[Marxism] "The Horrible Toll on US Troops"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Dec 11 20:20:34 MST 2004

Try to imagine US troops as people like yourself, but without your
political experience and accumulated knowledge, and put into the
position of being expected to kill people for no reason that makes any
sense to them.  Imagine them as like yourself -- that is, as people who
learn it is their duty to fight under certain circumstances -- and then
begin to find that what they learned doesn't make sense or doesn't work
in the given circumstances. Or imagine yourself as them under all these

You will begin to realize why the capacity to kill for a cause and the
capacity to die for a cause are not opposites -- the first a
characteristic of the bad people (the Americans) and the other a quality
of the good people (their victims). These two characteristics are an
integrated whole, they go together. And that's why an epidemic of
post-traumatic stress syndrome, mental illness, drug addiction,
homelessness, and suicide are heading for your neighborhood now. Because
both the killing part and the dying part are things these troops cannot
justify and therefore cannot live with in peace.  

Unless and until the people at home and the Gis in Iraq take these
matters firmly in hand.
Fred Feldman

Weekend Edition
December 11 / 12, 2004
Which Side Are You On?
The Horrible Toll on US Troops


Last June, Iraq veteran Jeffrey Lucey went into the basement of his
family's Massachusetts home and hung himself. The 23-year-old Marine was
subsumed with guilt after killing two unarmed Iraqi soldiers last year.

He told his sister he looked the men in the eyes before closing his own
eyes and pulling the trigger. He threw the two dead soldiers' dog tags
at her and shouted, "Don't you understand? Your brother is a murderer!"

The Pentagon does not track suicides among returning soldiers, but has
already coldly calculated that a flood of Iraq veterans who survive the
war will be fighting its ghastly memories for the rest of their lives,
and many will lose the battle.

The Army News Service reported in March, "Soldiers indicated their most
troubling experiences in combat came from seeing dead bodies (67
percent), being shot at (63 percent), being attacked or ambushed (61
percent) and knowing someone who was killed or seriously wounded (59
percent)." Roughly 90 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq have been involved
in a firefight, and already 20 percent of Iraq veterans seeking Veterans
Administration (VA) care need mental health treatment.

As in Vietnam, the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
is a product of the character of the war, in which U.S. soldiers are
under orders to terrorize an entire population, fighting a growing and
well-organized resistance.

Anticipating a surge in PTSD, the VA announced that it will place a
psychiatrist or psychologist on staff full-time at all its 856
outpatient clinics, revitalize substance abuse treatment programs and
provide 10,000 spaces for homeless veterans across the country. This
will undoubtedly prove grossly inadequate to treat what the VA predicts
will be an "epidemic" of PTSD among active-duty combat troops (average
age: 19) in coming years.

National Guard troops and reservists--who make up 40 percent of U.S.
troops in Iraq--are offered no organized mental health programs. The
U.S. government is already turning its back on returning troops.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, military mom Teri Wills Allison recently
described a returning soldier who "routinely has flashbacks in which he
smells burning flesh...seeing people's heads squashed like frogs in the
middle of the road, or dead and dying women and children, burned,
bleeding and dismembered." But "[I]nstead of getting treatment for
post-traumatic stress disorder, he has just received a 'less than
honorable' discharge from the Army. The rest of his unit redeploys to
Iraq in February."

PTSD is also associated with family violence. Yet one soldier's wife
told the New Yorker she was advised before her husband's return, "'Don't
call us unless your husband is waking you up in the middle of the night
with a knife at your throat...He'll have flashbacks. It's normal.'"

Cpl. Travis Friedrichsen, who returned from Iraq in September, soon
began to shake uncontrollably while sitting in bed, recalling a bomb
that exploded just feet away. Friedrichsen, age 21 and married, now has
trouble controlling his temper, "exploding into tirades that he says
have gone on for an entire weekend," according to the Chicago Tribune.
Those who equate "supporting our troops" with supporting the war should
think again. Shortly before he died in Iraq last month, 28-year-old
Marine Staff Sgt. Russell Slay wrote a farewell letter to his family. He
told his 5-year-old son to "stay away from the military. I mean it."

According to the Army News Service Survey in March, fully 72 percent of
the soldiers said their unit morale was low. In September, a Marine
infantryman put it more bluntly to the Christian Science Monitor, "We
shouldn't be here. There was no reason for invading this country in the
first place...I don't enjoy killing women and children. It's not my

Supporting our troops should mean supporting Veterans for Peace, whose
statement of purpose reads, "We know the consequences of American
foreign policy because once, at a time in our lives, so many of us
carried it out. We find it sad that war seems so delightful, so often to
those who have no knowledge of it."

Sharon Smith writes for the Socialist Worker.


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