My babies are home – now the real war begins…

“If you don’t stop throwing pillows we’re going to Afghanistan!”

Though that was meant as a joke, it is far too close to the truth of our military’s situation for Mommie Dammit’s comfort. Repeated deployment of our troops in one, the other, or both theaters of the so-called “war on terrorism” is a reality that has cost far more than the trillions of dollars sucked out of our economy. It has taken its toll in lives lost and ruined, both on the battlefield and here at home. It has destroyed families and individuals, and our state-side military infrastructure is woefully unprepared to deal with this. The Pentagon’s and the Veterans Administration’s early response to the reality of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder smacked too closely to the attitude of past wars toward “shell shock” – that too-wrong-for-words bullshit that it had more to do with cowardice than the collapse of the soldier’s ability to deal with the horrors of war.

A friend who recently wasted an afternoon spent some hours enlightening herself reading Mommie Dammit’s mess blog asked, “Why so much on the military? I mean, you always seem so opposed to the wars and talk shit about the whole thing…” Well, she was right on one count – I do take any given opportunity to express my disgust with the whole “war on terrorism” fraud. Everything from the lie that Iraq had something to do with September 11th, which we knew from the outset was bullshit, to the next lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Throughout the entire unconstitutional, fraudulent, dishonorable, and destructive mess the only “weapons of mass” anything were the weapons of mass distraction used by the Bush-Cheney administration. I’m quite used to lies and bullshit coming from Capitol Hill – it’s something of a national pastime, if not a national treasure – but the level increased to a whole new hysterical level that even Mommie Dammit didn’t have heels high enough to wade through.

So why have I sacrificed the lives of so many megabytes on this subject? The answer would have to be three-fold, and even then I’m not sure it adequately explains my mania obsession (dammit!) extreme (nope, not it…) passionate interest (close, and will have to do…) in the lives and well-being of my brain-damaged children in uniform. Before I go into that, however, let me explain why I say “brain-damaged children…” – think about it. Self sacrifice and honor are all well and good, and Mommie Dammit loves and respects these boys and girls immensely for it. But I honestly believe that it takes a certain level of insanity to willingly put yourself into a job that strips you of your individuality, ships you out to the ass-end of the planet, and tells you to run around in an area where other people are intent on killing you. I might be less inclined to be such a bitch about the whole thing if the reason we were sacrificing the lives of our youth, and the bulk of our national treasure, were something that truly represented an immediate threat to our nation and it’s people. Iraq and Afghanistan aint it.

Terrorism is a threat, agreed. But destroying a significant part of an entire generation’s lives, let alone our nation’s economy and livelihood is not how you address it. Vietnam taught us that, but it’s appallingly clear we didn’t learn the lesson. Then, as now, we are faced with a guerrilla war – and the lesson we should have learned from Vietnam is that fighting such an enemy with a classical standing army mindset doesn’t work.  So aside from the fraud that forced us into this mess, and my historical perspective on the flaws in our military leaders’ tactics, there remains the question of why I’ve obsessed on this topic.

First, there is a generations-long history of military service in my family and I’ve seen the damage it does to the minds and hearts of those who served up close and personal. I watched a cousin and an uncle who left for war as two of the sweetest, likeable, and good-humored men you’d ever want to meet – and when they returned they were bitter, angry, aggressive, abusive and paranoid. We sent the Marines and the Navy two bright, loving and gentle men – what we got back were only slightly short of monsters. It took years for my cousin to return to some sense of balance and restore a good portion of the man we sent to war. My uncle never fully came back to us, and went to his grave a sad, angry man and an alcoholic.

Second, there is the memory of a beautiful, bright, and laughing man that Mommie Dammit dated for the space of three years. A sweet and loving man tortured by memories and nightmares of his time in service, and I all-too-graphically remember waking up next to him as he fought and thrashed in our bed, screaming in his sleep as his nightmares took him back to something he refused to talk about while awake. Every episode would lead to days, sometimes weeks, of withdrawal and depression. Each time it happened it tore at my heart as I watched, powerless to keep the nightmares at bay, and losing hope that Dennis would stay by my side. Dennis served in the Army, never saw active combat, had been stationed in Germany and the United States, and it was through the miraculous woman who was his mother that I learned of the torment he’d endured at the hands of his fellow soldiers. It was the abuse and violence Dennis suffered at the hands of his fellow Grunts that had reduced him to this, left him unable to trust, and forced him to keep arm’s distance between himself and all others. Dennis disappeared one day, leaving us with a three month-long search which the police dropped after two weeks. When Dennis was finally found he was dead, a suicide, having hung himself beneath a bridge.

I cannot find it in my heart to forgive the destruction of what was once the man I loved. Nor can I stop revisiting that grief every time I hear of another of my children tormented by the nightmares of war, for it is all too familiar and the years in between do nothing to blur the memory.

Third – on a less emotional level – Mommie Dammit recognizes the truth that war, in itself, leaves a toxicity in the lives it touches. Unceasing warfare, the kind that our soldiers have endured for over a decade, has a cost that very few recognize. In some it can destroy all sense of moral decency, leaving behind a veteran who civilian society cannot imagine what they are capable of. We have witnessed this repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan – from U.S. Marine David Motari throwing a puppy off a cliff, to the group of Marines urinating on the corpses of Afghan men and boys, to the man who set his bathroom door on fire, thinking his wife – who had locked herself inside – was an insurgent. There is also the evidence of the increasing rate of sexual assaults within the military, and the suicide rate amongst veteran and active duty soldiers alike.

What seems to be escaping our political and military leaders is that they are directly responsible for this behavior, for this breakdown in our troops that leads to such atrocities. No matter at what remove you stand from the act, atrocity is recognized for what it is by victim and perpetrator alike, by all who learn of it no matter how far they may stand from the act.  It is a horrific form of incest, breeding future atrocities from the present – it has no excuses, no mitigating argument that balances or rectifies the past. It only creates a toxicity in the ground, giving fertile soil to future atrocity. It is self-perpetuating, feeding on itself, as whom-so-ever commits atrocity is just as responsible for those in the future for which they have sown the seed. I look at these incidents and I think back to the day when I first read “The Ugly American.”

Make no mistake in thinking this is some new phenomenon – atrocity has been a byproduct of war since humans first discovered they could kill each other on a large scale. The only thing that makes this batch of horrors unique is the fact that this is the first war America has been involved in that wasn’t filtered through governmental censors, the “sensibilities” of an editors’ meeting, nor the desire of the production staff not to upset the sponsors. Instead we have videos going viral all over the Internet, a journalist society in which shock and drivel is more important and profitable than investigative reporting. We also live in a society that has increasingly become desensitized to violence and cruelty, and that has been deluded into passing off the responsibility for such onto game designers and mass media. Call me a jaded cynic, but I’m not surprised by what Mutari did. I rather expected it, regardless of how appalled I am or how much I desire to toss his sorry ass off that same cliff… along with the unnamed jackass who stood next to him, saw it coming, and did nothing to prevent it nor to punish it besides a pathetic “tsk – tsk!”

Should I be surprised that a grown man could be this cruel to a defenseless animal? No. Does it surprise me that 30% of women serving in the U.S. military have been raped, or that 90% have faced sexual harassment? Or the fact that women are suffering depression and PTSD at twice the rate of their male counterparts? Or the fact that over 70% of the female veterans suffering from PTSD say they’d been raped while in service? No, no, and no.

And now, rubbing salt into an already suppurating wound, we are faced with a state-side military infrastructure that is unprepared and ill-equipped to handle the crisis. In August of 2010, the Christian Science Monitor ran a story entitled “Wounds of Iraq War: US Struggles With Surge of Returning Veterans“. The article details how the Veteran’s Administration and the Pentagon are unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the huge number of veterans struggling with physical wounds, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries. In 2006 alone, the V.A. underestimated the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who would be seeking their services by over 77,000. In 2008, the RAND Corporation released a study showing that over 30,000 returning veterans were dealing with mental health issues related to combat, approximately 300,000 were afflicted with PTSD, and about 320,000 suffered from TBI (traumatic brain injury). Those numbers are from the half-way point in these two onerous wars, and I am far too sickened to look for more current data.

In fact, I don’t have to. All I have to do is take a 10 minute drive to the VA hospital here in Kansas City. A giant edifice that looks as much like a federal medium-security prison as a place for healing and recuperation. Threaded throughout its halls are men and women who are indeed young enough to literally be my children. Men and women missing arms, legs, bearing terrible scars from burns and skin grafts. Men and women who’s eyes bear a pain and haunting that tears at something deep inside of me, and all I can see are those same eyes in another face… the face of a man I loved and lost.

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