Please support me via Patreon, also Veteran Suicides and Afghanistan

Hi all,

As many of you know my health has limited my ability to work for pay. Thanks to some really excellent care from my doctors at the VA I am now in a place where I feel healthy enough to accept a paycheck. These last several years I’ve been too beset with migraines, exhaustion, cognitive issues and other aspects of brain injury to allow me to reliably accept money in return for work. I am very happy and proud to say I feel I am past that point.

I’ve been been a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP) for almost a decade now and during my period of disability I have maintained that position. Unlike most think tanks we do not accept contributions from corporations for our work at CIP, rather we rely on support from individuals and non-profit foundations; I am sure you understand our reasons for doing so and how this makes CIP rather unique in the Washington, DC policy and advocacy world.

As a Senior Fellow, I am largely responsible for raising my own funding. Since I am essentially starting over, I have decided my first step will be to utilize Patreon to raise support from friends, associates and allies who value my work and would like to see it continue. If you are interested in helping me in my work, please go to my Patreon site. You will find a further explanation of why I am asking for your support, as well as what your support will assist me in doing. I appreciate any help you can provide, as I can’t continue to do this without support.

I’ve included a few interviews I have done in the last month or so in this message. The first two are in relation to Afghanistan, while the third interview is about the historical and current circumstances of veteran suicides. I honestly feel this third interview is one of the best interviews I have done in the last ten years.

Thank you for your support over all these years and thank you for considering to support me via Patreon.

Essay and interviews update

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.

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/15/time-for-peace-in-afghanistan-and-an-end-to-the-lies/

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.

An interview with comedian Lee Camp about Veterans For Peace:

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.

The Necessity of Moral Resistance in the Face of Militarism

This past weekend I spoke as part of the Poor People’s Campaign event: The Necessity of Moral Resistance in the Face of Militarism. Reverend William Barber was, of course, the main speaker, and if you are uncertain as to how war and militarism play a role in the demands of the Poor People’s Campaign or in the way war and militarism have always played an oppressive and devastating role in our society, then please listen to Reverend Barber’s sermon as he clearly and definitively explains those two things. My talk, on the effect of war on veterans, is here below, while Reverend Barber’s sermon and the comments from Phyllis Bennis are in the Youtube clip below. Wage Peace.

 

Update to last week’s post on suicide and combat guilt

 

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 matthew_hoh@riseup.net 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..

and

“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 (matthew_hoh@riseup.net).

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.

Matt

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.

  • From: Matthew Hoh
    Date: February 5, 2018 at 2:28:11 PM EST
    To: james….
    Subject: Your article on PTSD

    Dear James,

    Thank you for your recent article on PTSD and the effects of transition on veterans. I believe the broad outlines of the study and its conclusions are correct. It reminds me of what I heard said about American soldiers returning from WWI: “how are you going to keep them on the farm when they have seen Paris?” There are a few things that the study’s authors, however, did not take into account and that can lead to misunderstanding about veterans by the public, particular the effects of combat.
    First, the study’s authors do not differentiate between the veteran population as a whole, those who deployed, and those who saw combat. This is crucial for understanding the stresses and challenges veterans face and why they face them. For example,  a meta-study from the National Center for PTSD by Brett Litz and William Schlenger, examined 14 published PTSD studies of Afghan and Iraq war veterans, and found that troops who had seen combat had PTSD rates of 10-18% but for troops that had not seen combat the rate was only 1.5%. An important differentiation.
    The authors also do not make the correlation or connection to the symptoms that they identify in veterans due to transition stress to the same symptoms that occur in unemployed civilians. There is a vast body of literature on unemployment related symptoms that has come out of the Great Recession, particularly in men. These symptoms include depression, anger, listlessness/apathy, mood impairment, sexual dysfunction, relationship problems and other issues that are similar to the symptoms that veterans experience upon separating from the military.
    Secondly, the authors do not discuss the role of TBI in OIF/OEF veterans. Rates of TBI among all OIF/OEF era veterans range from 10-20% according to the VA. The Rand Corporation and the Congressional
    Research Service put the rate as high as 23%. So, more OIF/OEF veterans suffer from TBI than PTSD, and as you most likely know, TBI can have a latent development and is often under reported (as is PTSD).
    Among combat troops the rates of TBI are much higher. One study of over 1,000 Marines and Sailors that deployed to Afghanistan had a TBI rate of 57% prior to deployment and during that deployment nearly 20% of those deployed sustained a TBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/24337530/?i=4&from=/23129059/related
    Another study’s authors said this:
    “The soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are having a very unique experience both because they have very good body armor now and because of the way in which insurgents use a lot of explosives. The soldiers are exposed to a lot of explosions, so they get hit over and over again, but they’re protected from all but the worst cases of secondary and tertiary effects. Whereas had it been the Vietnam War, for example, they [the soldiers] would have been much more grievously injured and would have been evacuated.”
    And the study’s co-author said this:

    “Probably the only war that is comparable to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is World War I, the trench and artillery warfare. The term “shell shock” came from that war and that really refers to the effects of these post-concussive symptoms.

    In the group of veteran participants in this study, the average number of blast exposures that were severe enough to cause acute symptoms consistent with the diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury was 20. It was more common to have been exposed to between 50 to 100 blasts than to have a single one.”

    That leads to my third point, which I think would make an excellent article for you. The notion as advanced terribly by Sebastian Junger that these wars have been safer is demonstrably false and there is no evidence to demonstrate such, rather OIF/OEF (not just combat arms but all veterans) have had higher exposure rates to combat, violence, death and injury than any previous generation of veterans. Looking at a broad range of studies and surveys we see that OIF and OEF veterans experience combat at rates of 50% or higher, again a higher rate than any previous generation of American veterans.
    I have pasted below summaries I have written from various studies on OIF/OEF combat exposure, please note that some of the studies, such as the last study I reference, include veterans who did not deploy, so the rate of combat exposure is much higher than stated for deployed veterans:

    Studies and surveys have shown that veterans from OIF and OEF have experienced greater or equal rates of combat/trauma exposure of veterans of other wars. For example, the 2010 National Veterans Survey reported that the overall veteran populatiohas experienced combat at a rate of 34%. However, among veterans who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq 63% of veterans had combat exposure. For veterans who went to war zones prior to WWII the rate was 55.4%, for those who went to war zones during WWII it was 44.9%, in Korea it was 26%, in Vietnam it was 44% and in the Gulf War it was 41%. That information comes from a study done by Ryan Edwards of Queens College, City University of New York in 2014.

    Additional sources debunking Junger’s and others unsupported and undocumented notion that only 10% of American troops saw combat or experienced danger/trauma in Afghanistan and Iraq, include:

    a 2004 study by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research that found 77-87% of American troops discharged their weapons in Iraq and more than 90% reported coming under small arms fire 

    a 2009 study from the Rand Corporation, by the same authors from a Rand study that Junger cites in his book, reports that only 10-15% of Afghan and Iraq veterans report no combat trauma experienced at all during deployment and close to 75% report multiple exposures to combat trauma

    a 2011 study from the National Center for Veterans’ Studies at the University of Utah reported 58-60% of Afghan and Iraq veterans had experienced combat

    a 2014 study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry found that contrary to Junger’s claims on p87 of his book that British troops had half the rate of PTSD than the American troops that “were in combat with them”, both British and American troops that experienced comparable levels of combat exposure had comparable rates of PTSD. The authors of the 2004 Walter Reed report referenced above also shared this finding. In the 2014 study of the American veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq nearly 70% reported receiving small arms fire; 85% experienced artillery, rocket or mortar fire; 43% handled human remains; 62% experienced dead/injured US forces; 24% had a friend injured near them; 28% gave aid to the wounded; 42% experienced sniper fire; 50% cleared and searched buildings; 51% experienced hostile civilians; and 45% reported a threatening situation to which they could not respond

    a 2014 survey of studies by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that among veterans and service-members the greatest predictors of PTSD were high combat exposure rates and sexual abuse as an adult, and not events that occurred prior to service in the military as is often alleged. This is confirmed by many other studies, including a study by the VA from 1991 that found the best predictor of suicide in Vietnam veterans was combat related guilt. 

    a 2016 study by Texas Tech University of student servicemembers and veterans found that 44% of those surveyed had experienced combat. This study included veterans and active duty/reserve service members, both those that deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and those that did not.

    Suicide is another factor the authors do not address. According to the VA, among the youngest male veterans of OIF/OEF, ages 18-29, the suicide rate is almost 6x higher for them than for their civilian male peers. For veterans in their 30s it is 3-4x higher. Among combat units that have been tracked the suicide rate is as high as 14x that of their civilian peers. This high and exaggerated rate of suicide holds true for all generations of American veterans who served during a war era. WWII veterans have a rate 4x higher than their non veteran peers. The link between combat and suicide is undeniable and has been well documented (a meta-study by the National Center for Veterans Studies in 2015 found a significant and clear link between combat and suicide in 21 of 22 studies examined). For veterans who did not serve in a war era, the rate of suicide is comparable or less than the civilian peer population. Veteran suicide is very troubling and not something to be disregarded when talking about veterans issues, particularly mental health.

    https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/2016suicidedatareport.pdf

    https://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/us/marine-battalion-veterans-scarred-by-suicides-turn-to-one-another-for-help.amp.html

    https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/04/13/key-factors-predict-military-suicide-risk/83462.html

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.commondreams.org/news/2010/11/11/suicide-rates-soaring-among-wwii-vets%3famp

    One final note, and thank you for indulging this long correspondence, but the source in the study you write about, that cites less than a 10% PTSD rate in veterans comes from a survey of 700 Danish soldiers. The Danes faced very hard fighting in Helmand, at one point I believe they had the most casualties per capita of the nations in ISAF (they had one deployed battalion on infantry), but I think it is disingenuous and unwise of the study’s authors to use a study of Danish troops, to make a broad statement about American veterans.
    For your reference, I was a Marine combat engineer officer for ten years. I have PTSD, TBI and neuro-cognitive disorder diagnosis  from my time at war.
    Let me know if you’d like more information. Again, thank you for indulging this long email (I thought this a better format than leaving a comment), and please consider writing an article on the documented level of combat in OIF and OEF veterans to dispel the myth that only 10% see combat, that these wars were safe, OIF/OEF vets had it easy, etc.
    Peace brother,
    Matthew Hoh

 

 

 

I’m on Twitter, again, #PoorPeoplesCampaign, and a Veterans Day letter against tax cuts for the rich

After almost 4 years I decided to give Twitter another try. I’m at @MatthewPHoh if you’d like to follow. I do interviews on a few radio and TV shows each week and so I figure Twitter might be a good, and simple, way to share those appearances.

With the assistance I’ve gotten from the doctors and the staff at the Durham VA Hospital, I also feel I am much more capable in handling the deluge of information that comes from Twitter and social media. An overabundance of information is something that easily overwhelms me cognitively and emotionally because of my TBI, Neuro-cognitive Disorder and PTSD. So let’s see how this works for me. I’m confident I’ll be able to handle it due to the training I’ve gotten from the VA to manage, adjust to and cope with the various issues in my brain. 🙂

A couple of weeks back I took part in the fifth installment of The Gathering, which is a call for the moral revival of our society by Repairers of the Breach and led by Reverend William Barber and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. You can see an edited version of my interview with Jonathan below. Here is a link to the entire event, which included some pretty amazing singing and one, if not the best, anti-war speeches I’ve heard in the last eight years by Reverend Nelson Johnson. Reverend Johnson comes on at just about the one hour mark.

Finally, for Veterans Day, and yes I know that was already two weeks ago, hence my getting on Twitter to be maybe a little more timely, my name was on a letter sent out by Win Without War urging support for legislation introduced by Representative John Lewis. Representative Lewis’ legislation would not allow tax cuts for the rich until the trillions of dollars in debts, obligations and responsibilities for our wars are paid. The text of the letter is below and you can add your name to my petition supporting Representative Lewis’ amendment and calling on Congress to honor our veterans by accounting for the human, moral and financial costs of war.

Wage Peace.

$5.6 trillion, with no end in sight. That’s the cost of America’s wars since 9/11.

But as a Marine who served in Iraq, I don’t need a price tag to tell you about the cost of our wars for veterans like me. I’ve seen for myself the amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder and moral injury that all lead to massively disproportionate levels of suicide, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness in veterans returned home from war. And I’ve witnessed the human cost of our wars beyond our borders, in Iraq where I was stationed and for millions around the world.

Today, Veterans Day parades will celebrate the bravery of servicemembers, and I will be remembering those who were alongside me overseas. But before Cold War hysteria took over, November 11th was Armistice Day — a day for peace. The original Armistice Day marchers, veterans who survived the killing fields of the First World War, carried banners declaring “Never Again.” Imagine if we had listened to those veterans. Instead, our country continues to pour troops into stupid, bloated, and deadly wars.

That’s not honoring or respecting veterans. That’s putting war profits and reckless ideologies over our lives. Please join me in supporting Rep. John Lewis’ call to honor our veterans by accounting for the human, moral, and financial costs of war.

$5.6 trillion by next September works out to $310 billion per year to prop up our endless wars. That’s $23,386 per taxpayer per year. Slice it however you want, it’s an incomprehensibly massive number. And instead of asking ourselves if a single penny is worth it, we just keep freefalling into gargantuan war debt.

As for the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical costs of my time at war — we won’t ever pay those off. Neither will the friends I remember today who died for a country that won’t acknowledge the cost of their loss. Neither will our families and communities who continue to shoulder the burdens of our service long after we leave the battlefield.

That’s why Rep. John Lewis is speaking up to demand a public, national conversation on war financing. His amendment to Trump’s tax bill would prohibit cutting taxes on the rich — a loss of revenue that would add right onto our pile of war debt — until we get our troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria and eliminate the war deficit gobbling up our budget.

Add your name to support Rep. Lewis’ amendment and ask Congress to address the costs of war.

Thank you for all you do,

Matthew Hoh, Iraq War veteran

 

Talk on Moral Injury and PTSD

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”]

 

Insulting America’s Sacred Idols: Helping Veterans Recover from Moral Injury

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

An Excellent Article On Moral Injury

Quite possibly the best article on moral injury I have read. Thanks to The Atlantic and to Maggie Puniewska.

Healing a Wounded Sense of Morality
Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.

MAGGIE PUNIEWSKA JUL 3, 2015

Amy Amidon has listened to war stories on a daily basis for almost a decade.

As a clinical psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she works with a multi-week residential program called OASIS, or Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support, for soldiers who have recently returned from deployments. Grief and fear dominate the majority of the conversations in OASIS: Amidon regularly hears participants talk about improvised explosive devices claiming the lives of close friends; about flashbacks of airstrikes pounding cities to rubble; about days spent in 120-degree desert heat, playing hide and seek with a Taliban enemy. Many veterans in the program are there seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But many of Amidon’s patients talk about another kind of trauma, a psychic bruise that, unlike PTSD, isn’t rooted in fear. Some of these soldiers describe experiences in which they, or someone close to them, violated their moral code: hurting a civilian who turned out to be unarmed, shooting at a child wearing explosives, or losing trust in a commander who became more concerned with collecting decorative pins than protecting the safety of his troops. Others, she says, are haunted by their own inaction, traumatized by something they witnessed and failed to prevent. In 2012, when the first wave of veterans was returning from the Middle East, these types of experiences were so prevalent at OASIS that “the patients asked for a separate group where they could talk about the heavier stuff, the guilt stuff,” Amidon says. In January 2013, the center created individual and group therapy opportunities specifically for soldiers to talk about the wartime situations that they felt went against their sense of right and wrong. (Rules of engagement are often an ineffective guide through these gray areas: A 2008 survey of soldiers deployed at the beginning of the conflict in Iraq found that nearly 30 percent of the soldiers in each group encountered ethical situations in which they were unsure how to respond.)

Experts have begun to refer to this specific type of psychological trauma as moral injury. “These morally ambiguous situations continue to bother you, weeks, months, or years after they happened,” says Shira Maguen, the mental-health director of the OEF/OIF Integrated Care Clinic at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and one of the first researchers to study the concept. Examples of situations that might precipitate moral injury are betrayals by those in leadership roles, within-rank violence, inability to prevent death or suffering, and hurting civilians. Sometimes it co-exists with PTSD, but moral injury is its own separate trauma with symptoms that can include feelings of shame, guilt, betrayal, regret, anxiety, anger, self-loathing, and self-harm. Last year, a study published in Traumatology found that military personnel who felt conflicted about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a combat situation were at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior afterwards, compared with their peers who didn’t have that same sense of ambiguity. The main difference between the two combat-induced traumas is that moral injury is not about the loss of safety, but the loss of trust—in oneself, in others, in the military, and sometimes in the nation as a whole.
Continue reading

Presidential War Lies, Standing Ovations and the Great Waste of Everything

From yesterday’s Huffington Post:

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
— Aeschylus 525-456 BC

As reported by the BBC this month, the Taliban have rejected an offer by the newly installed President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, of Cabinet positions and governorships in three Afghan provinces. The provinces include Helmand and Kandahar, where thousands of American and Western troops have been killed and wounded, particularly since 2009 when President Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan rather than seeking a political solution to end the war.

Five years on and Afghan civilian and security force casualties are at record highs, the Taliban is larger and stronger than it has been at any point since 2001, government and police corruption is massively untamed, and Afghans last year were subjected to their third incredibly fraudulent national election in five years. In fact, the only thing going well for anyone in Afghanistan, besides the Taliban and those on the take of Western foreign aid, are the bumper narcotics crops, which each year produce historic yields.

The Taliban, having been offered power in their home region, have spurned any opportunities for reconciliation and compromise. “Moderates” within the Taliban, whom we could have negotiated with in 2008 and 2009 prior to President Obama’s escalation of the war, have been proven wrong and largely eliminated. The hard-line elements of the Taliban, having seen the Taliban weather the full force of the United States of America, see history as repeating itself or, at the very least, rhyming. Like the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, it is now just a question of time before the foreign backed regime in Kabul collapses. Time, among many other factors, was always on the side of the Afghan insurgents.
Continue reading

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.

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