Last week, in the middle of this dark night for America, the Trump administration pushed through a variety of dangerous and unpopular policies. President Trump rolled out funding changes that will make it harder for those in need to get Medicaid. He added more countries to his vile Muslim travel ban. But perhaps the most evil of these changes, the one with the deadliest consequences, was this: He rolled back Obama-era restrictions on the United States’ use of land mines.
I am a veteran. From 1993 to 1997 I served in the Seabees, a ground-combat-ready part of the Navy. While I was lucky enough to serve during a time of peace, I was ready to go to war on behalf of my nation at a moment’s notice, as were the millions of other Americans with whom I served. Everyone who enlists knows that combat is a real possibility during their term of service, bringing with it the possibility of death or serious mental or physical injury. It’s a burden we bear with pride, and with a degree of fear.
But throughout history, certain weapons have been deemed so brutal and so cruel that they are condemned around the world. Land mines fall into this category. Of the world’s 195 nations, 164 have banned the manufacture and use of antipersonnel land mines and destroyed their stockpiles as signatories of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The list of signers includes war-torn nations such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen. But not the United States, although in 2014 President Obama limited the use of antipersonnel mines to the Korean Peninsula. Our failure to sign this treaty is a national disgrace, a legacy of failure for decades of presidents of both political parties. It lessens us as military and philosophical exemplars in the world.
In 2017, there were 7,239 recorded land mine casualties. This is probably a vastly underreported number, since many of the countries most affected are so destroyed by years of war that they lack the infrastructure to collect this data. These casualties include huge numbers of civilians, too often children. And uncollected, undetonated mines lie in wait for generations, indiscriminate in their destruction, unable to tell friend from foe, child from adult. They simply kill.
This is what Donald Trump wants us to unleash on the world. This is who he is.
His tenure in the political eye has been a never-ending string of attacks on veterans. He is a draft dodger — not out of principle but out of cowardice. He bragged that trying to dodge sexually transmitted infections was “my Vietnam.”During his campaign, he famously denigrated a gold-star family whose son was killed on the battlefield. He belittled every single American prisoner of war in attacking the late Senator John McCain, stating, “I like people who weren’t captured.” When calling the families of the first service members killed during his presidency, Trump could not remember the name of Sergeant La David Johnson. He promised a fallen service member’s father a $25,000 check, but only sent it months later when it was reported that he had never followed through. The Trump Foundation illegally misused funds raised for a veterans charity. Just last month he minimized the traumatic brain injuries incurred by dozens of service members in the aftermath of the Trump-ordered assassination of an Iranian general.
At every turn, Trump has done the wrong thing for veterans. He dishonors our military. He dishonors my service. He dishonors our nation and is not worthy of the title of commander in chief.
Land mines are not an issue of politics. This is a larger calling, one that must unite us across our differences. We are confronted with an issue of our national conscience. And so those of us who have worn the flag on our shoulders, with stripes and chevrons on our sleeves or bars on our collars, must do what we have always done: honor our oaths and stand up for our great nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Too many of us are already not able to stand at all because of these immoral weapons.
I am a United States sailor. I will support and defend the Constitution, and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me. I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world. I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team with honor, courage, and commitment. I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.
Even if the commander in chief is not.
Ben Jackson is a writer.