Two People Discuss War; formerly titled: A Marine and an Iraqi Discuss War

Last week, as part of Ralph Nader’s four-day conference in Washington, DC, Breaking Through Power, my friend Raed Jarrar, a Palestinian-Iraqi-American, and I gave a talk on the horrors of war. My perspectives of combat, occupation, colonial administration and war time politics, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Washington, were set besides Raed’s experiences of living in Baghdad following the Gulf War, through the years of sanctions, into the American invasion, yes, the glory of Shock and Awe, and for the first year of occupation. Raed left Baghdad in 2004, but returned to Iraq to help rebuild, before becoming a full-time peace and anti-war activist.

The video is below. I want to thank Ralph Nader and the Center for Study of Responsive Law for allowing Raed and I to share how we both came to the same understanding of our lives, our world, our leaders, our people, our wars and the need for peace, from the different ends of a rifle.

Also, my apologies to the brave and fantastic Alli McCracken for giving the equally brave and fantastic Medea Benjamin credit for trying to, rightfully, arrest Henry Kissinger last year. Thank you Alli and Code Pink.

The remainder of the day’s talks and conversations can be found on Youtube.

17,000 Dead Iranians. Who Knows? Who Cares?

Last month I had the privilege of answering an interview from an Iranian research agency dedicated to studying acts of terror carried out against the Iranian people. By their count 17,000 Iranians have been killed in acts of terror over the last 3 1/2 decades. Quite an astounding number, isn’t it? I have no reason to believe this number is inflated or exaggerated, but, even if the real count is only a tenth of the pronounced figure of 17,000, it would still signify a horrendously systematic attack of political violence on a people that, as elections again this past weekend in Iran have displayed, possess a desire for progress, civility, toleration and modernity.

Just as many of us do not embody in our personal lives, beings and souls the worst aspects of our American government, our wars overseas and our mass incarceration at home, so too are the Iranian people not representative of their government’s acts of militarism and repression. I  know, I know. Such a trite and cliched thing to say. But then why would so many in the US not know of the thousands killed by terrorism in Iran and why would many Americans say that those dead Iranians and their devastated families deserve it? If not for such a binary and Manichean way of looking at the world, we are good – they are bad, we could understand and communicate with one another better, and then, maybe, as a united and common people we could lead this world to prosperity and health, rather than to war, climate change and poverty.

The interview can be found here and is copied below:


Full text of Habilian’s interview with Matthew Hoh, Ex-US State Department Official
Sunday, 01 May 2016 09:51 Habilian

“…in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups.”

In an exclusive interview with Habilian Association, Iranian Center for Research on Terrorism, Matthew Hoh has answered the questions about the US military interventions in the Middle East following 9/11 attacks in the name of “fighting against terrorism” and its implications for the people of the region, terrorism developments in the Middle East after 2001, America’s role in the empowerment of terrorist groups in the region, US imperialism around the world, relationships between the Media and government in the US, and Machiavellian view of American leaders to terrorist groups such as MeK. What comes below is the full text of the Habilian Association’s interview with him.

Habilian: At the beginning of the interview, please tell us when you did join the Army? Would you speak about your motives in wearing the Army Uniform?

Hoh: I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1998 for a number of reasons. I was bored with the work I was doing (I was working for publishing company in New York City), I wanted adventure, I wanted to prove myself while serving others, I wanted to be involved in something bigger than I was, and I wanted to take part in history. In short I possessed the motives of many bored and unchallenged young men.

Habilian: Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush delivered a speech at joint session of Congress, in which “War on Terror” was declared. In that speech, Bush raised some questions quoted from American peoples, including who attacked the US and why; and how Americans can punish them. Now, after more than 15 years of American interventions in the region that led to death of more than one million civilians, if you, as an American journalist, have an interview with Bush, what questions will you ask him about the war?

Hoh: The first question I would ask President Bush is why he is not remorseful. Does his desire for a positive view of his legacy preclude his ability to empathize with the millions who have suffered because of these wars? Secondly, I would ask him why can he not be humble and admit his policies were wrong and counter-productive. I would not be asking him to say the terror of 9/11 was not horrific and I am not asking him to compare himself with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, but to simply recognize that the wars he launched and the wars that are still ongoing have made the world worse and not better. Two simple truths: the number of dead in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and other places number well past one million since September 12, 2001. Millions more have been wounded and are refugees from their homes. Those who suffer the horribly debilitating psychiatric and moral effects of the wars number in the tens of millions. And none of those wars are close to ending. The second truth is that, according to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and based upon documents found in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda only consisted of approximately two hundred members in 2001. Now the organization has thousands of members in countries across the globe. Of course the Islamic State didn’t even exist in 2001 and only came into existence because of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. Clearly American policy in the Middle East has failed. I would ask President Bush how he ignores such truths. To be fair, I would ask President Obama the same.

Habilian: In the mentioned speech, George Bush had said that Americans are asking him what is expected of them, then listed his expectations of American people: “to live your lives, and hug your children”, “to uphold the values of America”, “to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions” and “continued participation and confidence in the American economy”. If we go back to September 20, 2001 and you had an opportunity to speak in Congress and announce your expectations from the government, what would you said?

Hoh: I am not sure if anything anyone said would be listened to. In 2001, we did have people in the United States counseling against acting on fear and anger. In Congress, however, we had only one member, Barbara Lee, from California, who voted against giving the President unlimited authority to carry out war, an authority that President Obama still utilizes nearly 15 years later. Out of 535 members of Congress only one had the wisdom, the intelligence and the courage to say that war was not just the wrong approach to terrorism, but that it would be foolhardy and prove to be counter-productive. Americans at that time were scared and angry. Politicians were scared and angry as well, but, more so, they were eager to capitalize on the public’s emotions for their own political advantage and security. So, sadly, I don’t think my stating my expectations of my government to follow the dictates of morality, justice and rule of law would have been listened to.

Habilian: On February 14, 2003, George W. Bush released “The United States’ strategy for combating terrorism” in which the US administration’s objectives in the War on Terror had been listed. The core of that strategy were weakening and isolating terror networks such as Al Qaeda. Regarding the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and its violent ambitions, do you believe that the announced goals of these wars have been achieved? In your opinion, are Al Qaeda typed groups stronger or weaker now?

Hoh: Terror groups are much stronger now than in 2001. The greatest recruitment for al-Qaeda and affiliated groups was not the murders of Americans in the 9/11 attacks, but the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, the continued occupation of Afghanistan, torture of prisoners by American guards, and the bombing of Muslim peoples throughout the world by the West. Remember, in 2001, al-Qaeda only had about 200 members and the Islamic State did not exist. The United States validated the propaganda and the doctrine of the terrorists with our response to 9/11 and provided many thousands of young men with a rationale for leaving their homes and joining terror groups. Of course, this is all a consequence of American military and diplomatic involvement in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War. As an American I have to understand that much of what we are seeing now in the Middle East is a consequence of decades of American backed coups, American backed dictatorships, American military interventions, American backed wars, unlimited American support for Israel, American arms sales and the American formation of religiously inspired cadres to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s, one of which famously became al-Qaeda. However, I do not believe the wisest among us in the United States, of which I must admit I was not a part of in 2001, ever thought our policies would prove to be so disastrous.

Habilian: Why despite the American intelligence agencies’ estimation that the ISIS poses no immediate threat to the United States, Obama administration decided to send the country on a military campaign against that group, knowing that such a war may take several years?

Hoh: There are a few different reasons for this. I think there are some in the US government that do believe the United States has an interest in trying to bring about stability to Iraq and Syria and that military means are the only, or the predominant, manner of doing so. I believe those assertions to be wrong, that those assumptions are not based on history or experience, but I do understand them to be sincere.

Unfortunately, there are a number of other reasons why President Obama is intervening militarily in Syria and Iraq. The most important is political. President Obama, and the Democratic Party, is afraid of being viewed as weak. It is that simple. Additionally, it is nearly impossible for an American politician to say he or she is wrong or made a mistake. American politicians would rather see more American soldiers killed, more American families devastated as a result of those losses, and more innocent civilians destroyed than to admit they are wrong. Again, it is just that simple.

There are those who believe that these wars in the Middle East can simply be broken down into terms of good people versus bad people and we, the US, are on the side of the good people. There are philosophical, religious, nationalist, racist, and other reasons for such beliefs, but simple binary thinking, much like the thinking that under lay the assumptions of the Cold War, is prevalent in Washington, DC and throughout America.

There is a lot of money involved in Iraq. American companies have a good deal of interest in the oil fields of northern Iraq and the US government is keen to see those oil fields in Kurdish control, while projected sales of weapons to the Iraqi government range from 15-30 billion dollars over the next one or two decades. Such money has enormous influence in Washington, DC and the fear of the loss of such money would motivate an American President to act militarily.

Finally, the United States has an empire around the world that it must maintain. This is different in appearance or in kind than say the British or Roman Empires of the past, but it is nonetheless an empire. The United States has over 800 military bases around the world, has client states across the globe, many of which are the worst human rights violators in power, depends upon weapons sales as one of the leading aspects of the American export economy, and spends approximately one trillion dollars a year in total in support of this complex. Any threat or challenge to this established system must be confronted. In this established system in Washington, DC, as well as in American universities and corporations, it is seemingly impossible to understand any other option for the world; in fact this world view of the United States being “responsible” for the rest of the world is taken as a praiseworthy virtue and any deviance from this view is considered naïve, ignorant or silly. Combine that with America’s cultural and religious view of itself as an “exceptional nation” or as a nation with divine purposes and you can understand why America is so quick to use its military tens of thousands of miles from its borders. It is worth noting only the Western allies of the US act similarly so far from the borders; no other nation behaves this way, with the exception of the recent limited Russian involvement in Syria.

Habilian: Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce”. Why the US media are advertising this story?

Hoh: Terrorism scares and angers people, and fear and anger make for good audiences for the US media. The media in the US depends on ratings for advertising revenue (US media is privately funded) and so stories about terrorism get people’s attention causing more people to watch, listen or read, which brings in more money for the media.

There are also informal relationships between the media, the US government and politicians that lead all three to work together to support one another. The media needs the support of people in the government and politicians to get the best stories and get the best interviews, while the government and politicians need the media to present the best views of themselves and their policies. It is a mutually supportive relationship between many members of the media, the government and politicians that many in the United States see to be corrupt. That is why the American public has incredibly low opinions of the media, government and politicians in the US (recent opinion polls show that only about 10% of the public trusts these institutions).

Finally, there is the ongoing narrative of the United States being a morally correct and righteous nation that is on the side of “good” overseas. I believe the media feels it would cost them their audiences, and so their revenue, if they tried to explain world events, including terrorism and the wars, in a more complex yet accurate manner.

I must say that there are many good media sources in the US, but they tend to be small and independent of the larger corporate media that most Americans depend upon for their news. These men and women are often unfairly characterized as un-American, ideological or overly politically partisan, yet they are often the ones with the journalistic integrity the larger corporate media lacks.

Habilian: To this day MEK terrorists have been carrying out attacks inside of Iran killing political opponents, attacking civilian targets, as well as carrying out the US-Israeli program of targeting and assassinating Iranian scientists. In your opinion, how America’s government came to the conclusion that MeK no longer should be in the Terrorist List?

Hoh: The MeK has been very successful in the United States in paying American politicians and former government officials to represent the MeK. Along with the demonization with which the American government has colored Iran with since 1979, these political efforts by the MeK have succeeded in making many American leaders believe the MeK can be useful to US interests in the Middle East. Whether or not they know or care that the MeK has made many, many innocent Iranian people suffer is not something American leaders consider. I am quick to denounce the violent actions of my government, just as many Iranians are quick to denounce the violent actions of the Iranian government. Groups like the MeK and actions like the assassination of Iranian scientists serve only to prolong hostilities between the United States and Iran, hostilities that have gone on for far too long and which only serve the elites who hold power in both countries and which cause both the American and Iranian people to suffer.

RT TV Interview on Chuck Hagel and Afghanistan

From November 25, 2014:

 

http://www.rt.com/op-edge/209179-hagel-wars-obama-policy-disagreement/

Chuck Hagel’s disagreement with Obama’s position on the Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan wars is most likely behind his resignation. The administration didn’t expect him to speak against the White House, former State Department official Matthew Hoh told RT.

RT: You’ve seen this machine at work from the inside. What do you think is behind Chuck Hagel’s resignation?

Matthew Hoh:I think, of course, there is much more to this story than simply “Chuck Hagel no longer worked well with the administration.” I think you could tell by how quickly and how viciously the White House anonymously attacked Chuck Hagel as soon he announced his resignation. There were a lot of personal attacks against Hagel: he didn’t have leadership, he couldn’t do the job, he wasn’t up to the task, and I think any time you see the administration or the White House so quickly denouncing somebody, you know automatically there is another story to this. And what I believe to be case is that Chuck Hagel does not agree with the Obama Administration involving American troops in the middle of the Iraqi and the Syrian civil wars. And he is in disagreement with the American re-escalation of the war in Afghanistan that was just announced this past weekend.

RT: Judging by yesterday’s warm hugs between Obama and Hagel, the personal relationship between the two is quite friendly. How sincere were those smiles and handshakes?

MH: It’s Washington DC; it’s the Hollywood of politics. So, absolutely. I think may be in earlier time it could be described there is how cordial relations were among politicians, among elected leaders, among our senior people. But now it’s just as you described – it was a show.

RT: Recently Chuck Hagel became quite critical of the administration’s policy in Syria and Iraq. Do you think this made him an outcast in the White House?

MH: I think for the administration not to expect Secretary Hagel to be vocal or to speak up would have been be a very big mistake for them in their understanding of Secretary Chuck Hagel. Chuck Hagel earned the national reputation in the United States about 10 years ago or so for going against the Iraqi war. Chuck Hagel is a republican and member of President George Bush’s party and he very famously went against the Iraq war. So for the Obama Administration to have thought that Chuck Hagel was pliable, someone who was just going to go along with whatever decision they made and not to offer disagreements whether in private or in public, I think that was a huge mistake on their part. And so I think as I said as the story unfolds and as we get more perspectives on it, we’ll see the level of disagreement that was within the administration, within Obama’s Cabinet between Secretary Hagel and more hawkish members.

RT: Chuck Hagel is known for his anti-militaristic approach to U.S. foreign policy. Now that he’s going does it mean the Pentagon will become more aggressive?

MH: I think, unfortunately, the administration has bowed to pressure from both within the administration, from those in the administration who are beholding to a pro-intervention or a “military-first” policy as well as to very hawkish or warmongering senators on Capitol Hill. So I think the Obama Administration has made a commitment to expand America’s role in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars. I think that is a cycle that will only worsen and deepen. Case in point – Afghanistan – where the United States escalated the war in 2009.Five years later, there is no end in sight for the war, the Afghan people continue to suffer, the government remains incredibly corrupt, the Taliban are stronger and the drug trade is the only industry in the country. I think what’s happening with American re-escalation of the war – sending American troops back into combat – is that President Obama is bowing to pressure, feeling stoned by abusing criticism that he is not tough enough. He is recommitting American troops to the war in Afghanistan, so that he cannot be criticized for ending the war prematurely. [But] they have been there for 13 years and that war, according to polls it has an 83 percent unfavorability rating in the United States, and is most unpopular war in American history, even more unpopular than the wars in Iraq or Vietnam.

Recovering From the Darkness of PTSD After War

This is the second part of my interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. We cover a lot of issues in the conversation and this is probably the most personal I have ever been on camera in terms of speaking of my own issues. Much thanks to Amy and Democracy Now for giving me so much time to speak.

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In 2009, Matthew Hoh became the first State Department official to resign protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. policy. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh was deployed twice to Iraq. In part two of our conversation, we speak with Hoh about what happened after he blew the whistle on the Afghan War and his long fight to recover from post-traumatic stress syndrome. On his website, Hoh writes: “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As President Obama announces more boots on the ground in Iraq, another 1,500, bringing the total, it’s believed, to about 3,000, with hundreds of bombing raids in Iraq and also Syria, we’re joined by Matthew Hoh. He is a former State Department official who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. policy there in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh served in Iraq. From 2004 to ’05, he worked with a State Department reconstruction and governance team. And from 2006 to ’07, he worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province. He’s now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He’s joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Matthew Hoh, welcome back to Democracy Now! for part two of our conversation. I wanted to ask you about the response to you as a whistleblower. At the time, you were the highest State Department official to resign over U.S. policy in Afghanistan. What happened to you after that?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, thanks for having me on again, Amy. You know, there was divisions within the Obama administration on the war in Afghanistan. And so, what I said about the war in Afghanistan—how I said our presence was fueling the insurgency, al-Qaeda had left there a long time ago, we were supporting a corrupt government in Afghanistan, our troops were dying for no good reason—many members of the administration believed, most importantly Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was our ambassador in Afghanistan, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who was the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And they both, to some degree, I believe, protected me from attack from within the U.S. government; however, from the military side, I did take some pressure. I do know that General Petraeus’s command in Tampa, Central Command, actually hired a strategic communications firm to actively discredit me. So, when I would appear on television, this firm would say—would send emails to producers or to newspapers to try and get me pulled off or not written about, basically saying, “This guy isn’t who he says he is. This guy doesn’t really”—

AMY GOODMAN: What was the firm, Matthew?

MATTHEW HOH: I don’t recall—the name of the—and here’s the great—why I kind of believe, Amy, karma exists. The name of the firm—I don’t believe the firm exists any longer. The name of the fellow who ran the firm was Duncan Boothby. And this was the gentleman who introduced Michael Hastings to General McChrystal in 2010. So I do believe in karma to a certain extent. The guy who was actively seeking to discredit me then turned and introduced Michael Hastings, who wrote the great book The Operators, whose Rolling Stone article shone a light on how General McChrystal and his staff actually operated, and so I do believe there is some karma. And in one of those things that, you know, you can’t—where truth is stranger than fiction, I know all this because Duncan Boothby told me himself. He introduced himself to me at a Christmas party in December of 2009, just walked right up to me and said, “You know, I hope you don’t take any offense to it, but I’m the guy who’s been discrediting you to the media.” And, you know, but that’s the way Washington, D.C., works, and that’s the way our senior military works.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did it mean? How did you see that manifest?

MATTHEW HOH: I did notice that I started to appear less and less on news programs. I know I had articles about me pulled from publications like The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. I know when I would appear on CNN, I was told that, you know, “You can be on, but there has to be someone to counter you, because you have a bias.” And they would sometimes put somebody on who was independent, an independent analyst, so to speak, who was actually in the pay of the Pentagon. So, it really was—it was very absurd, very Kafkaesque. I had a long series of interviews with Dan Rather, who was going to do a special on me, and he actually pulled it because he received pressure from the Pentagon not to do that. So it really was. It was really quite absurd, quite Kafkaesque. But it wasn’t surprising, because I had worked in Washington, D.C., I had been around senior levels, and I understood what I had gotten myself into. I understood the politics of it, and I understood the type of people that were involved in it.

And it further fueled my desire to work to end the wars, because it just showed—and this is what’s important to know for Veterans Day—our men and women who are serving overseas, who are killing, who are being killed, who are being maimed, who are coming home with these psychological wounds that—you know, as we spoke in part one, 22 veterans a day are killing themselves—they’re dying in support of people who are making policies, who are so selfish in their own concerns that they disregard the reality of what’s happening in these countries, disregard the reality of our presence, disregard the effects that it has on our troops. And so, that campaign against me, that, you know, putting up a Wikipedia page, a false Wikipedia page about me with all kinds of false information, those kinds of things, that really only fueled me to work harder to try and stop these wars, to try and get our soldiers home, and to try and end the suffering for millions of people in those war zones.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the Wikipedia page, the fake Wikipedia page.

MATTHEW HOH: You know, all of a sudden I had a friend of mine text me and said—because, Amy, this was—I was a marine, and I worked for the government. Before 2009, the last time I had been in the news was in 1991 for high school track. So, I hadn’t—you know, this wasn’t anything I was used to, nothing my friends were accustomed to, that I was, you know, on the television or in the newspapers. And all of a sudden, my friend texts me one day, and she says, “You’re on—you’ve got a Wikipedia page,” and was shocked. And there was a Wikipedia page about me, and it just had a bunch of half-truths and mistruths. You know, just it had some general biographical information, but then the information went on to say how I wasn’t really working for the State Department, I made up my position, I didn’t have the experience I was attesting to—basically casting doubt on my credibility, basically casting doubt on who I said I was. It prominently featured—al-Qaeda had put a propaganda out one time where they took a clip of mine and edited it and put it into their propaganda video. It prominently featured that, and, you know, so basically hinting at, was I—what I was doing, was that helping al-Qaeda? You know, so, it was that type of thing. And it went back and forth, because there are some very nice people out there who edited it on my behalf without my asking. And it finally got to the point where I actually contacted Wikipedia and said, you know, “I’m the subject of this piece, and it has a lot of inaccuracies, and I’m tired of it, and can you just get rid of it?” And they did. They deleted it. And that hasn’t been a problem for a couple years. But that was one part of that, you know, campaign.

And I’ve seen it with other people, too. You certainly see it with other whistleblowers. Lieutenant Colonel Danny Davis, who went to Congress with a report in February 2012 saying that, look, the war in Afghanistan is going very badly, the Afghan security forces are not ready to take control—all things that had been proven, in fact, since then—he was actively discredited by senior members of the Pentagon. They went after him behind the scenes to, you know, media executives. And then you’re seeing it to extreme lengths, of course, with whistleblowers like Peter van Buren, who wrote the book—who was a State Department official who wrote a book about his time in Iraq that the State Department did not like, and so they went after him, threatening him with legal action, threatening to take away his pension. Thomas Drake, of course, the NSA whistleblower, they trumped up charges, charged him with the Espionage Act. They actually—in Tom Drake’s case, the FBI raided his house, turned his house upside down, and they actually—he had documents there, work documents there, and in Tom Drake’s case, they actually retroactively classified the documents. So when Tom took those documents home, they weren’t classified, but after the FBI raided his house and they needed a reason to shut him up, to shut him down, to make an example of him, they retroactively classified the documents to say that he was spying. You know, and on and on. Of course, you have Chelsea Manning, you have Edward Snowden, you have a host of other whistleblowers out there, too, who have been actively campaigned against by the federal government, by the State Department, by the Pentagon. And it really is quite a shame. I mean, this president, President Obama, has persecuted whistleblowers to a greater extent than any previous president.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, I wanted to go to the issue, on Veterans Day, of your PTSD. In the first part of our discussion, we talked about, you know, what it means overall in the country. But I wanted to go back to that quote on your website, at MatthewHoh.com, where you wrote, quote, “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.” That’s what you wrote on your website. And I wanted to talk specifically about how you recovered. If you could talk about what you did dealing with PTSD, even when you realized you had it?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, you know, it first really hit me after my second deployment to Iraq, about four months after I was home. And it was like you read about or like you hear: There was this black wave that came over me. And at the darkest of times, I—I was always a big drinker anyway, but not in this sense. And it soon became where the only way I could survive, where the only way I could numb myself, the only medication that would make me be OK, where I could sleep, where I could kind of—where the pressure, the stress in my head was bearable, was by drinking. And soon that became my way of killing myself. It became a slow way to kill myself, you know. And, of course, one of the things with post-traumatic stress disorder and with alcohol abuse is that they fit one another. They reinforce one another. I like to describe post-traumatic stress disorder as, say, as if you have a bruise on your brain; when you water it with alcohol, it grows, and it takes over more of your brain. And that was absolutely the case.

And, I mean, here was something where there is a double standard, which I think most men and women in the military can identify with, where I used to stand in front of my marines and talk about these issues, but when it happened to me, I couldn’t get help. I wouldn’t get help. I tried to treat it myself. And this persisted until—through 2011. And by that point, as you say in that quote of mine, I was thinking of killing myself. And there was a plan, you know. And I think that is what’s frightening to a lot of us who go through this, is that—and when you relapse, when this is something you still struggle with. So as I still struggle with these issues, the frightening thing, Amy, is that when it comes or when you’re back in that spot, you pick up the plan from the same location. You know, you pick up from where you left it off. How are you going to handle letting your family know? Where are you going to do it at? What are you going to use? All those things are mapped out.

And so, basically, what happened in—beginning of 2012, I was in a relationship. We were living together, and it was just a nightmare for my ex-girlfriend. And she got us to go to counseling. And the second counseling session, the counselor said, “You know what? I think this is not about you guys. I think this is about you.” And fortunately, the counselor was a former sailor who had PTSD issues of his own, and I bonded with him. And I trusted him because he was a service—he was a veteran. He had gone through these issues. He knew what I was talking about. And he saved my life. His name’s Lenny Brisendine. He’s in Georgetown. And he saved my life. He got me to stop drinking. He got me to go to the VA, got me on medication, because at that point I had hit rock bottom, and it was really just one way or the other. And if it wasn’t for Lenny, if it wasn’t for my ex-girlfriend getting me into therapy, if it wasn’t for some great doctors down here at the VA in Raleigh, if it wasn’t for my family—I have tremendous support from my family—I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I mean, I am completely certain of that, that I wouldn’t have lasted another year. I would have killed myself—

AMY GOODMAN: For—

MATTHEW HOH: —because of—

AMY GOODMAN: For vets who are going through what you went through and what you continue to deal with, when you say that the therapist saved your life, what exactly did he do to get you to stop drinking, to go to the VA, to begin to take medication? When did it click for you?

MATTHEW HOH: I think it was—well, the clicking for me was when the one question he asked me was, “Tell me about your future,” and I said I had no future. And it was at that point I became self-aware, I believe, of what was really going on, even though I had been going through it for four years. I knew it was going on. I mean, my life was programmed around alcohol, the panic attacks, the breakdowns or the pressure. I mean, I knew what I was going through, but I didn’t care. I didn’t think there was any other choice for me. It was the only way I could deal with it. And so, sitting across from this man who had gone through the same thing himself, who opened himself up to me and who got me to admit a couple things about myself, all of a sudden it was something I could no longer ignore. And so, the importance about testimony in a case of what Lenny did, what others did, and then what I started to do then was I started to watch videos of other veterans who were going through the same issues, read about them, because what you find is you see yourself in them. You say, “Oh, my gosh, that’s exactly what I’m going through, and he’s saying he’s doing better now. Well, OK, let’s keep watching, or let’s turn the page and see what we need to do.”

I mean, there are a lot of things that go with PTSD, and also another component of this is what is called “moral injury,” which a lot of us suffer from, it is what I suffer from, which is different than PTSD but afflicts a lot of veterans. But there are a lot of components. We get ourselves into financial difficulties. We have intimacy issues. I mean, one of the hardest things for relationships is that veterans with PTSD, with moral injury, with these kinds of problems, will stop being intimate with their partners, and it destroys the relationship. And it’s certainly what was happening with me in my relationship. It’s a very difficult thing to talk about, very difficult thing to acknowledge, but it kills relationships. And then, once the relationship is gone, what keeps you from killing yourself is that you’re holding onto things that you have. So, for me, to be completely honest, one of the things that kept me alive was the fact that I was doing media, talking about the war. And so, I was afraid that if I killed myself, right, then those who were opposed to me would say, “Oh, you can’t listen to that guy. He ended up killing himself.” So you find these things to latch onto. And so, for a lot of veterans, it’s their relationship. And when that relationship goes, then there’s nothing left to hold onto. The distress is overwhelming. The pain is overwhelming. And so, the choice then is made that this is the only thing I can do to end my distress, to end my suffering. And unfortunately, as we noted before, 22—at least 22 veterans a day are making that choice.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Matthew Hoh, who’s a former Marine company commander in Iraq, talking about dealing with PTSD, as we move into Veterans Day. You know, the VA scandal continues to unfold. In the latest news out of the VA, Matt, they are saying that they’re considering disciplinary action against a thousand employees, as it struggles to correct systemic problems that led to long wait times for veterans, that led to falsification of records of the cover-up delays. That issue of long wait times is not just a matter of, oh, it’s inconvenient, you know, so someone has to wait a couple weeks—

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —or couple months—actually, it might be a couple years. As you describe dealing with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, that could be a matter of life and death, as real as any disease someone is suffering from.

MATTHEW HOH: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And in fact, one of the issues with the wait times, the frustrations that you find in the VA—and let me be clear: In my, the VA I go to, I have had excellent care from the doctors and staff. They are truly wonderful, gifted people. But they work in a system that is just completely broken. When I moved down here to Raleigh a couple years ago, even though I was suicidal, even though I was being treated, it took me almost four months to see somebody in the VA down here, not because they didn’t care, not because they didn’t want to help, but because they are overwhelmed, they’re overburdened. The system is just broken. And so, what can happen is that if the veteran who is suffering from this has lost everything and he’s hitting that rock bottom and he’s finally going to the VA to help, and then he gets turned away or he gets frustrated, well, that’s going to make his situation worse. That’s going to make him or her more despondent. That’s going to make him feel as if there is going to be no end to this suffering. So, the option to kill himself is the best option for him. And it really is frightening how that does occur, how the system itself can contribute to these losses.

And again, as we mentioned in part one, there’s just been a serious, serious just managerial incompetence in the VA. Up until just a couple years ago, as we mentioned before, the VA wasn’t even collecting data on veteran suicides on a national level, and we’re still not collecting data on a completely national level. We still have 20-some-odd states that aren’t contributing to the database on veteran suicides. There is no way to make sure we’re capturing all veteran suicides, because only about 40 percent of veterans are registered with the VA. And if you ask why are only 40 percent of the veterans registered with the VA, I’ll tell you because the VA system has been a very frustrating, difficult and painful experience. I just finally—after about two-and-a-half years, I finally got my disability claim from the VA, and it’s completely wrong. I mean, I’ve been seeing a counselor for alcohol abuse for a couple years on a weekly basis, and the disability process in the VA said I didn’t have an alcohol abuse problem. So, it’s those kinds of things that I think turn people away, that chase people away, that don’t let veterans get help, because they get frustrated, they get sick over it, they throw their hands up. And then so they turn to what is working for them in the interim—alcohol, drugs—and unfortunately, that path more than likely ends up in suicide.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Matt Hoh, the definition of PTSD and what so many soldiers and veterans had to deal with for so long of even being categorized in that way, instead of being sent home with aspirin?

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah. So, with post-traumatic stress disorder, what it basically—and there’s a wide variety. This exists in the civilian world, too. Many people—survivors of sexual assault, survivors of accidents, survivors of abuse—they will all suffer post-traumatic stress disorder in a similar vein from veterans. I think post-traumatic stress disorder from warfare is a bit different, and I think there’s also a piece of this that is becoming more understood, better understood, this moral injury component, wherein that is, in your mind, the person you are did not do the things that you expected them to do. So, in my case, the moral injury is that I have guilt over things I did or guilt I failed to do. I didn’t live up to the expectations of myself in war. And when I come home, I now have to live with that. I now have to live that with this notion that I did things or I didn’t do things that I’m not morally OK with, that that’s not who I thought I was. So you have that destruction of your self-image. You have that destruction of the soul, basically.

And then, with post-traumatic stress disorder, you have basically, in some ways described as your fight-or-flight system is stuck open, that valve is stuck open, so you’re constantly in overdrive. So you’re constantly over-aware. You’re constantly reacting as if you’re still there. And this can take form in flashbacks, in dreams, in just a constant pressure, a constant stress that exists with you every day. And that then extends and breaks down your daily life. It breaks down your relationships. It breaks down your job performance. It breaks down your finances. And so, it has an effect that then radiates out. And because you’re not getting help, because maybe you’re turning to alcohol or you’re turning to drugs, it then cycles on itself, and it just continues to build, until the point comes that you hit rock bottom. And then it’s either one way or the other. And unfortunately, way too many of us are choosing suicide as opposed to getting help.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, would you do things differently, as you reflect back on your life now, from being a Marine Corps commander, a company commander in Iraq, to serving in Afghanistan as a State Department official, quitting and what you’ve done since then?

MATTHEW HOH: I don’t think so, Amy. You know, I’d like to say maybe, but I don’t think so. I think I’m at the place now because of the decisions I made, whether they were the right decisions or the wrong decisions. You know, I’ve—I actually saw a great—I’m 41, you know, so I’m going through what all of us who are turning in their forties are going through of “How did this happen to me?” you know? But I saw this little bumper sticker, and it said, “Life begins at 40. Everything before then is research.” And I think that’s absolutely true. I think that’s actually the case. I mean, that’s life and the journey we’re on. And it’s a constant journey. I’ve got another 40-some-odd years to make up for things maybe I did wrong, for mistakes I made, to improve upon things or to do things well again. And so, I think that’s the way I like to view it as, rather than looking back and saying, “I would have done this differently or that differently,” because I can’t honestly say I would have.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, Fallujah, Friday, it was the 10th anniversary of the second battle of Fallujah, where I think it was the bloodiest battle for U.S. troops. Something like a hundred died.

MATTHEW HOH: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Not clear how many Iraqis died. Now the Islamic State, ISIS, has control of Fallujah.

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on this?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, and they’ve been—since January, there’s been a lot of fighting in Fallujah. And Fallujah itself has never been entirely secure, particularly these last few years, the Iraqi government. But what you’re seeing is sectarian fighting. You’re seeing Sunni versus Shia. So, in January of this year, the people of Fallujah had basically had enough with the Shia government. They felt they were being preyed upon. They felt like they were being oppressed. And with the Islamic State, they have been fighting the Iraqi government, the Shia government, for control since then.

One of the things that’s important, I think, for folks listening and watching to be aware of is that this violence in Iraq is not new. It didn’t just happen again in the summer. Last year, almost 10,000 people were killed in bombings and shootings and in violence in Iraq, and this year, of course, it’ll be probably more than double that. So, it is. I mean, you look at it in the sense of 10 years ago, when we launched that operation in Fallujah, it was the bloodiest campaign of the war. Thousands were killed. Thousands were wounded. Horrible, horrible fighting. The city was destroyed, to a certain degree. And I think it’s an important lesson. I think it shows the mistake of trying to achieve policy goals with violence. By somehow achieving victory in the short term, you make sure you don’t achieve any stability or any peace in the mid or the long term.

And I think, too, the repercussions of the fighting in Fallujah from 10 years ago, of course, are still being seen now, because they’re still fighting. But also, too, as well, we have very severe concerns for the public health of the people in Iraq because of the depleted uranium that we used. Depleted uranium is very dense, and so we use it in our munitions, in our tank gun rounds and in our—in other munitions that we have, because it basically works so well when you’re trying to kill. But the problem is, is after you use it, it sits in the ground, and that uranium sinks into the ground and into the water supply. And now, these years afterwards, we now see very horrible incidence of cancer, of birth defects, of women bearing still-born babies. And so, not just do we have this legacy that’s still alive—the fighting is still going on, people are still being killed every day, the Islamic State is beheading people, the Iraqi government is shelling buildings, including schools and hospitals—but you have this, even if there was stability, even if there was peace, the people of Iraq would be suffering because their groundwater, their land is contaminated, and their children are dying because of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the chemical exposure Iraqis face, and also U.S. soldiers, your response to the Pentagon admitting that 600 American servicemembers since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq, the Pentagon failing to realize the scope of the reported cases or [offer] adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, the Pentagon says. This was a big exposé in The New York Times.

MATTHEW HOH: Mm-hmm. Yes, I mean, certainly when I was there, we found them. I remember reading a report that a unit would find old chemical weapons shells, you know, and so the explosive ordnance disposal guys would have to go there and take care—and that’s one of the reasons why normal troops were not supposed to blow up any old Iraqi shells that they found, because they might be chemical rounds. I mean, this was widely known within the troops fighting over there that there were these old chemical munitions laying around. It was reported. And so, this idea that somehow the Pentagon is just realizing it now or that it wasn’t adequately reported is a lie.

And I think it falls into play with other aspects of how the Pentagon and our government has conducted itself over time. I mean, certainly the easiest and the clearest example is Agent Orange. I mean, Agent Orange was a defoliant we used in Vietnam to strip the leaves off of the jungle. It was assured to everybody—our troops and the people of Southeast Asia—that it was not going to be a problem. And, of course, you know, go over to the VA hospital, and it’s full of veterans suffering from the effects of that in terms of cancer, as well as, if you visit Vietnam or Laos or Cambodia, they are suffering the same.

So this notion that somehow the Pentagon didn’t know about it, that they didn’t understand it, it wasn’t being reported properly, is a complete lie. I’m just grateful that they are actually addressing it now, and hopefully those 600—and it may be more—servicemembers who were exposed to it, hopefully they had been receiving adequate treatment throughout this time and it’s not just that they’re going to their first doctor’s appointment for this this week.

AMY GOODMAN: And in Afghanistan, that’s the country you were where you quit the State Department. The latest news from The Washington Post, bombers targeted Afghanistan’s police, killing at least 10 officers and a civilian in two separate attacks in the latest sign of growing violence in the country. The attacks came one day after a suicide bomber infiltrated the heavily fortified police headquarters in the capital, Kabul, and blew himself up, killing a senior police official and wounding several others. We’ve talked a lot about Iraq. What about Afghanistan?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, Afghanistan, you know, unfortunately for the Afghan people, they’ve seen violence increase every year. Violence is worse now than it was in 2009 when President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan. You’ve had a series of fraudulent elections in Afghanistan. This last one, the presidential election of this year, was so fraudulent, they couldn’t even release the numbers from it, and basically they had to create an extra constitutional position for—so that both candidates would accept victory, and you wouldn’t have a broadening of the civil war in Afghanistan. Basically, Secretary Kerry had to say, “You’re going to do this, in order for us to keep giving you the money.” And I think that’s what people should take away from it, is how much influence our money has in these conflicts, how they prop up corrupt governments, these kleptocracies.

The only thing that has prospered in Afghanistan since 2009 has been the drug trade. Every year, the poppy crops, the marijuana crops are larger than they were the previous year. And I should counter that with saying also, too, the Taliban have prospered, as well, because the Taliban are actually larger, stronger, more capable than they were in previous years. Every year, they grow in size, and you could see as reflected in the numbers of attacks they launch, IEDs they put in the ground, the number of police or soldiers they killed.

So, Afghanistan is in a very, very difficult position. The civil war is ongoing. The Taliban are in a position of power, where they can negotiate when they want to. The government is incredibly corrupt. There is no economy to speak of. And I think the Afghans will unfortunately have to suffer for quite a long time until stability comes there. They’ve been fighting for as long as I’ve been alive, or at least almost as long; they’ve been fighting since the mid-’70s. And so, I think, unfortunately, the Afghans are going to have to suffer and continue to suffer. And I think it should be a lesson on the limits of American power, what we can achieve and what we should try to achieve.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, on Sunday, former President George W. Bush appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation to talk about a book he had written about his father. The host, Bob Schieffer, asked him about a statement he makes in his book regarding his decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You write in the book, when you decided to send troops into Iraq, it was not to finish what your dad had started.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. There are very few defensive moments of the book, and that happens to be one. I guess I was just responding to kind of the gossip that tends to work around the political circles, that clearly he had only one thing in mind, and that was to finish the job his father did, because my dad decided not to go into Baghdad after routing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And the reason why is that wasn’t the mission he stated. And so, I went in there as a result of a very changed environment because of September the 11th. And the danger we were concerned about was that the weapons would be put into the hands of terrorist groups that would come and make the attacks of 9/11 pale in comparison.
AMY GOODMAN: That was George W. Bush. Matthew Hoh, your response?

MATTHEW HOH: It’s amazing, Amy. I mean, the president continues to lie about the Iraq War. In that clip there, he references 9/11. The Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11. That’s been proven beyond a doubt. He references the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was going to give to the terrorists to attack us, which didn’t exist. And it’s just—you know, I’m at a loss for words, because I had not heard that until now, and so I’m at a loss for words what to say about that, how insane it is that that is the man who was the president of the United States, that’s the man who was on Face the Nation, that’s the man who is seen, to some degree, as a kingmaker, in terms of pushing his brother to run for president, as well, and that a large percent of this country, while they will put the yellow ribbon on their cars, while they’ll give a standing ovation to the vet without legs at a baseball game, while they’ll all gladly take Veterans Day off to go shopping, won’t hold a man responsible for his actions that has killed thousands, wounded hundreds of thousands—and one of the things we don’t talk about a lot is the number of traumatic brain injuries in this country from the wars. We have about 250,000 soldiers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries from the war. And so, this dissonance, the absurdity that exists in this country that President Bush is able to say such things, and then for the Face the Nation host, Bob Schieffer, who’s been doing that job for 20-some-odd years, to not kick him off the show for outright lying and for being so disrespectful to those who died over there for that mistake, it’s just—again, I’m at a loss for words.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Matthew Hoh, as the veterans’ tributes begin for Veterans Day, what do you think would be the greatest tribute to veterans, as a veteran yourself?

MATTHEW HOH: I think the greatest tribute would be, to tie into what I was just saying, is some form of accountability, some form of holding responsible those who have made mistakes. You know, I only served 10 years in the Marines, but I’ve had friends of mine who have served 20 or 30 years, and they’ve spent half that time in the Middle East, and we’ve all had friends die. We’ve all seen people in Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations suffer, and that carries with us. And I think that’s one of the issues that we face, is that there has been no accountability, there has been no justice. These wars have been failures. They’ve been done for just reasons of malfeasance, of just reasons that seem to be unknown or you don’t want to understand what the actual reasons were. And so, I think the best thing that could happen for veterans is some form of accountability for these wars, people being held responsible, from both parties. You know, the Democrats are just as complicit in these wars as the Republicans are.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, thanks so much for being with us, former State Department official who resigned in protest of the war in Afghanistan, resigned from his post there over U.S. policy in September 2009. Before that, he served in Iraq; from 2004 to ’05, worked with a State Department team; from 2006 to ’07, worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province; now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, speaking to us from his home state of North Carolina in Raleigh. Thanks so much.

MATTHEW HOH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.