqi people were left struggling to survive as the wealth of their country, that before the war had been invested in free healthcare, education, and housing programs, was sucked from beneath their feet by Wall Street.

As the U.S. war in Iraq began to wind down, the U.S. shifted its policy to other countries in the region with nationalized resources. The U.S. waged a propaganda campaign against Iran, installing genocidal economic sanctions that targeted medical supplies and basic human needs. Then in 2011, the U.S. began a bombing campaign in Libya killing over thirty thousand women, men, and children, as U.S. sponsored “rebels” waged a savage terror campaign on the ground. “Rebel” forces were reported to have conducted mass lynching of black Libyans as well as conducting mass executions of Gaddafi supporters. Like the devastating impact in Iraq, the carpet bombing campaign completely destroyed the Libyan infrastructure. Subsequently, the U.S. started a relentless campaign with the intention of bombing Syria. This campaign, as in Libya, led to the U.S. directly supporting “rebel” forces that were clearly and directly tied to Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda affiliates, and extremist elements that would later form into ISIS/ISIL.

In the midst of this regional destabilization, with U.S. funds, weapons, and training being funneled into rightwing and extremist “Islamic”  forces, one of the most ruthless and savage forces in the region’s history was born: ISIL. In 2014, ISIL organized and launched an offensive in which it gained huge swaths of land in Iraq, seizing Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar Providence (next to Fallujah) in the summer of 2015. ISIL, like the U.S. before it, has left a trail of death and destruction, conducting mass executions and mass rape as it pillages it way across the region.

What is clear is that the U.S. drive for profit, privatization, and control over natural resources in the Middle East, has completely devastated the entire region. Further, as Joshua Wheeler is brought home in a casket, what is also clear is that the legacy of U.S. imperialism in Iraq is far from over, and many of the worst impacts of the occupation are still yet to be seen.

A life of killing

With over 20 years in the U.S. military, and 14 deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Wheeler died after spending nearly half his life in war. On the heels of Obama’s announcement that troops will remain in Afghanistan, Wheeler’s death not only marks a turning point in U.S. operations in Iraq, but additionally exposes the reality of U.S. imperialism; a profit system generating indefinite perpetual war.

In total the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the U.S. tax payers trillions of dollars. When military, Home Land Security, and Department of Defense expenditures are counted together, the total is over $10 trillion. The reality is that over $900 hundred million was spent every single day, and this money went into the pockets of weapons manufacturers, contractors, Big Oil, and Wall Street investors. However, while hundreds of millions of dollars went into the hands of the wealthy every single day, it was poor and working class youths, kids from small Oklahoma towns and urban neighborhoods stricken with poverty that were sent to fight, kill and die. Twelve years later, as Wheeler is laid to rest, he is one of many U.S. service members who spent his entire adult life in war.

Active duty suicide rates soared both during and after the official “end” to the Iraq occupation. In fact, beginning in 2008, active duty suicides began to surpass deaths in combat. By 2011, when Obama declared the war over, suicides were more frequent than combat deaths every year. Furthermore, the suicide rate for veterans is even worse. For years, the annual suicide rate accumulated to at least 22 deaths every single day, and this statistic comes from incomplete data as some VA’s did not release their numbers. Additionally, as of September 2015 there was nearly one million backlogged VA claims, and it has been estimated that upwards of one third
of these claims are for veterans who have already died without ever receiving treatment. Hundreds of thousands of veterans have died without their basic right to health care. Whether it was Staff Sgt. Jared Hagemann, an Army Ranger in the 2nd BT, 75th Rangers who killed himself to avoid his ninth deployment to Afghanistan, or whether it is Thomas Murphy, a 53-year-old veteran in Phoenix, who killed himself in the VA parking lot—what is clear is that the U.S. government has no intention of providing support to the poor and working class veterans it sends around the world to fight, kill and die in perpetual wars for empire.

Only revolution can stop imperialism

The reality is that U.S. imperialism in the Middle East is part of a system that puts the profits of billionaires on Wall Street before the lives of billions of people around the planet. It is a necessary and key component to the system itself, generating large profits off the devastation, destruction and mass murder of innocent women and children. Imperialism is capitalism expanding. Without a systematic expansion of markets, control over resources and domination over entire regions, the capitalist system would collapse on itself. This is because exploitation is the very root of the capitalist system. Whether it is CEOs laying workers off from their jobs to give themselves million dollar bonuses, cutting services to basic human rights like food, housing and health care, or whether it is racist police patrolling poor and working class communities of color, murdering unarmed Black and Latino people with total impunity, the entire capitalist system is built upon a foundation of mass exploitation.

Consequently, when the billionaires on Wall Street need even more profits, they will drop napalm on children in Vietnam, they will carpet bomb depleted uranium on children in Iraq and they will enlist poor and working class youths to spend their entire lives killing, fighting and dying only to return home to the streets to die outside a hospital they cannot even enter. Whether it is the poor Iraqi youth that has grown up their entire life in an apocalyptic war zone, or whether it is a U.S. GI plucked from a poor community and sent to die, the disease is the same: capitalism; and revolution is the solution.

Despite all the bombs and racist police of the capitalist class,  the workers have all the power. We drive the buses, we build the homes and we fight the wars. If we unite and organize, we can once and for all crush U.S. imperialism dead in its tracks, bringing the vast wealth created by society into the hands of the people. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars a day bombing and slaughtering innocent people, we can invest our wealth into free education, health care and housing for all, and we can begin to pay reparations to the people of Iraq for the devastating impact of U.S. imperialism. We must unite and fight, and if we do, we will win.

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