Chris Smiley at The Peace Report has put together an excellent short video where I describe what we did in Iraq to what I saw being done by the Israeli army and police forces to Palestinians. This is the latest documentary that Chris has assembled utilizing footage from our delegation to Palestine last year:
Also here is a longer, 40 minutes, documentary that Chris put together and released a couple of months ago that I don’t believe I have previously shared:
I received a good number of emails, as well as a couple of comments asking for references on last week’s post. I’ll summarize my response here, as well as post an email I sent to the author of an essay in Task and Purpose, a military focused blog, on the relationship of PTSD and combat veterans. That letter, which was more than 600 words and documented, was not even acknowledged, let alone responded to or published…so it goes 😉
As I noted in last week’s post I am dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI). I also have a diagnosed neuro-cognitive disorder. For the purposes of this blog and the work I try to take part in, this is causing tremendous problems. I suffer from constant headaches, migraines and fatigues, as well as difficulty with concentration, thought and cognitive tasks. Since I published that post
last Tuesday, today is the first day, the Tuesday before last, it’s now taken me more than ten days to have had the mental clarity, ability and energy to work on my computer, write and finish this post. I’ve had at least six migraines, lasting from four to sixteen hours, and the constant headaches and fog in my head have kept me just not off my computer, but away from reading books, essays and articles, as well as watching movies, documentaries and tv shows, walking my dogs and spending time with my partner. It should be noted that these cognitive and migraine problems can also be related to PTSD, depression, and alcohol abuse, but my doctors, both in NC and now here in DC, believe it to be rooted in brain injury. Most likely I believe this brain injury comes from the hundreds of explosive blasts I was exposed to during my time in the Marines, both in training and in Iraq, and as a government official in Iraq – live by the sword, die by sword. This type of brain injury may be similar to what football players and boxers experience later in life. I say all of this to explain why I have not responded sooner to requests for more information, as well as why I am not generally traveling, writing, commenting, appearing on media, etc these days.
However, back to the post from last week: When I speak of guilt, I am speaking of the guilt that comes from being ashamed of one’s actions, whether one engaged directly or indirectly in those actions, or whether one was trying to act morally as individual in otherwise immoral circumstances; eg. an individual takes part in the Iraq War, acts in a manner that an outsider would regard as moral, but because he/she has taken part in an event with ill aims and purposes he/she assumes a greater responsibility and role and feels as if he/she has transgressed his/her own morality. This form of guilt is known as moral injury and is becoming well understood to be one of the three signature invisible wounds of war alongside PTSD and TBI.
While different than PTSD and TBI, moral injury often co-exists and overlaps with either one or both. Often moral injury/guilt, PTSD and TBI reinforce and exacerbate one another and where one wound ends another may begin. However, it is important to remember that although the three wounds manifest symptoms in the same manner and are often closely linked, moral injury/guilt, PTSD and TBI are different from one another in their causes and treatment. Simply put PTSD is the body and mind’s reaction to a traumatic or series of traumatic events, TBI is actual damage done to the brain as the result of an external force, whether it be a physical blow or explosion, and moral injury/guilt is a psychological wound caused by the betrayal of an individual’s own values, ethics, morality etc. For further definitions please see here for PTSD, here for TBI and here moral injury/guilt.
With regards to guilt and moral injury, many people recognize that it can take the form of guilt that is widely known as survivor’s guilt. This is the guilt one feels from being left alive or unhurt when others were killed or injured. In veterans survivor’s guilt can be very pronounced as those that are killed or wounded are often friends or subordinates for whom the service member feels a parental like responsibility. I dealt with this in a very awful manner from a helicopter accident that I survived in 2006, but from which four others did not, including a man I consider a friend. In this case, my guilt was not because I solely survived and they died, but because I did not save them. This aspect, of not doing more to help or save others, is also seen often in veterans, as young men and women are recruited into the military and then conditioned to see themselves as heroes in the waiting.
There is another aspect of guilt and moral injury that comes with combat veterans and this is the guilt that comes from taking part in killing. Studies tell us the guilt that comes from this killing can come from either directly or indirectly taking part in the killing, e.g. you don’t have to have been the one who pulled the trigger, and that this guilt can come from not just the killing of civilians and innocents, but also from killing the “enemy”. This guilt over killing the enemy is particularly understandable if the veteran recognizes the enemy as human and as someone who is simply fighting occupation, ie. acting justly, such as the Afghans, Iraqis and Vietnamese fighting against occupation. In this enemy they recognize actions they would do themselves if the situation was reversed. For example, I used to say of the 153 Marines and Sailors I commanded in Iraq in 2006, that if they were young sunni males living in Anbar Province, 51 would be fighting us, 51 would be in Abu Ghraib and 51 would be dead. It is not a very long or difficult path for many veterans to reach this empathy for the enemy, particularly once they leave the bubble and cocoon of group-think that dominates military life and they are able to freely and independently examine both the micro and macro aspects of the war in which they took part.
In the video I shared last week, when I spoke of veterans killing themselves from guilt, I was referring to this guilt or moral injury: that of taking part in something criminal, unjust, and wrong and/or of having done something that violated spiritual, religious, professional or self-held values, principles, beliefs, etc. See the video I posted above for description of how the US Armed Forces mentally condition young men and women to see themselves as heroes and then what happens when they realize they are more a pawn or villain than a hero. For many this is the crux of moral injury and it is a soul crushing and existential crisis that I believe leads to a great many suicides.
In my case, my personal foundation, my very essence and being was ripped from me; to say my world was turned upside down is not just a minimalist description, but a trite one, as the experience, lasting years and managed now because of the great help of psychologists at the VA Medical Center in Durham, reached such depths as are only encountered in the most intense spiritual or awakened moments. Coupled with traumatic brain injury, depression, PTSD and alcohol abuse, it is easy to understand how with no ability to make amends and the constant hero worship of the American public this guilt could only be assuaged with thoughts of suicide. As my life crumbled and I believed in nothing, I was already an atheist, believing neither in the gods of Abraham or deism, despair and despondency became exaggerated and resounded in my head and soul with every little failure and misstep. Alcohol self medicated me for awhile, but the only escape from the sheer distress at the very base of my being was to end it.
Guilt driving someone to suicide should not be a striking idea, it is common in the literature and religion that we are first introduced to as children and teenagers: think of Judas in the Gospels or Lady Macbeth shouting: “Out, out damn spot!”. Guilt, however, has not been something men and women returning home from war have traditionally been screened for or asked about, more than likely I believe as any guilt associated and announced with the wars of the United States is politically and patriotically unacceptable (in that spirit RootsAction and myself received several angry and righteous emails denouncing the linking of suicide in veterans to feeling guilty about what they took part in during the war or killing the enemy).
As mentioned above, I will paste a letter I sent to the military blog Task and Purpose, but first I would like to list a number of references I use to support my conclusions that it is guilt that is the chief driver of suicides in combat veterans. Additionally, I have a pdf that contains links and abstracts to 25 separate studies that exam the relationship of guilt/moral injury, TBI, and PTSD to suicide in veterans. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a pdf copy of that.
Data on veterans suicides can be found in the 2017 suicide data report published by the VA.
For information on suicide rates of veterans with PTSD compared to other mental health populations, please see Figure 3, page 9 in the report.
For information on suicide rates for veterans, broken out by age group and sex and compared to the US population, see Table 4, page 18
For information on suicide rate of Iraq and Afghan war veterans see Table 5, page 19 and Figure 22, page 33. By comparing these tables and utilizing the information available from the CDC in figure 2 of its suicide data on the general US population, you’ll see for example that the youngest male veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars have suicide rates nearly 6 times that of other young men their age. By looking at other tables and figures in the suicide report and comparing them to the rate of civilian suicides you’ll note that veterans in the age groups where the United States was in major and lengthy wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan) have significantly higher rates of suicide than non-veterans. During periods of time when the United States was not in these large wars veteran suicide rates are on par or below civilian suicide rates.
Of course, being in war doesn’t mean that a service member sees combat or takes part in the killing experience that may lead him/her to later take their own life. However, there have been a number of studies that have shown that veterans who have been in combat have a higher rate of suicide than veterans who have also deployed to war but not seen combat (and incidentally, despite common perception, Iraq and Afghan veterans have been more likely to be in combat than veterans of any previous war, see my letter below to Task and Purpose).
The linking of combat and suicide has also been reported through journalism, such as this NY Times story which tracked a battalion of infantry Marines after their return home and to civilian life after their time in Afghanistan. At the time of the reporting, this unit of approximately 1,000 men who had been engaged in heavy fighting in Helmand Province, had a suicide rate 14 times higher than their civilian male counter-parts. As I know Marines who were in this unit, nothing makes me suspect that the rate of suicide has lessened for these men. Another news story detailed how WWII veterans kill themselves at 4 times the rate of non-veterans of the same age, which demolishes the myth that such a problem with mental health and suicidality didn’t exist for previous generations of war veterans or goes away with time and age. From the Washington Post linked in the previous sentence:
The reality was that of the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during World War II, fewer than half saw combat. Of those who did, more than 1 million were discharged for combat-related neuroses, according to military statistics. In the summer of 1945, Newsweek reported that “10,000 returning veterans per month . . . develop some kind of psychoneurotic disorder. Last year there were more than 300,000 of them — and with fewer than 3,000 American psychiatrists and only 30 VA neuropsychiatric hospitals to attend to their painful needs.”
One of those hospitals was the subject of John Huston’s 1946 documentary, “Let There Be Light,” which said that “20% of all battle casualties in the American Army during World War II were of a neuropsychiatric nature.” The film followed the treatment, mostly with talk therapy, drugs and hypnosis, of “men who tremble, men who cannot sleep, men with pains that are no less real because they are of a mental origin.” Huston’s movie was confiscated by the Army just minutes before its premiere in 1946 and was not allowed to be shown in public until 1981. The government rationale at the time was protecting the privacy of the soldiers depicted, though Huston maintained all had signed waivers..
“Most of the World War II men that I worked with came to me in their 70s or 80s, after retirement or the death of a spouse,” said Joan Cook, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and a PTSD researcher for Veterans Affairs. “Their symptoms seemed to be increasing, and those events seemed to act as a floodgate.”
For so many veterans, that was when they finally learned they were not crazy or weak. “Pretty much to a person, for them, learning about PTSD and understanding that people were researching it in World War II veterans was a real relief,” Schnurr said. “Many people felt isolated and crazy, and they thought it was just them. And they didn’t talk about it.”
For studies on the relationship of combat to suicide, please start with this meta-analysis of 22 studies on this topic done by the Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah in 2015. The conclusion was that there is a significant link between killing, combat and suicide:
“Across all suicide-related outcomes (i.e., suicide ideation, suicide attempt, and death by suicide), the relation of specific combat exposure with suicide-related out- comes was twice as large (r = .12) as the relation of general deployment across all suicide-related outcomes” and
“the difference between the relation of combat-specific experience and general deployment history with suicide- related outcomes was significant”.
The report goes on to say that being involved in combat increases the likelihood of suicide in veterans by 43%.
You can also watch a short video summarizing this report here.
The VA on its site dedicated to moral injury also includes a list of studies.
In the video from RootsAction I mention that as early as 1991 researchers had determined combat related guilt to be the most significant predictor of suicide in Vietnam veterans. That study can be found here. Its conclusion reads: “In this study, PTSD among Vietnam combat veterans emerged as a psychiatric disorder with considerable risk for suicide, and intensive combat-related guilt was found to be the most significant explanatory factor. These findings point to the need for greater clinical attention to the role of guilt in the evaluation and treatment of suicidal veterans with PTSD.”
Take note that the current checklist for screening veterans at the VA does not include specific questions about or references to guilt and a 2012 VA study noted:“Killing experiences are NOT routinely examined when assessing suicide risk. Our findings have important implications for conducting suicide risk assessments in veterans of war.” (emphasis mine)
As mentioned above I have links, citations and abstracts for 25 studies I have reviewed that are available online, primarily through NIH, that explore the connection of suicide, combat, guilt, PTSD and TBI. As it it 12 pages long I will not paste it here, but if you would like a PDF, please let me know by comment or by email (email@example.com).
As I noted in my original post last week, there is also a very real connection between TBI and suicides, and with so many Iraq and Afghan veterans living now with TBI many of the suicides that are occurring would likely be connected to TBI. More information on TBI and veterans is found in the letter below.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Peace to you.
Below is a letter I sent to the military blog Task and Purpose, which went unacknowledged, regarding many of the common misperceptions of PTSD and veterans.
It’s been almost five months since I’ve written anything, and this post is not going to contain much of my writing, but rather sharing with you a note RootsAction sent out to its vast membership containing a clip of me in a talk I gave in London at the end of February:
It should be noted that traumatic brain injury, which in some studies has been found to be present in more than 20% of Afghan and Iraq veterans, and from which I suffer from, also has a very real and significant link to suicide in veterans.
The full video of the talk in London is found below. That talk, titled: “War, Journalism and Whistleblowers — 15 years after Katharine Gun’s Truth Telling on the Verge of the Iraq War”, included Katharine Gun, Thomas Drake, Jesselyn Radack, Silkie Carlo, Norman Solomon and Duncan Campbell, all of whom are really incredible and brave people that I look up to and admire.
I would like to share other parts of that talk later, as we as a panel were questioned by two Iraqi women during the Q&A. Their questions, testimony and witness led to a very emotional and powerful session for many of us.
A couple of days later Tom, Jess and I participated in a panel in Graz, Austria, at the 2018 Elevate Festival. We were joined by Diana Bartelo, Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling, as well as by video by Dan Ellsberg.
Below is the note that RootsAction sent out. I hope to begin writing again in the near future. I appreciate all of you following this blog and my work. Peace.
In this video clip from a recent RootsAction Education Fund event, U.S. veteran and whistleblower Matthew Hoh shatters the popular myth that post-traumatic stress disorder is behind the high suicide rates for U.S. veterans. He notes that PTSD has the lowest connection to suicide of any mental health problem, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA).
Well, then what’s causing so many people so frequently thanked for their “service” to kill themselves?
The answer turns out not to be a secret, but something that most people and most organizations would rather not mention.
Since 1990, Hoh tells us, the VA has known that guilt over participation in killing human beings is the best predictor of suicide. Veterans are killing themselves because they feel guilty for what they’ve done.
Ssshhh! You shouldn’t say that! It’s anti-veterans!
Really? Does it help current veterans or impede the production of more veterans to hush up the problems they face? Haven’t we learned that the first step in addressing a problem is identifying it?
Hoh is himself a veteran who has struggled with a wide array of issues, including guilt, PTSD, brain injury, and substance abuse. He has been certified by North Carolina as a Peer Support Specialist for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder. He knows of what he speaks. His interest is in helping other veterans. In the video he cites the studies that back up his statements.
Matthew Hoh had nearly 12 years of experience with America’s wars overseas with the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense and State Department. In 2009, Hoh resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan with the State Department over the American escalation of the war and, in 2010, he was named the Ridenhour Prize Recipient for Truth Telling.
Hoh has been a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy since 2010. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Public Accuracy, an Advisory Board Member for ExposeFacts, North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture, Veterans For Peace, and World BEYOND War, and he is an Associate Member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The event from which this video is taken marked 15 years since the March 2, 2003, story provided by whistleblower Katharine Gun revealed that the United States and Great Britain were working together to spy on other nations’ delegations to the United Nations as part of an effort to coerce them into voting for a war on Iraq.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You are a member of the Center for International Policy. Can you tell us about the missions of this organization and what is its impact on American politics?
Matthew Hoh: The Center for International Policy (CIP) is a think tank located in Washington, DC that was established in the late 1970s chiefly to oppose US military policies in Central America. We still maintain that original purpose, of opposing US militarism, but we also work on issues involving South America, the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia. We also focus quite a bit on US military spending and the militarism that encompasses all aspects of American policy, culture and society. We are proud to say that our mission is to “advance a sustainable, just and peaceful world.”
One of the things that set CIP apart from most of the other think tanks in Washington, DC and the rest of the United States is that we truly are non-partisan, in that we are not affiliated with any political party. Additionally, most of the money we raise and we operate on comes not from corporations, but rather from individuals and foundations who believe in our mission of resisting American militarism and supporting human rights.
We work with members of Congress on a consistent basis, as well as appear in the media in order to have an effect on American policy. Many of our members also conduct research on issues of militarism, human rights and social justice in order to help educate and inform the public and lawmakers.
You were also senior official at the State Department as Director of the Study Group on Afghanistan and you provided reports that went directly to the Secretary of State of the United States. As an expert, how do you see the evolution of the political process in Afghanistan?
The Afghanistan Study Group was part of CIP and not a part of the State Department. I was, however, a State Department official stationed in Afghanistan in 2009.
Unfortunately, I have not seen any positive evolution or change in the political system or process in Afghanistan since 2009. What we have seen are three national elections that have been ruled to be grossly illegitimate and fraudulent by outside observers, but have been validated and supported by the American government through the presence of tens of thousands of soldiers and the spending of tens of billions of dollars.
We have seen the creation of extra-constitutional positions in the government, such as the Chief Executive Officer position occupied by Abdullah Abdullah, which was done at the behest of the American government. Additionally, bargains and compromises that were brokered by the American government in an attempt to create more a more inclusive government, reduce corruption and heal fractures among the political bloc that once supported Hamid Karzai and the American presence has failed to achieve those things. Corruption is still the dominant feature of the Afghan government, and the political support for the rule of Kabul has deteriorated and splintered by the corruption and the machinations of the Karzai and now Ghani governments.
Most importantly, the political process, by being so corrupt, by seating successive governments that won by fraud and by disenfranchising various political communities, has alienated many, many Afghans, and not just those Pashtuns who ally themselves with the Taliban, from the government in Kabul. This has allowed for greater support for militia commanders and warlords outside of Kabul, as well as the Taliban, and has allowed the war to progress with no real hopes for reconciliation, negotiations or a cease fire any where in the near future. (By supporting and growing a kleptocracy, a system of have and have nots, that system has by its nature and necessity produced more people out of the system than people in the system every year. This causes resentment, grievances and a desire to share in the spoils and gifts of American occupation that leads to greater violence, more political chaos and a dearth of hope for the future).
You have been the highest official to resign from your duties at the State Department. Can you explain to us what was the disagreement that led you to resign?
I had been twice to Iraq prior to my time in Afghanistan, and I had been working on issues of the wars since 2002 when I was in the Pentagon as a Marine Corps officer. I could no longer go along with the killing of the war, and the lies that propped up that killing. I saw in the Afghan government the worst excesses that I had seen in the Iraqi government and I knew the Afghan government in Kabul had no real or true interest in coming to a peace with the Taliban and those in the Afghan insurgency.
I also saw that Barack Obama’s administration cared only for the political value of Afghanistan in terms of American politics and had no real interest in the well being of the Afghan people. I also knew the amount of money that American corporations were making off of the war and how that influenced American policy and the escalation of the war. Finally, I also knew that American generals and civilians tasked with overseeing the war were more interested in preserving American empire, as well as their own careers and legacies, than achieving peace or ending the suffering of the Afghan people.
In addition to being a diplomat, you were a soldier and served in Iraq as a commander in the Marine Corps. In your opinion, was the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 justified?
No, the war in Iraq was not justified. There were many reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, but none of them were morally valid, internationally legal or had to do with the safety and security of the American people, or the well being of the Iraqi people. The reasons were many and included of course President Bush’s desire to win a war to win reelection in the United States in 2004, people in the government and foreign policy community who believed in removing Saddam Hussein to “democratize and Americanize” the Middle East for reasons of American Empire and hegemony, the influence of Israeli policy and thought on American policy, Iraq’s large and vast oil reserves, and the influence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Nations.
In your opinion, should the Bush administration be accountable in particular to a court for the crimes it committed in Iraq?
Yes. Without elaboration, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Bush Administration and those in charge should be held responsible. It is as simple as that.
You are a privileged witness as a diplomat and as a superior officer of the war in Iraq. You describe what happened during the intervention in Iraq as a vast racket.Can you tell us why?
The amounts of money that were made on the Iraq war by American corporations and individuals were enormous. In terms of direct spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the two are inseparable in many ways including in how the financing and the money making occurred), the direct costs of the wars are nearly $1.8 trillion dollars. Now these are just direct costs. Adding indirect costs of the war, such as healthcare for veterans and interest payments on debt, we see that the long term costs of the war may reach $6 trillion dollars. Again, this is just for the wars directly. At the same time the budget for the Pentagon this coming year will be $700 billion, which is 10 times more than Russia and 3 times more than China spend on their militaries, and this $700 billion does not include the money we spend on our intelligence agencies, healthcare for veterans, homeland security or interest payments for past defense and war debt (next year the United States will spend about $115 billion just on interest and debt payments for past wars and military spending).
This money primarily goes to American corporations that then put money into funding politicians in Congress, as well as to funding think tanks and universities that help to promote the policies that foster and sustain America’s wars in the Muslim world and America’s massive military budget. This funding process is cyclical and the instability and violence that American militarism, intervention and occupation fosters and sustains is utilized as continued justification by American politicians and generals for more military spending.
On a another level, what I witnessed by my presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the mass amounts of money that are injected into these war zones fuel the corruption and that the massive amounts of money being received by those who are loyal or collaborating with the American forces provides no incentive for the Afghans or Iraqis working with the Americans to seek peace, reconciliation or a cease fire with their adversaries. So long as the Americans are keeping them in power and making them rich, there is no sense in pursuing an end to the conflict, an end to the American occupation/presence/influence or to seek reconciliation.
You are a member of the Board of Directors for Council for a Livable World and an Advisory Board Member for Expose Facts. Can you explain to our readership what the missions of these organizations are?
I’m sorry, but you must have seen an older biography for me, as I am no longer with the Council for a Livable World.
I am, however, an advisory board member for Veterans For Peace, Expose Facts, World Beyond War and the North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture. I am also an associate member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. All of these organizations seek to encourage peace and an end to America’s wars overseas as well as an end to the wars that we have in the United States, especially the oppression of people of color in the US.
Veterans For Peace is an international organization dedicated to informing people about the true costs and realities of war.
Expose Facts is an organization comprised of many former government officials who encourage whistleblowing and members of government, the military and corporations who are witness to wrongdoing to come forward and report this wrongdoing to the public.
World Beyond War is an international organization devoted to restructure how our world is shaped and to get people to believe and understand that a peaceful world is possible.
North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture is the only organization of its kind in the US. It is the only organization that is devoted wholly to researching, documenting and publicizing the role of the state of North Carolina in the American torture practices under President Bush. The desire is to hold people accountable for the torture that was conducted.
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is an organization of former government and military members who were either intelligence officers or utilized intelligence in their careers (associate members). The purpose of VIPS is to provide alternative recommendations and views to the President of the United States, and to the media, that he is not getting from the American intelligence services.
While whistleblowers inform public opinion on various issues by taking major risks, don’t you think it is more than necessary to launch initiatives or even create a global specific program to protect whistleblowers?
Yes, one of the things I would like to see created is a fund to help whistleblowers pay for the very high costs that they incur by becoming whistleblowers. Whistleblowers lose their jobs, have expensive legal fees and may go for years without having the money necessary to support their families and pay their bills. This is a tactic used by the government and corporations to frighten people into not becoming whistleblowers. I would like to see a fund started that would help whistleblowers pay for these expenses and not be forced into bankruptcy and insolvency because they followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing.
You are also a man committed to the cause of the Palestinian people; you participated in a trip to Palestine with Veteran for Peace to see the conditions in which the Palestinians live. Can you tell us about this action?
This was a very important trip for me as spending 18 days with the people of Palestine and the popular resistance to the Israeli occupation was extremely moving and powerful. You can read essays and books or watch documentaries and films about the suffering of the Palestinian people, but until you are with them, you don’t really understand the horror and the tragedy of the Israeli occupation. As an American it was very important for me to go and stand in solidarity with my Palestinian brothers and sisters particularly as my country is often the sole supporter of Israel and gives the Israeli military nearly $11 million dollars a day in assistance.
The United States is an unconditional supporter of Israel. How do you explain that?
The main reason for this is because of the perverted and corrupted political system in the United States that allows money to influence politics so greatly. The United States would not be such an unconditional supporter of Israel if not for the influence of money provided to American politicians, primarily through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but also through other sources. Without this overwhelming purchasing of politicians I don’t believe Israel would receive the support it does from the United States and I don’t think that Israel would be able to continue its occupation of the Palestinian people and the crimes against them.
In your opinion, what is the contribution of veterans like you, especially through Veteran for Peace, to support the resistance to US imperialism around the world?
The most important things American veterans can do is to speak openly and plainly about what they saw during their time in the military, what they took part in the wars, and what they truly believe the purposes of the wars and the American military is. It is hard in America for people to speak against the military and the wars, because we have a culture that celebrates war, violence and the military, but veterans must find the courage to do so because through their witness and testimony people can understand the realities and the truths of America’s wars, empire and imperialism.
It is important too for American veterans to stand in solidarity with those resistance movements both outside the United States and internal to the United States that are fighting against American militarism, occupation and intervention. This includes standing against client governments of the United States like Israel, South Korea and Japan. It is also necessary for veterans to stand with the oppressed communities of the United States; with Native Americans, Latino Americans and Black Americans. All of the oppressed people within the United States are victims of America’s militarism and continue to be oppressed by a system that provides overwhelming economic, civic and societal benefits to the wealthy white classes while continuing to punish people of color through mass incarceration, police violence, deportation, economic disadvantage, inadequate health care, poorer education, etc. Such treatment of people of color would not have been possible in the past without the American military and the effects of militarism on the white people of the United States, and now with militarized police remains essential in continuing the oppression. Much of this oppression finds its praxis and its implementation through the culture of violence in the United States that is a direct consequence of the militarism that so many American embrace. I believe militarism to be one of the true religions of the United States. This militarism leads to this culture of violence which accepts violence based solutions as not the only option, but the necessary option. It is through such policies of violence based solutions that America has the largest prison population in the world, epidemics of police violence, mass deportations of non-white people, etc.
How do you evaluate the alternative media experience? Don’t you think that in order to counter imperialist manipulation and propaganda, we need to rely on highly engaged and highly effective alternative media to win the information battle that is strategic?
Yes, I could not agree with you more. When I first started speaking about the war I was allowed onto and into main stream media. I appeared on the main cable news networks and was published in major newspapers, but over the last decade voices of dissent, particularly those who are against war and imperialism have been dramatically marginalized from the main stream, or corporate owned press. In 2014, when I was arguing against a renewed American presence in Iraq, I was only able to appear on one cable news network and none of the major newspapers sought my opinion. The same occurred for many of my colleagues. Where we were successful in appearing on cable television news, CNN in my case, or being printed in major news papers and media outlets, we were outnumbered 5, 10 or 15 to one in terms of the voices and opinions that were pro-war. For example, when I appeared on CNN during that time, I was introduced as “the lone dove in a field of wolves” by the anchor (Brooke Baldwin). This situation, this echo chamber, of pro-war, pro-imperialism and pro-violence voices has only solidified and I know only a couple of people who have been able to get onto the major networks to argue against war and then they are outnumbered considerably and often drowned out by pro-war and pro-empire voices.
Without the alternative media voices like mine would have no outlet. I think however that the success of the alternative media has caused the mainstream media to tighten and limit its allowance of dissent as fear of dissent against the wars having an effect on the population and policy has caused the intersection of the military/government, the media and corporations to more rigidly control the messages being allowed. I think this really accelerated in 2013 when public opinion and public action towards Congress kept the Obama Administration from launching a war against the government of Syria. The nexus of the top echelons of the military/government, the media and the corporations is quite real and reinforcing, and the consequences of this have been the limitation and, in some cases, elimination of dissent from the corporate owned media.
What do you think of the fact that the Trump administration is going back on the Iranian nuclear deal and what is your opinion on the escalation between the United States and North Korea? Does US imperialism still need an enemy to exist, namely the USSR, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, etc.?
I think that Trump going back on the nuclear deal with Iran was bound to happen. Trump is following the lead of the foreign policy establishment in the United States which is first and foremost committed to American hegemony and dominance. The preservation of the American Empire is the mission of most foreign policy experts in the United States, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Cooperation between nations, demilitarization and world wide respect for human rights is hardly ever a concern for the American foreign policy establishment. This is why we see the same bellicosity to North Korea, and let’s not forget both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have threatened to destroy North Korea themselves.
I think not just for imperialism, but for our culture of militarism, violence and our nationalist concept of American Exceptionalism we must have an enemy. We view ourselves as Good, so there must be a Bad or an Evil. American Exceptionalism and the violence that comes with it, believed to be redemptive and justice-based, is a Manichean, binary framework, so Americans must have an adversary or an enemy. So sad and so tragic that so many have suffered, died and been made homeless all around the world, over the decades for such an absurd, ignorant, simplistic and false belief.
You received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling in 2010. What can you tell us about this award?
It was a very great honor. The prizes are awarded in the name of Ron Ridenhour, the soldier who helped alert people to the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. It is and has been very humbling to be included in such a prestigious group of men and women who have followed their consciences, looked past the risk and did what was right.
Earlier this week the NY Times had this story on the expansion of CIA paramilitary teams in Afghanistan. This is my response, in interviews with KPFK and KPFA, and published in CounterPunch and AntiWar.com.
“These CIA teams in Afghanistan are not just reminiscent of the Operation Phoenix program in Vietnam, the death squads of Central America and the Shia torture and murder militias of Baghdad, they are the direct descendants of them. The CIA is continuing a long tradition of utilizing savage violence by indigenous government forces, in this case along sectarian/ethnic lines, in an attempt to demoralize and ultimately defeat local populations.
The results will assuredly be the same: war crimes, mass murder, torture and the terrorization of entire communities of men, women and children in their own homes. This will lead to more support for the Taliban and a deepening of the war in Afghanistan. The CIA should ask itself, where has this worked before?
This escalation by the CIA in Afghanistan fits into the broader war campaign of the United States in the Muslim world as the United States, despite its protestations of wanting negotiations and ultimately peace, turns areas not under the control of its proxy government into large swathes of free fire zones as it punishes and attempts to subjugate populations not under its control.
Iraq’s campaign in the Euphrates and Tigris River valleys, the Kurdish campaign in western Syria and the Saudi and UAE campaign against the Houtis in Yemen have been devastating and vicious assaults on populations, critical infrastructure and housing, that coupled with nighttime commando raids that terrorize entire villages and neighborhoods, look not to bring a political settlement, reconciliation or peace, but rather subjugate, along ethnic and sectarian lines, entire population groups to achieve American political desires in the Muslim world.
This CIA program of using Afghan militias to conduct commando raids, the vast majority of which will be used against civilians despite what the CIA states, falls in line with American plans to escalate the use of air and artillery strikes against the Afghan people in Taliban-held areas, almost all of whom are Pashtuns.
Again, the purpose of this campaign is not to achieve a political settlement or reconciliation, but to brutally subjugate and punish the people, mostly rural Pashtuns, who support the Taliban and will not give in to the corrupt American run government in Kabul.”
This was published in Common Dreams last week.
Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor to American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy
“There is no forgiveness in this loudly and righteously proclaimed Christian nation, only the scapegoating of a young man and his family for the failures of immoral and unwinnable wars.”
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s guilty plea begins the end of this phase of an embarrassing, sad and morally absurd saga of American history. Sergeant Bergdahl, who was dismissed from the Coast Guard because of mental illness, recruited into the Army in spite of such issues, and then sent to the frontlines of Afghanistan where he walked away from his base and was captured, kept as a prisoner, and tortured by the Taliban for nearly five years, has been offered almost no compassion, sympathy or forgiveness by large swaths of the American public, political classes, veterans and the media.
The shameful blood-crazed calls for vengeance against Sergeant Bergdahl, screamed across Fox News, talk radio and Twitter, by millions of Right Wing Americans have begun again today with Sergeant Bergdahl’s guilty plea. Despite an army investigation finding no Americans were killed by Sergeant Bergdahl’s departure of his unit; despite the Pentagon admitting it was known that Sergeant Bergdahl was in Pakistan within a few days of his capture, thus negating the validity of the Right Wing talking points of continuous search missions for Sergeant Bergdahl that jeopardized American lives; despite the general who led the investigation of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance stating Sergeant Bergdahl should not be punished and the colonel who led the Army’s version of a grand jury trial recommending the same; despite the United States military’s top prisoner of war expert testifying that Sergeant Bergdahl endured more torture at the hands of the Taliban than any American prisoner of war has endured since the Vietnam War, undoubtedly due to his multiple escape attempts and unwillingness to cooperate with his kidnappers; and despite repeated calls made by President Trump for Sergeant Bergdahl to be executed, as well as calls for retaliation against the military if Sergeant Bergdahl is not sent to jail by Senator John McCain, clear and blatant forms of wrongful and illegal command influence prohibited by military law against a defendant, Sergeant Bergdahl finds himself today having entered a guilty plea and putting himself at the mercy of a US Army judge.
In time, Sergeant Bergdahl may become just a footnote to America’s wars in the Muslim world, wars that have killed well over a million people since 2001, but his individual story relays the fundamental truths of these American wars against Sunnis and Shias, and Arabs, Africans and Pashtuns, (nearly all the people we have killed, maimed and made homeless have been Muslim and dark skinned) that there is no logic to our violence, only the unending and insatiable requirement for more war and more destruction, and there is no forgiveness in this loudly and righteously proclaimed Christian nation, only the scapegoating of a young man and his family for the failures of immoral and unwinnable wars on the murderous altar of the twin godheads of American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy. Sergeant Berghdal’s story does not just inform us of the madness of our wars overseas, but highlights our wars here at home; for our wars abroad come from the same root causes as our wars at home.
It was Sergeant Bergdahl’s parents standing outside the White House with President Obama that began the rage against him and his family. This was the treason that so angered and upset the white conservative audiences of Megyn Kelly and Rush Limbaugh. Sergeant Bergdahl’s white parents standing at the White House with that black president and thanking him for freeing their son began the scorn, the vitriol and the outrage against Sergeant Bergdahl, his mother and his father. The audacity of Jani and Bob Bergdahl, released themselves from the captivity of the unimaginable nightmare of the imprisonment and torture of their son for five years by the Taliban, to stand with Barack Hussein Obama and to give him thanks was a betrayal to the usurped, rightful and white structures that underlie so many white Americans understanding of United States history and society.
The grand mythology of American militarism, a key pillar of both American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy, does not allow for figures such as Sergeant Bergdahl. The greatest military in the history of the world is a required statement of faith for all American politicians and public persons, even though the American military has not achieved victory in war in over seventy years, so an explanation of collusion and cooperation with anti-American and anti-white forces is necessary to provide the causation of such an undermining. Of course, once Bob and Jani Bergdahl stood with President Obama, the racially fueled reactionary political anger appeared in Facebook posts and twitter rants and the lies needed to sustain that anger and turn it into a useful political tool arrived: Sergeant Bergdahl attempted to join the Taliban, Sergeant Bergdahl gave information to the enemy, Sergeant Bergdahl got Americans killed, Sergeant Bergdahl had anti-American beliefs, Sergeant Bergdahl’s father is a Muslim…all claims that were untrue and disproved over time, but such a straightening of facts is almost always inconsequential to those whose identity is an abominable mix of race, right wing politics and nationalism. People of such a type as those who believe Jesus is ok with them carrying handguns into church, demand that Santa Claus can only be white, and that the Confederate flag is a symbol of a proud heritage, have little time or consideration for the particulars of anything that triggers the base tribalism that dominates and informs their lives.
The fundamental aspects of Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance were well known and documented years prior to that White House announcement of his release. Veterans organizations called for his rescue and return at rallies and Republican senators enacted legislation to help release him . “Bring Him Home” and “No Man Left Behind” were echoed repeatedly by Republican politicians and pundits, and even Ronald Reagan’s most famed acolyte and Fox News hero, Oliver North, wore a Bowe Bergdahl POW bracelet. However, to be white and to stand tearfully and gratefully alongside that black president is unconscionable and unforgivable to many “true Americans” and so the parents’ sins became the son’s and Sergeant Bergdahl’s treason was a dog whistle to those who believe anti-whiteness and anti-Americanism are inseparable.
For the man who used race so overtly and effectively to become President of the United States, calling during his campaign for a traitor like Sergeant Bergdahl to face the firing squad, or be thrown out of a plane without a parachute, was a rudimentary requirement in order to Make America Great Again. Even General James Mattis, who hung outside his office a horseshoe that had belonged to Sergeant Bergdahl and had been given to the general by the sergeant’s father, understands the political importance of Bergdahl’s treason. General Mattis who previously had supported the soldier and given great comfort to the family, now, as Secretary of Defense, is silent. I believe Secretary Mattis to have higher ambitions than simply running the Pentagon and keeping that white base of support in his favor is not anything such a savvy and cunning careerist, such as James Mattis, would imperil.
We will soon know what, if any punishment Sergeant Bergdahl is to receive. Hopefully, he and his family will be spared further pain and they can begin rebuilding lives that were shattered by the unending war in Afghanistan and then shattered again by the race-fueled partisan politics of the unending war against people of color in the United States. For Bowe Bergdahl, a young man who never should have been inducted into the Army to begin with, his suffering is testament to the viciousness, callousness and hate that dominates American actions both at home and abroad. We deserve no forgiveness for what has been done, and may still be done, to him and his family.