(Originally published at http://thecollectivereport.weebly.com/)
How could this tragedy happen? Again? I say it with regret when I ask, should any of this come as an actual surprise? And if so, then I think we’re misunderstanding the situation. When another soldier walks onto a military base and opens fire on their fellow soldiers, there is something more to it than just some crazed lunatic or an Islamic terrorist who was hiding
in disguise. When people actually look at the military’s situation like soldiers going on multiple tours in a short period, the rise in PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder), courts trying to reign in sexual assault (rape), and the increasing number of soldier suicides, another hurt individual will kill more innocents. As we continue our military adventures abroad, the public should be more concerned about what’s been done in their name.
I want to be upfront and stress that what I say is in defense of our soldiers in the military. I have no desire to defame or
dehumanize them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s only when soldiers and the military partake in war crimes and acts of violence that, if we saw other countries doing, we would be appalled and demand a response.
Currently, there are a total of 22 suicides a day (although many suspect this number to be higher). On top of that, we’re having the highest rate of PTSD that our military has ever seen. A majority of soldiers that are seeking help suffer humiliation within the military or are wrongly diagnosed and, in most cases, over-medicated. As well as suffering deep trauma, soldiers are coming home to be in one of the highest groups of unemployment. On any given night, 63,000 veterans are homeless. The more recent cuts in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and other food stamps programs are going to deeply affect the over 900,000 veterans who rely on them. “The coming cut will range from $36 a month for a family of four to $11 a month for a single person. Food stamps will average less than $1.40 per person per meal next year with the cut. Benefits were already sparse, at just $133 a month on average,” wrote Alan Pyke in
February discussing the increased reliance of veterans on SNAP.
Another major problem is the growing rates of sexual assault of women and some men in the military. What’s more disturbing is the lack of concern by the military and the recent arrest of the Air Force chief for sexual assault, who was
supposed to be in charge of preventing sexual assaults.
In her book, They Were Soldiers, Ann Jones gives an unflinching look into the world of wounded soldiers who are rarely discussed or talked about in the media. She reveals the troubling and difficult world of survivors who suffer wounds that doctors of war have a hard time comprehending. “The IED blast that took off both his legs above the knee bypassed his pelvis to slam into his chest. He must have been doubled over, crouching, when he walked onto the bomb. The impact damaged his lungs in ways not yet fully understood, so that now when he breathes on his own, every breath costs him more than he has to give.” This is a scene of war the US public has been denied or has allowed itself to be blinded from. The violence, death, pain, suffering, and traumatic aftermath for returning veterans is something we need to confront, especially if we continue to allow our country to go forward on this path.
Aside from these voiceless soldiers and their suffering family members, there is also the grim reality of the civilians who
have lost lives in both the public wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the covert operations in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In Afghanistan alone, there was little concern about civilian life by the military until around 2009 when
they began counting the civilian deaths. To this day, the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan is misrepresented both through the military and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s).
In the US media, there has been little, if any, discussion about Fallujah and the aftermath of the use of chemical weapons on its civilian population following the battles in 2004. Recent reports have come out describing the massive birth defects and health problems that the population is still reeling from. The drone strikes throughout Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan
have left thousands of civilians dead and many other surviving families parentless or childless. In many cases where the targets are supposed “terrorist,” it ends up being a wedding or family gathering. Or like in the case of the night raid in Gardez, Afghanistan where the US soldiers pulled the bullets out of the dead civilians in an attempt to cover up the massacre. There is little to no admission of blame by the administration, or any discussion in the media. These all play a huge role in perpetuating the violence that has plagued our soldiers in suicide bombings or aggressive attacks by Al Qaeda, as well as the potentiality of future attacks on US citizens.
In his book and film of the same title, Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill recollects the rise and fall of Anwar Awlaki, a US citizen who had became radicalized as a result of the growing US involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The book’s main thesis shows the connection between our foreign policy and the resulting blowback. He recounts the rise of the
Al Shabaab in Somalia, AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) in Yemen, returning forces in Afghanistan, and Al-Qaeda fringe in Iraq. Most of these groups either didn’t exist or were very small before the US got involved in each of those countries. The US public should be aware of its involvement in these countries where we technically aren’t at war
because we don’t have ground troops, but we’re funding and backing people who at the same time allow such fringes as Al Shabaab, AQAP, and Al-Qaeda to grow and expand.
War should not be considered a heroic or even prideful thing, as its often portrayed. It’s full of death, destruction, and has an overbearing burden of death upon civilians at the cost of a small interest. Whether people connect the wars to freedom, democracy, peace, defeating terrorism, oil, or private interest, there is a single truth: war is death. There are no victors except those who had a single goal all along, and in most cases, the public has little to no interest because they’re unaware that these outside interest even exist. Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, who has reported from many battle zones from Latin America to Yugoslavia to the Middle East, emphasizes that war should not be glorified. In a talk “War and Its Meanings,” Hedges remarks, “one of the reasons I find filming images of war pornographic is that you remove that element of fear. The second thing…is you choreograph it…when you’re actually in a firefight it’s utter confusion, you have no idea what’s going on…Immediately after a firefight, the dead bodies first of all become trophies…if you’re with a particularly demented unit, they’ll play with the corpses, but the other thing they do is begin to create a narrative, it’s fiction. They create a narrative of the firefight, because during the firefight there is no narrative…when you spend as much time in war as I did, you learn to handle that environment, you have the parameter, and it shrinks, and when its breached, you’re terrified.”
Accompanying Hedges was the political cartoonist, Mr. Fish, who discussed his fans and enemies. He recollects that returning soldiers usually appreciated his work, while it was usually the wives, girlfriends, and parents of the soldiers who wrote him threatening letters against his politics and view of the war.
Patriotism and nationalism can have terrifying consequences. History has shown us this on more than one occasion, just within this recent century. Our sense of anger and vulnerability after 9/11 left us ill-informed and we made harmful decisions that affected not just our country, but other countries as well. The two publicly acknowledged wars have been debated from both sides on whether we had a right or duty to intervene. For those who still argue that Iraq was justified because we got rid of Saddam, must have forgotten that Iraq had a democratic government in the 1950s and that the US paid Saddam Hussein to overthrow the democratic government. We gave Saddam the chemical weapons that we would later use as a reason for going to war in 2003. Even in Afghanistan, the US funded and armed the Mujahideen (one of the main leaders being Bin Laden), which resulted in the invasion of the Soviet Union. It’s difficult to surmise that we genuinely want to help the these countries when we invade with our military, ignore the cultural differences, kill civilians,
detain innocent civilians and journalists, and suspect anyone as the “enemy.”
In the end, we need to take a good look at these wars and ask if this is what we want to represent us to the rest of the world. We need to acknowledge the war crimes our country commits and not just claim it was the work of “a few bad apples,” but rather a consequence of war. We need to help returning soldiers and provide them with job security, financial security, and mental health facilities. We should embrace their insight of what they saw and promote their views of the war and we should embrace the reality of war. Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian wrote a book, Collateral Damage, on the voices of 50 soldiers’ stories from Iraq. Hedges remarked that when the book was published there was little interest in the US, but it exploded in Europe. As US citizens we should be demanding for stories and accounts like this to be
told, otherwise we not only do a disservice to our soldiers and ourselves.
When our leaders lie to us or hide information from us about the wars that are being committed in our name, we should not be afraid to use our power as citizens as a way to force our president, congress, and leaders to represent and uphold the values that we deem necessary for democracy. At the end of the day, it is we, the public, who
usually fight these battles and in the end suffer the most. For the silent
soldiers, the afraid soldiers, the dead soldiers, and the long list of voiceless
civilians and their dead, defend your right to know what the hell your country
is doing! Or expect to see more tragedies, and another Fort Hood.