I uploaded another podcast. This one, Coming home, being even more distant…and not having sex, deals with the issues combat veterans and their partners experience with intimacy and sexual relationships. As with my other recordings, while I focus on combat veterans, much of what I say can be applied to others. I hope this may be of benefit to individuals and couples that may be struggling.Here’s the website. Apple and Spotify links are available below as well. Please share.
I got a lot of nice feedback on the podcast I posted last month, so here’s another one.
This is a “paper” I submitted for a class final. Ignore the first few sentences however and it functions like a 50 minute podcast.
I hope this is of help to people who have loved ones struggling with moral injury, shame, guilt or perpetration induced traumatic stress, or themselves are suffering from such.
Please reach out to me anytime if I can be of any help.
I also put it up on Apple, Spotify and a few other places if that is easier for you to listen to.
I just sent out a message to my supporters via Patreon and I wanted to provide an update here on my website as it has been more than a month. I also want to take this opportunity to remind people that if you like the work I do and want to support me you can do so via Patreon.
In the last month I’ve written several essays and had them published in a variety of platforms. I’ve also done a number of tv and radio interviews. My most recent essay, published today in CounterPunch, will hopefully bring more interviews in the next week or two. I will also publish the text of this essay below this message.
Prior to publishing this essay, which is about 2500 words, I had several shorter versions of the essay published in a number of newspapers and websites. I was very happy to have these essays published in The Oklahoman and the Amarillo Globe-News, along with a couple of other Texas newspapers. These essays specifically targeted Senator Jim Inhofe and Representative Mac Thornberry, respectively the chairman and ranking member of their chambers’ armed services committees, in their home state/town newspapers.
Earlier in November, I had an essay on veterans suicide and moral injury published for Veterans Day. This essay led to about a dozen or so radio and tv interviews. I’ll post some of these interviews below.
Much love and peace to you all.
PS. I realize it’s been four years since I updated my photo gallery and I will attempt to update it this month.
Here are examples of some of the interviews I have done in the last month:
Radio interview re: veteran suicides with Scott Harris on Between the Lines, WKPN
TV interview with Eleanor Goldfield on Free Speech TV
Interview with Scott Horton Show on Afghanistan
Interview with Dave Marash on New Mexico Public Radio
Podcast appearance on Stand Up! with Pete Dominick
and from CounterPunch, 12/6/19:
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Photograph Source: The U.S. Army – CC BY 2.0
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can…Its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
– Dwight Eisenhower.
For the first time in decades, passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been delayed due to disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. The disagreements at the center of the delay in Congress are, as usual, partisan in nature: funding for the President’s border wall with Mexico, a Space Force the Pentagon doesn’t want, the impeachment hearings, and other domestic political issues. This delay in passage of a reconciled NDAA between the two houses of Congress, however offers an opportunity, because buried within the NDAA are possibilities to repeal the pieces of legislation that have brought mass human, financial and moral consequences to the US, have wrecked entire nations and societies abroad, and have made the United States less safe.
The Best Authorizations the Military-Industrial Complex Can Buy
In both 2001 and 2002, via large majorities, the Congress passed authorizations for war. While not declarations of war, these mandates, each titled an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) provided the legal framework in 2001 for attacks against al-Qaeda and in 2002 for the invasion of Iraq. Since 2001, the first AUMF has far exceeded its original purpose and has been used to justify military strikes and operations in close to twenty countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, often against nations, organizations, and individuals who had nothing to do with 9/11. It was even cited by President Obama, and then President Trump, as the authority to extra-constitutionally execute an American citizen and his teenage children, without trial, by drones and commandos. President Trump, as the 2001 is still operative, can seemingly do what he pleases with the military overseas. With regards to the 2002 AUMF, I think most Americans would find it a shock to know it is still in effect, that the congressional blessing given to the Bush Administration to launch the Iraq War, based on the lies of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda, has never been revoked.
Within the NDAA, presented as amendments, are calls for the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs to be repealed. The oft stated arguments offered against repeal by politicians and pundits in the service of the war machine refer to the world-wide presence of terror groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS); appeal to the sunk cost of US lives and treasure in the post-9/11 wars; or point to the requirement for the Pentagon’s leadership abroad, somehow claiming that US military, and CIA, presence and activity over the last two decades has brought about stability and peace. It doesn’t take very much to belie such excuses and reasons, simply having paid attention to the news of endless war for the last couple of decades or by speaking to a war veteran will guide most people to an understanding that these wars have not just been failures, but never-ending catastrophes of counter-production and suffering, proving with clear certainty both the old adages of war as hell and as a breeding ground for unintended consequences.
The list of reasons to not repeal these AUMFs are heard in varying degrees from congressional leaders and members on both sides. These reasons are at best specious and are most commonly political myths and tropes that fluctuate around American exceptionalism and the benevolence of war making. The antidote to such falsehoods of war is hard experience and undeniable fact. The listing of all such experience and fact is too great to provide, however, I believe simply outlining the costs and consequences of the actual results of the wars enabled by the AUMFs is enough to cause democrats, republican and independent voters, – men and women who are not on the dole of the weapons industry, unlike nearly all members of Congress – to want to see a repeal of both AUMFs.
What Have the AUMFs Accomplished?
Based on FBI and journalist investigations, al Qaeda’s strength was between 200 and 400 members world-wide in September of 2001. Al Qaeda now has affiliates in every corner of the world, their forces measure in the tens of thousands of fighters, and they control territory in Yemen, Syria and Africa. Per Brett McGurk, the former US envoy for combatting al Qaeda and ISIS, Idlib Province in Syria is the largest single location of al Qaeda fighters ever assembled in the world. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any point since 2001, and, with regards to international terrorism, where there was one international terror group in Afghanistan in 2001, now the Pentagon reports twenty groups, the largest gathering of such groups in the world.
It is important to remember ISIS is the former al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that came into being due to the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States. While apologists for the United States’ wars and militarized foreign policy will argue this was an unforeseeable and regrettable accident, it seems beyond dispute, as understood through leaked US intelligence documents, comments by American and foreign officials, and multiple journalist and academic reports, that ISIS’ success in Syria and Iraq in the first half of this decade was due to the direct and indirect military, logistic and financial support to ISIS by the US and it allies. This same support occurred for al Qaeda and their associated forces in Syria. At times the US found itself providing air cover for al Qaeda forces in Syria and even air strikes in support of ISIS. Such use of US warplanes resulted in accusations that the US was serving as al Qaeda and ISIS’ Air Forcein Syria. In response US active duty soldiers protested via social media, angered at being on the same side as the people they saw as responsible for 9/11.
While much of the counter-productive results of the AUMFs are correctly described as blowback, the outcome of incompetent and nefariousness US meddling overseas, whether it be through Reagan-era support for Islamic militants in Afghanistan or Obama’s use of “smart power” in Libya, I certainly do not want to take away from the agency of those people who have spent decades fighting against the US Empire and its allies. The 9/11 hijackers, the murderers who give reason for these AUMFs, offered the following three motives for their attack:
1. the US sanctions and bombings of Iraq through the 1990s,
2. the US support for Israel against the Palestinians,
3. the stationing of the US military in Saudi Arabia.
The 9/11 hijackers did not murder thousands of Americans because they hated our freedoms, but because they saw the US as engaging in an ongoing war against Muslim people and lands. Not forgetting the terrible and criminal nature of 9/11, I don’t think it extreme to say the hijackers’ grievances were legitimate, regardless of whether you agree with them.
Rather than executing a response to that act of terror which would directly pursue the perpetrators while ameliorating the conditions that gave rise to the attacks, the US chose a path that inflamed anti-US sentiments and assisted terrorist recruiting by opening wars against Muslims across the world, including in the US. The result should not be surprising: US military,intelligence agencies, journalists and other international organizations continually report the reasons people join such groups is not out of ideology or religious devotion, but out of resistance to invasion and occupation, and in response to the death of family, friends and neighbors by foreign and corrupt government forces. Anywhere from 70-90% of the people who are fighting our soldiers in Africa, Asia and across the Greater Middle East are doing so simply because our soldiers are occupying them or are backing predatory and kleptocratic local government forces.
Often, when I ask those in the US who possess the loudest desire for overseas intervention, occupation and war what they would do if their own home towns and cities were occupied by a foreign army I usually receive a quiet non-reply or an answer so intellectually and morally dissonant that I have to catch my breath. Yet, it is such silence and dissonance that allows for these wars to continue and disallows any consideration that without the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs we may not today have a world-wide network of al Qaeda fighters and, most certainly, we would not have ISIS. The AUMFs, and the wars they have enabled, have worsened terrorism, not defeated it.
What Have the AUMFs Cost?
More than 7,000 US service members have been killed and more than 50,000 wounded in the wars since 9/11. Of the 2.5 million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan it is estimated as many as 20% are afflicted with PTSD, while 20% more may have traumatic brain injury. Based on US Veterans Administration (VA) data, Afghan and Iraq veterans have rates of suicide 4-10 times higher than their civilian peers, adjusted for age and sex. This translates to almost two Afghan and Iraq veterans dying by suicide each day. Do the math and it is clear more Afghan and Iraq veterans are being lost to suicide than to combat. The cost to the people overseas to whom we have brought these wars is hard to realize. Between one and four million people have been killed, directly and indirectly, while tens of millions have been wounded or psychologically traumatized, and tens of millions more made homeless – the cause of our planet’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Financially, the cost of these wars is immense: more than $6 trillion dollars. The cost of these wars is just one element of the $1.2 trillion the US government spends annually on wars and war making. Half of each dollar paid in federal income tax goes towards some form or consequence of war. While the results of such spending are not hard to foresee or understand: a cyclical and dependent relationship between the Pentagon, weapons industry and Congress, the creation of a whole new class of worker and wealth distribution is not so understood or noticed, but exists and is especially malignant.
Where the manufacturing, oil, financial and tech centers of the US were once the most affluent regions of the country, for more than a decade now Washington, DC’s counties have composedthe wealthiest section of the United States. In 2016, 4 of the wealthiest 6 counties in the US were Washington, DC suburbs. As discretionary federal spending, aside from that going to defense, intelligence and homeland security agencies, has remained flat or fallen in the last two decades, in relation to inflation and GDP, that household wealth amassed in and around Washington, DC has come primarily from year after year of trillion dollar aggregate spending in support of war making (with the exception of President Obama’s 2009 bank bailout). The sustainment of thiswar wealth class in and around Washington, DC, seems set for permanence as predicted by future congressional spending priorities, while non-war making classes of Americans, such as scientists, educators and environmentalists, will continue to see reduced support from the federal government.
This is a ghastly redistribution of wealth, perhaps unlike any known in modern human history, certainly not in American history. As taxpayers send trillions to Washington. DC, that money flows to the men and women that remotely oversee, manage and staff the wars that kill and destroy millions of lives overseas and at home. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees and civilian contractors servicing the wars take home six figure annual salaries allowing them second homes, luxury cars and plastic surgery, while veterans put guns in their mouths, refugees die in capsized boats and as many as four million nameless souls scream silently in death.
The only additional statistic I have the space to provide, of a vast many which compose that incomprehensible cost of more than $6 trillion spent solely for these wars, is that nearly $1 trillion of the $6 trillion dollars is simply just interest and debt payments. For politicians, whether or not they claim some form of fiscal conservatism as a political principal, these interest and debt payments alone should cause them to reconsider these wars. It should also make all Americans flinch when they are told, by leaders of both parties and the media, that reform or expansion of domestic public policy programs is too expensive.
All That We Have To Do…
In 2004 Osama bin Laden said:
All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.
It is not hard to imagine bin Laden smiling at his accomplishments from his oceanic grave.
These AUMFs and the wars have provided tens of thousands of recruits to international terror groups; mass profits to the weapons industry and those that service it; promotions to generals and admirals, with corporate board seats upon retirement; and a perpetual and endless supply of bloody shirts for politicians to wave via an unquestioning and obsequious corporate media to stoke compliant anger and malleable fear. What is hard to imagine, impossible even, is anyone else who has benefited from these wars.
Brutality, Stupidity, Futility
The wars since 9/11 have been brutal, stupid and futile. The majority of Americans, including Afghan and Iraq war veterans, believe the wars to have not been worth fighting. Cravenly, with some notable exceptions by progressives and libertarians, there has not been a concerted effort within Congress to put an end to these wars, gain some control over the American war machine and cripple its ability to deliver mass suffering and death.
With the NDAA stalled in conference committee an opportunity now exists for members of Congress to hear from their constituents that the wars must come to an end. While revoking the AUMFs would by no means wave a magic wand that would end the bloodshed, it would be a crucial first step in forcing the Trump administration, and subsequent administrations, to return to Congress for approval to start another war or to even continue with those wars that are now well into their second decade.
Please call your members of Congress and tell them to ensure their party leadership keeps the amendments to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs in the final version of the NDAA. These authorizations for madness must come to an end.
Counterpunch was kind enough to publish a long essay of mine that deconstructs the myths and lies used to continuously propel the war forward in Afghanistan. The essay utilizes US government, UN and major media sources, as well as many of my experiences, to argue for peace in Afghanistan. I am very happy with the reception this essay has received, most especially honored by its translation into Dari and Pashto by Afghan friends.
In the last few months I have done several interviews.
This interview with The Real News Network on Afghanistan. I have pasted below the transcript for this interview as I comment a good deal on overall US military war strategy across the Muslim world.
And this interview last week with Telesur English about Venezuela:
Transcript from The Real News Network (11/30/18):
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us today.
Seventeen years ago, the war started in Afghanistan. Seems like this is a war with no end. I remember interviewing Hamid Karzai as he was hiding in a cave just crossing the border back into Afghanistan. So many thought it was just, a war that we needed; it was a just war because Americans were revenging the 3000 deaths of 9/11. But doing so completely unaware of why the Taliban was in power in the first place, and how the United States was complicit in their coming to power in many ways, and in creating the likes of, yes, bin Laden.
Now, this week three Americans were killed, more in one day than any time this year. In retaliation, American and allied forces bombed a village they said was Taliban controlled. And later, when they learned that 30 civilians were killed, said they didn’t realize civilians were living there. Among the dead were 16 children. Then a British office was bombed in retaliation, and others were killed, one Brit and five Afghans. The UN reported that the number of civilian casualties from air attacks was higher in the first nine months of this year than any year since 2009.
It’s been a year since the Trump buildup of forces to Afghanistan and more money being spent. So what are we actually fighting for? What Is this war about? When will it end? How do we know where this war is taking us? These are questions many people are to ask themselves. The war’s cost 105,000 Afghan deaths, 7,000 American lives, hundreds of thousands wounded, and even more affected by the war. All this and the Taliban’s still strong enough to be on the verge of seizing power.
To help us wade through the latest news and what lies ahead is Matthew Hoh. A senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, former director of the Afghan Study Group, who was a Marine Corps officer in the Iraq war. And he 2009 he publicly resigned his position in the State Department in Afghanistan in opposition to the escalation of that war then, in 2009. He’s also a member of Veterans for Peace. And Matthew, welcome. Good to have you with us.
MATTHEW HOH: Hi, Marc. Thank you for having me on.
MARC STEINER: So I’m just curious about your reaction to the latest series of events, to start with, what’s at the top of the news. The killing of the American soldiers, the death of American soldiers, the retaliation to the bombing that killed 30 civilians, 16 children; then the next attack that took place at a British office. So I mean, every time we hear this news it seems like greater escalation, more deaths. What was your initial reaction to all this?
MATTHEW HOH: Well it’s the cycle of violence. I mean, this is, this is what’s occurred there in Afghanistan, not since 9/11, but since the 1970s. Something, as you mentioned in your introduction, we’ve been complicit in. I mean, we were–the United States–was funding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. I mean, this has been going on for nearly 40 years now. And it is, it is a tragedy. It’s immense suffering. The numbers of casualties are undercounted. When an airstrike occurs like what we saw this week in Helmand and kills 30 people, we are aware of it. But smaller airstrikes, I could tell you this from my experience being there, smaller airstrikes, or airstrikes where the locals don’t alert the media, or the Afghan government doesn’t alert the media, go underreported, or undercounted.
So the idea that this is the most amount of civilians killed by air strikes since ’09 is certainly true. But I would hesitate to believe that that’s the actual number. The number is probably a much greater. And you see with this war a continual pattern, a continual pattern now of talks, a continual pattern of money and foreign troops being put into Afghanistan, a continual escalation of the war by the West and the Afghan government. And, of course, the response by the insurgency, most prominent among them what we call the Taliban, in a complete [an] appropriate response. Again, you’re in a cycle of violence here that, unless it’s broken–and when I mean broken, I mean the funding is cut off, the support is cut off for all parties so that the violence simply can’t occur anymore–it’s just going to continue to go on.
So we’re all kidding ourselves if we’re thinking that these talks, like this five-year plan which is the latest thing that’s coming out the Afghan government, peace will come in five years, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s going to make any real difference for the lives of the Afghan people.
MARC STEINER: This is a slight digression. I’m very curious, as you were speaking about this. I mean, so whether you were in Vietnam, whether you were in Afghanistan or Iraq, if you are a soldier fighting or whether you are a civilian working in that war, you get jaundiced pretty quickly about what’s going on around you. So the question is, I’m curious, from your time both as a soldier in Iraq–as a Marine, excuse me. Don’t want to insult you. [crosstalk]
MATTHEW HOH: I don’t, I’m not the guy that does the whole [inaudible]. I can’t do nearly the number of pullups I used to be able to do. I don’t [inaudible] get too concerned if people don’t get the right title.
MARC STEINER: OK, just checking. Just–I know how it is. But given your time in Afghanistan working with the State Department, I’m curious what is the tenor of the men and women working there, working on the, in the American sphere, about what we’re doing, what we’re really accomplishing, or not. And how you have to hide the reality from yourself, almost, to continue the work that you’re doing.
MATTHEW HOH: Yeah. I mean, I can–one thing I can tell you is that it has been nine years since I publicly resigned, and it was on the front page of the Washington Post, the Today Show, and everything. So it wasn’t–my resignation was pretty prominent. And you know, no reason of my own, really Forrest Gumped myself into that. But in the last nine years, the number of negative responses I’ve received from service members who are folks who served in Afghanistan I can count on my one hand. I have received hundreds, if not thousands, of positive responses from men and women who have been with the military, or with our civilian agencies in Afghanistan.
What you’re seeing is within the military, guys get the golden handcuffs. They get locked into their careers. They get locked into the fact that pay and benefits and everything in the military is pretty good right now. They get into the notion that I’m a professional soldier, or a professional Marine, or sailor, or airman. And so I don’t make the policy, I just enforce it. A lot of us would say, hey, that’s … You’re surrendering your soul and your conscience that way. So this zombie-like adherence to what’s occurring there, and looking for excuses, looking for ways to lie to yourself, looking for other metrics to determine whether or not what you’re doing is successful. I took my Marines to Iraq, or I took my Marines to Afghanistan, and only a couple were killed, or none were killed, or only a few were wounded, or–you know, trying to find ways to justify your actions. And that’s certainly what I did. I went three times to war, twice for Iraq and in Afghanistan. And it was–you become numb to that.
But when you get to a position, I think, where you’ve seen the realities of the policymaking, you’ve seen the realities of what we’re doing there, you’ve seen both conflicts–in my case both Iraq and Afghanistan–you see that neither is different. The only thing that matters is that the U.S. is occupying both countries. You’re going to have the same outcomes. In my case, where in Afghanistan I was meeting with the interlocutors, or actually Taliban themselves, and reporting back to the embassy and being told we’re not interested in negotiating, we’re not interested in finding peace, we’re interested in victory, we’re interested in winning, you realize, like, well, I can no longer go home and meet somebody who lost a son or a husband in these wars and tell them it was worthwhile. At the same time too, you see enough dead children, you see enough dead kids, you see enough grieving women in these countries, many of it from our actions, and you start to break, as I was doing.
So part of it is the constant cycling of people into Iraq and Afghanistan, or into Syria, into into these positions, so that they’re coming back out and then going back in, they’re not continuously getting burned out or overwhelmed by it. But it is a question, because–and I think now you start to get into issues of like, why did we get rid of the draft? We have not seen anything like what we saw in Vietnam, where by the early ’70s the U.S. Army, in particular, was completely broken. Where the U.S. Army was experiencing mutinies nearly every week, where units were refusing to fight. By the Army’s own estimate, a quarter of its officers who were killed in Vietnam were killed by their own soldiers. And that’s a conservative estimate. I mean, so we have seen nothing like that in these wars. And that’s, that’s, part of it is why they created this volunteer army, or in many ways like a mercenary army.
MARC STEINER: So–I’m sorry, go ahead. Americans are deeply disconnected from this war. It is very different in Vietnam, or even–especially World War II. People are disconnected because people don’t have a, aren’t in this fight personally at any level, for the most part, in this country.
So the question becomes if we are now in this war that is being escalated by the Trump administration, where more people are being killed then were in the previous years, and in the last years, here, of Obama–not saying it was great under Obama, but nonetheless was of Obama. And I just spoke just the other day with people who had just come back from Helmand province who were saying that, you know, the Taliban is in complete control of the rural areas. You cannot go out at night. Even in the cities you can’t go out at night. So if that’s the case, I mean, what is the endgame here? I mean, how do you get out of this war? How do you stop it? And if the Taliban is really that strong, and you know, for years you’ve seen people some people in the Karzai government and others were trying to negotiate with what they call the good Taliban, to try make some peace, headway. And the Americans didn’t like–kind of opposed them doing that, as well. So in any sense, what is the endgame here? I mean, what–how do you see it?
MATTHEW HOH: The Trump administration has brought about a new era in U.S. foreign policy and U.S. militarism. The Trump administration is different than the Bush and Obama administrations. While both Bush and Obama with the wars in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, were completely wrong-headed, criminal, they honestly thought they could find a way out. They honestly thought that they could bring about some type of political change. They believed that with elections, by building schools and healthcare centers, that we could bring about a change in political structure in these countries that favored the United States.
You have to understand, this is something that goes back decades now. I won’t get into prior to World War II, but certainly we had our imperial ambitions, right, for in this country before World War II. Simply ask the Native Americans, ask Hawaiians, ask Filipinos, et cetera. But after World War II what you see is the United States gets put in this position that is summarized best by George Kennan, who was the American diplomat who came up with the containment strategy of the Soviet Union. So a famed American diplomat. In 1948 he says, you know, he says, the United States now has 50 percent, more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth. We’re only 6 percent the world’s population. That’s a disparity that’s going to prove really hard to keep. But it’s our purpose to keep that disparity, and we have to do whatever it takes.
And from that point, I mean, you can trace when he says that to seeing what we did in Italy and Greece, right into Korea, into Vietnam. The dictatorships we supported in Indonesia, the Philippines, what we did in South America, and especially what we’ve done in the Middle East. Now, the idea of the Bush and Obama administration was that somehow we would do these military actions that would bring about political change in these countries that would make Iraq be the same color on the map that the United States is, right. It’s like this is one big game of Risk, basically. Or Afghanistan was going to be the same color as the United States.
Under the Trump administration, because I really believe of the significant influence that the generals like General Mattis and General Kelly, who are the secretary of defense and White House chief of staff, as well as other officials and other theorists who have gone into this Trump administration, you have a Trump administration that doesn’t see any purpose in trying to have such political change in these countries to create a new political order. What they believe is that you can just subjugate, and that’s the best way to go about it. You’ve tried elections, you’ve tried building healthcare centers, you tried building schools, you’ve tried to win hearts and minds. It didn’t work. So what we do is basically we subjugate those parts of those countries, and in this way keep our proxies in power.
So we’ve seen that. We’ve seen that already, say, like in Iraq, where rather than trying to do any type of political change with the Sunnis, we basically backed Shia armies and Kurdish armies with massive airpower, flattened every Sunni city in Iraq. I mean, the cities along the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys are completely flattened. Tens and tens of thousands killed; tens and tens of thousands are still missing. Millions displaced. And that’s the way they’re going to do it from now on. So basically–yeah.
MARC STEINER: I’m curious about–so what you’re describing here, though, as we conclude, just describing here is a strategy in the Trump administration that in some ways, even though the other strategies have been wrong-headed, flawed, and this war is insanely wrong. But this is–we’re escalating in a dangerous new way, here, in which rather than finding a way to pull out and end it, we’re actually escalating this in a way that is detrimental to Afghanistan and to us.
MATTHEW HOH: Yes, exactly. And this is what you expect from a cycle of violence, right. Cycles of violence continue to escalate. We engage in these wars in the Middle East, we occupy these countries. We tried by using religious sects against one another, by using ethnicities against one another. You’re seeing that right now in Afghanistan, the ethnic splits really occurring, with the Taliban attacking the Hazara minority. And this is this goes back–again, this goes back 40-some odd years. That goes back to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s ideas in the Carter administration to use ethnic and religious differences in the Soviet Union, particularly in Central Asia, to light the Soviet Union afire; to cause them problems, right.
So this is why it’s important that we don’t talk about Afghanistan in the sense that it began on 9/11, because this goes back decades. And what we’re seeing right now is the culmination of this type of imperial militarist policies that have by necessity morphed into–look, if you’re looking to see how Secretary Mattis talks about himself, he speaks of himself as if he’s like a legionnaire. He speaks about defending the republic. He describes the United States as being the apex of civilization. Basically, the idea that they are defending the United States and other parts of the empire, Europe and such, against the barbarians, and that we’re always going to be fighting in these borderlands, basically. And you’re going to look and you see John Kelly, the chief of staff of the White House, he said the same types of things.
And so that’s what you’re seeing with this Trump administration, basically. Subjugate those who won’t fall in line. Keep in power our proxies. Use other proxies. So that’s why you’re, that’s why this year you’ve only seen 12 Americans killed in Afghanistan. We’ve killed more Afghans than any other year since 2009. But we’ve only lost 12 Americans. That keeps it out of the papers, right. That keeps it off of CNN. You know, so let the Afghans kill the Afghans. Use the ethnic differences to really help subjugate one another. Use the Shia and Kurds to keep the Sunnis in line in Iraq. Use the Sunni Saudis and UAE forces to keep control in Yemen. So on and so on.
And so where this goes to–my God. I mean, it leads towards genocide. It leads to displacement, and it leads to further horrors and suffering that, you know, many people have been saying all along will be the consequences of this.
MARC STEINER: So very quickly here, as we conclude now. But I want to go back to where we began and just ask you, when the Americans and allied forces said they did not know there were civilians in this Taliban village, the Taliban-controlled village that they bombed in retaliation for the killing of the Americans, how real is that? I mean, how do you not know that where the Taliban are, civilians–you know, it’s the same stuff in Vietnam.
MATTHEW HOH: Yeah. As a guy–as a guy who did this, as a guy who was part of that stuff, as a guy who had Top Secret clearances, who took part in ground combat, who was involved–I’ve been involved in all kinds of levels. I was in the Secretary of the Navy’s office. Am I allowed to say–it was complete fucking bullshit. Can I say that on The Real News? I mean, like-
MARC STEINER: That describes it succinctly.
MATTHEW HOH: That’s bullshit. How can you not know–that, that’s like bombing a house in the United States and saying you didn’t know that there’d be a family in there. I mean, it’s complete bullshit. It’s complete nonsense. It’s–and what you do–this is what’s interesting. Last year, when the journalist Anand Gopal, and I’m blanking on who his counterpart was, they went into Iraq and they found that the United States was, by a factor of like 37 or 38, miscounting the numbers of civilians that were killed. Basically underreporting civilian deaths in the thousands. And then you look and you see what these Air Force general or Army generals say about it. And what it is, though, is that they basically are able to lie to themselves. And what it comes down to is if all the sources–if your sources in the military, if your intelligence people say they weren’t killed, if your pilots didn’t see them killed, if what the regulations say–if that’s, if that’s what–that’s what’s going. If that’s what it is, then they weren’t killed. That’s how they’re still able to lie to themselves so callously, so cruelly. How they were able to murder these people. And our generals shrug and say, well, now, that’s not the case. Because we didn’t–you know, our people said it didn’t happen. So it’s not the case.
You develop a mentality–it’s a sickness, really. But to be able to have that kind of dissonance with reality … yeah. And these generals who are in charge now, they were junior officers when this war began. So they’ve been brought up on-.
MARC STEINER: On this war.
MATTHEW HOH: Just decades now of lying. And getting away with it. And being promoted because they lie, or lied.
MARC STEINER: That’s an interesting perspective. I never thought about that before.
Matthew Hoh, this has been a pleasure to talk with you. I look forward to doing many more conversations. Thank you for the work, and thank you for standing up.
MATTHEW HOH: Thank you, Marc. Appreciate it.
MARC STEINER: We were talking to Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and a Marine Corps veteran of the wars that we seem to be stuck in. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. Take care.
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 email@example.com 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.
Myself and three other members of Veterans For Peace, Ellen Davidson, Tarak Kauff and Chris Smiley, will be speaking in Texas in a couple of weeks. We’ll be in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston if anyone is able to join us. Thanks so much to the incredible Leslie Harris for making this speaking tour happen.
Veterans For Peace Palestine/Israel Delegation Texas Tour: Walls of Racism and Oppression From Texas to Palestine and Beyond
DALLAS—Thursday, October 19, 6:00 pm reception; 7:00 dinner & program Kasra Persian & Afghan Cuisine, 525 Arapaho Rd., Set 21, Richardson, TX Contact: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to RSVP/get info on Facebook
AUSTIN—Friday, October 20, 6:00 pm veggie meal & schmoozing; 7:00 program Friends Meeting of Austin, 3701 E. Martin Luther King Blvd, Austin, TX Contact: email@example.com. Click here to RSVP/get info on Facebook
SAN ANTONIO—Saturday, October 21, 7:00 pm program Coates University Center, Fiesta Room, Trinity Univ., Trinity Pl., San Antonio, TX Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Click here to RSVP/get info on Facebook
HOUSTON—Monday, October 23, 6:30 reception; 7:00 program Dominican Sisters of Houston, 6501 Almeda Rd., Houston, TX Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to RSVP/get info on Facebook
A nine-person Veterans For Peace delegation visited Palestine/Israel earlier this year, where they met with Palestinian popular resistance leaders as well as members of the Knesset. They participated in nonviolent direct action and witnessed the resiliency, solidarity, creativity and courage of the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation and the settlements that steal their land, water and other resources. Photographer Ellen Davidson, former State Dept official and USMC Captain Matthew Hoh, former US Army paratrooper Tarak Kauff, and filmmaker Chris Smiley are touring Texas to tell us what they observed firsthand, using dramatic video clips and photos of this eventful trip, soon to be made into a documentary series. Their experience helped them see how Palestinian struggles relate to those of oppressed communities in Texas and beyond. Click here to see a trailer for the documentary series.
I also wanted to share an interview I did last week, with RT, on veteran suicides in the United States, the relationship of suicides to being in combat, and the further connection to moral injury/guilt. It’d be nice to get the chance to talk on an American network about this topic…
Additionally, here are three podcasts of radio programs I’ve done over the last month with three people I greatly admire.
The first is with award winning journalist Dave Maresh, who I have been very fortunate to know, along with his wife Amy, for seven or eight years now. Dave’s experiences are pretty unparalleled. He’s now in some form of non-retirement in New Mexico where he hosts a daily hourly radio program on KSFR, Here and There with Dave Marash. It’s one of the few podcasts I subscribe to and so it was pretty incredible to now have been one of his guests.
I was on with Blase Bonpane on his World Focus radio program earlier this month as well. I was also on with Blase again this past week, but I’ll do a separate blog post for that interview. Blase’s life story is heroic and amazing, he was a priest who defied the Catholic Church by practicing and living the liberation theology taught by Jesus Christ. My first interview, with a transcript, is with him here:
Finally, I was on with Army veteran Nate Bethea. I’ve known Nate for several years now. He’s been honest and forthright about his military service and his time during and after the wars, and his outspokenness on societal issues in the United States has earned him my deepest respect and gratitude, even though it has delivered him the scorn and vitriol of many from the Right Wing, including men with whom he served in combat. Nate now co-runs a podcast called What a Hell of a Way to Die. It’s a program by military veterans that takes on larger and broader issues from a socialist/leftist perspective. It’s fantastic.
Here’s my interview with Nate:
I was grateful for the opportunity to author a guest post over at the Strategies and Tactics for the Anti-War Blog at the Veterans Reparations Project. The Veterans Reparations Project is a joint project between Veterans For Peace and the Islah Reparations Project and is something very meaningful to me, something with which I hope to become more and more involved. Please visit the Veterans Reparations Project’s webpage to see how you can be involved and how you can help with the grassroots reparations process.
Breaking this Cycle of Imperial Violence:
I’m in my local Starbucks—yeah I know corporate evils and all that, but at 5pm on a Sunday in Wake Forest, NC you take what you can get, and I can walk here. So you take all the good you can get with the bad. Here in Wake Forest we’re not far from Ft. Bragg, home to the US Army’s paratroopers and special operations forces. Thousands of them have been ordered to deploy to Kuwait, where they will be sent into Iraq and Syria to make their own contributions to a decades long folly that has brought death, mental and physical mutilation, and societal destruction to the peoples of Iraq and Syria, profits to American defense corporations, corporate board memberships and university professorships to retired generals, and thousands upon thousands of new recruits to foreign terrorist groups; if there is something else these wars have brought, please leave a reply below, because I certainly can’t think of anything.
There is a large, neon green sign, hand written, like you would see announcing the homecoming dance in the high school hallway or your neighbor’s kid’s lemonade stand on your intersection’s stop sign: “Our Troops Are Deploying, Help Us Thank Them With Coffee.” A large cardboard box is about a 1/3 of the way full of bags of coffee and boxes of k-cups, hopefully no decaf for those young paratroopers.
I’m not lying to you when I tell you I’m wearing a t-shirt with a Howard Zinn quote on it that reads “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people” as I stand next to that box of coffee bound for the Persian Gulf. I linger for a bit hoping that maybe someone will read the shirt and the sign, that maybe something will register, someone will say something to me, something to medicate me, numb me, tell me that this cycle isn’t starting all over again for several thousand young men and women, barely more than an hour’s drive from me, about to travel halfway around the world to do irreparable harm to people they’ve never met and irredeemable harm to their own souls, hearts, and minds.
I’ve been involved in this war effort since before it even had a name, taking part in training exercises with Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine, and Thai counterparts that actively engaged in fighting Muslim insurgents in their own countries prior to 9/11. Whether as a willing participant of the wars or as a vocal war opponent, as an occupier or now as someone who hopes to do more to support those who are occupied, I’ve seen very little explained as to how to right the wrongs done in war and even less done to repair, to rebuild, to resuscitate, or to resurrect. Surely, I have never walked into anyplace in America since we began killing more than 1 million people overseas in response to the attacks of 9/11 and seen a box asking for coffee for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or Yemen.
Now, of course, reparations may be the proverbial bridge too far at this point, as all the nations for which we have transgressed against are still receiving the blows of our aggressions, and those of others, from both internal and foreign belligerents and villains. However, I do recognize that waiting for our government to act in the future to administer some form of restorative justice to the people of the Greater Middle East may be as great a sin as the original acts of violence themselves, because we know that our government, the United States, will never do such a thing, and if our government ever does act the list for such reparations will be a long and worthy one.
So, I am extremely grateful for what the the Veterans Reparations Project is doing. Through grassroots reparations projects we can make a difference, we can begin to help rebuild and repair, and we can begin to fix some of what we destroyed.
Nothing we do will absolve us of what we have done in these wars, I am clear on that; the spot is on and always will be on our hands, to use one of my favorite allusions from high school English class. So be it and so it goes. However, we don’t have to go along with the killing any longer and we don’t have to go along with sitting idly by either and not helping to rebuild and repair. We can and we must do what we can to help those who we hurt. I do not believe we have any other choice.
From a talk I gave to the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of North Carolina in October on my own issues with PTSD, depression, moral injury, alcohol abuse and suicidality. Please feel free to share this video with others. Other men and women sharing their stories with me has helped in my recovery and I want to do my part and pass that kind of assistance along.
Prior to giving this talk, as I was driving to the conference and walking into the venue, I planned on drinking as soon as I was done. Not just a few beers to watch my Mets play the Dodgers in the playoffs, but a medicinal drowning and extinguishment of that all too familiar, exhausting and debilitating anguish in my head, heart and soul. When I was finished with my talk, although tired, the plan was still there. I drove to a bar, got out of my car, and walked to the bar door. My desire, at that moment, not to be a liar was stronger than my need to drink, and I got back in my car and drove home.
From watching the video I doubt you can tell the pain I was in during this talk, an emotional, existential pain, unlike any known physical pain, and a sort of pain that seems to have no hope or end to it. It is as if a wedge or filter is placed into my head, not allowing me to access the functional, rational, more evolutionary modern parts of my brain. I am living in the poisonous fog that William Styron so masterfully articulated in his Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness; a book that I can’t recommend enough to help friends and family understand how such mental pain and torment seems inescapable and unending, and drives otherwise very strong men and women to levels of despair that self-euthanizing becomes, in that ill and pained mind, a prudent, practical and necessary option.
My greatest gratitude to my good friend John Shuford who organized this talk and provided me with the video. I hope, in the future, to provide more information on an initiative John is working on to provide greater clinical training to therapists assisting veterans with combat related issues of PTSD, moral injury, depression, alcohol abuse and suicidality.
[Note: The introduction to the video gives a bit of a distorted summary of my career. You can find a professional biography on the About Me page of this blog. Not that it really matters though, as Babe Ruth said: “yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s ball games”]
Back in March, Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC, the home of America’s largest military base, Fort Bragg, hosted me to discuss my recovery from PTSD and moral injury. The full video is below, along with a three minute clip that Lynn Newsom, the co-director of the Fayetteville Quaker House, is using in the talks she gives to military and non-military audiences on moral injury.
During my talk I am not very clear about the correlation, and, yes, I would also say causation, between combat and suicide. However, there is a very clear link between combat veterans and suicide, a link that is obviously very dangerous to cherished American myths of war, with all too familiar, prevalent and false motifs of justice, honor and redemption. To illustrate the connection between war, violence and suicide, a connection that manifests in veterans through PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and moral injury, I have included, at the end of this essay, 15 fairly easy to find studies of the last few decades documenting the prevalence of suicide in combat veterans.
Among the below studies, and among the most recent, dealing with my fellow veterans of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies have found that veterans who were exposed to killing and atrocity had a 43% greater risk of suicide, while 70% of those Afghan and Iraq veterans who participated in heavy combat had attempted suicide. We spends millions of dollars and thousands of hours to physically, mentally and morally condition each young man and woman who volunteers to serve in the military to travel abroad and kill, but upon their return, in reality, effective and thorough programs to decondition our veterans, help them reenter and reintegrate into society and regain emotional, moral and spiritual balance and health are nonexistent, while care for developed wounds, both physical and mental is underfunded. Continue reading