Hell Comes Home

There's no armor, it turns out, for conscience.

So
our men and women are coming home from the killing fields wounded in
their heads, used up, greeted only by the military's own meat grinder
of inadequate health care and intolerance for "weakness."

"Frankly,
in my more than 25 years of clinical practice, I've never seen such
immense emotional suffering and psychological brokenness." This is what
whistleblower psychiatrist Kernan Manion wrote recently to President
Obama about his experience counseling Marines at Camp Lejeune in North
Carolina, as reported by Salon.

In
September, Manion, having been told to "cease and desist all further
correspondence with the government," was fired by the Navy for his
urgent, outspoken communiques about the mental-health minefield the
military has on its hands. Two months later, of course, the issue of
PTSD was blown into the national headlines by the massacre at Fort
Hood. And a day after that, according to Salon, the body of a Marine
was found at Camp Lejeune and a fellow Marine was arrested for the
murder.

The wars we
fight keep getting worse, or seem at any rate to back up on us with an
ever-intensifying fury. Our war on terror is tightening the
psychological vise on our collective insecurity, beginning with the
soldiers who are fighting it. Salon, citing official figures, reported
that 42 Marines committed suicide in 2008 and 146 attempted to do so.

Even more
disturbing in terms of national security, 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war
veterans, in all service branches, had been charged with murder as of
2008, according to a New York Times report. This statistic was cited in
a recent Mother Jones article about Republican Sen. Richard Burr's
bill, the "Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act," which would ease
mental-health restrictions on vets' ability to buy guns.

This
disturbing bill does not give psychologically wounded vets the help
they need, but it certainly reflects the ignorance and arrogance of
militarism, which perpetually organizes itself around an "enemy"
somewhere out there stalking us. Those trapped in this mindset can
imagine security only in relation to their power over this enemy, which
leads them, and everyone else, into a vicious spiral of armed
preparation, violence and counter-violence.

What we
fail to notice in our rage and fear is that violence - not the violence
we endure but the violence we perpetrate - dehumanizes us. Killing is
the ultimate traumatic experience.

"In the
military, you're trained to shoot at a target, but sometimes the
humanity of that target intrudes, and people come to question what
they've done," said Dr. Shira Maguen (putting it, I would say, mildly).
Maguen is a staff psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center
and lead author of a recent study of the factors causing PTSD,
conducted in conjunction with the University of California, San
Francisco. The study, published in the October 2009 issue of the
Journal of Traumatic Stress, used data from 1,200 veterans of the
Vietnam War. It found, much to the researchers' surprise, that "the
negative psychological effects of killing" made all other factors pale
in comparison.

Here's how
it looks before the humanity intrudes: "One morning, a few months
before leaving, I was manning a machine-gun security post. I saw a
Humvee come through the gate towing a blue mini-pickup. As they
approached closer, I saw that the truck was riddled with bullets and
shrapnel - full of dead insurgents, decapitated corpses. I'll never
forget this. A very young PFC in the back of the truck lifted a
decapitated head. 'We really f---ed these guys up, didn't we?' Other
soldiers were celebrating on top of the bodies. (The dead were) mostly
teenage boys from the local community."

These words
of Iraq War vet Jeffrey Smith were just a small shard of the four days
of horrific testimony about this war - about the racism and cultural
ignorance of our occupation, about the inhumanity of military culture,
about America's official disregard for human life - given by vets at
the Winter Soldier gathering a year and a half ago in Silver Spring,
Md.

The authors
of the PTSD study emphasized, according to a University of California
news release, that their results had a harrowing relevance for the
troops currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Previous research,
they noted, indicates that "up to 65 percent of service members
returning from the war in Iraq report killing an enemy combatant, and
up to 28 percent report being responsible for the death of a
noncombatant."

I fear that
the war on terror is just starting to come home, just starting to haunt
us. What we've done to the Iraqis and Afghanis, we've also done to
ourselves. Every vet with serious PTSD is trapped in his or her
personal Abu Ghraib, and a few - getting no help from their own chain
of command, except maybe redeployment - will try to shoot their way out.

Of far more
worry to the militarized sector are those who decide to join Jeffrey
Smith and the other Winter Solider truth-tellers. He concluded his
testimony: "I apologize to the Iraqi people for what we did."