Politics Wednesday – Shared Responsibility

At some point in a not-too-distant future, we may pay a high price for waging a war based on lies.

Reams have been written on the problems of multiple deployments into combat zones, and the psychology on this is not a flawed science. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the rule, not the exception. Studies have shown even one combat tour, even a single fire-fight, in a high-fire zone can foster PTSD, and the military culture and, in some cases, the American tendency to turn a face away from mental disorder, leave our soldiers, sailors, and marines without support or acknowledgement.

This weekend when I heard of the Army staff sergeant who left his base, walked to a nearby Afghan village, and systematically executed sixteen people, including nine children, I was horrified and angry. When I learned he was on his fourth deployment in a combat zone, my anger returned to the people who got us into a two-war situation in the first place. This staff sergeant, who returned to his base and surrendered, is allegedly (innocent until proven guilty) responsible for the physical event, but in a way I hold the Bush Administration just as responsible.

Whether some of my fellow Liberals accept it or not, there was a case for action in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. However, I preferred Special Operations over “Shock and Awe.” As we’ve seen, the case for a war in Iraq was based on false intelligence and out-right lies. It emerged from the deranged philosophy of neo-conservatism and American exceptionalism and a perversion of global manifest destiny. And for Halliburton’s profit margin.

And now we have a thirty-eight year old man who suffered traumatic brain injury in a Humvee roll-over back on duty in Afghanistan after an evaluation wherein a diagnosis of PTSD may or may not have been covered up because treating PTSD is expensive. And of course the media has to get some “let’s blame the woman” in the mix, speculating that a message the sergeant’s wife sent him shortly before his apparent rampage “set him off.”

The Afghan villagers want the staff sergeant to be given to them, but with the Taliban returning to supremacy there, we all know what that justice would be like. The Army is considering a court martial on site at his base in Afghanistan, which would certainly give the Afghan people small assurance. Because this could be a military death penalty case–very rare indeed–I would rather it happen here in the states and with more transparency than a typical military trial.

I also wish he’d have sitting with him in the dock Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et. al. There should be shared responsibility for this latest murder of innocents.

I’m sure there are troglodytes out there who consider any Afghan–even a child–an enemy and who will try to justify the unthinkable. I can only ponder about what my father would have thought of this–the man who, for a time, was responsible for guarding WWII war criminals. He would have been disappointed in this soldier, but he would have been outraged at the circumstances that put him in that time and place and mental state.

When we first went to war in Iraq, I wondered how many Timothy McVeigh’s we were creating. Now I wonder how many military men and women are here, at home, operating with a hair trigger. What we need to say to them is “It’s not your fault.” The best thing we can do for them is acknowledge PTSD without being afraid and make certain our Senators and Representatives find the funds to restore their normalcy.

Yeah, that’s going to happen.

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

I’m an Army brat through and through. I’ve watched my share of Army-Navy football games with my Dad and rooted for the “right” side. My first flight instructor was an Army helicopter pilot of the Vietnam era who enjoyed challenging Navy pilots to bar fights while I cheered him on. I’m basically anti-war, but I love my Army. I admire people who serve in any of our armed forces. I won’t devolve into cliches here, but, okay, freedom isn’t free, yadda, yadda. Oh, I have my issues with the military because it takes kids and turns them into killing machines, and sometimes it forgets to turn them off. However, I owe my existence–and you do, too–to everyone who served in World War II and saved the world from the most base villainy ever seen.It was only a few months ago we learned that “U.S. Special Forces” had killed Osama bin Laden. My ears perked up at “special forces,” because I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. We ask them to do disgusting things for the country, and they do it without question; most of the time, it makes us safer. (I’ve settled the ethical issues internally and really don’t want to debate them.) Special Forces are the elite, and, frankly, I’ve always felt that if we’d turned the war in Afghanistan completely over to them in the beginning, it would be over now, but for that whole Iraq distraction. I quickly “got over” the fact that it was Navy Seals, not Delta Force, not the Rangers, who stole into Pakistan in the dark, did the deed on bin Laden, and safely evacuated.

“Seal Team Six” became an everyday word. I even had a water treatment system solicitor come to my door a few days’ after all the bin Laden publicity and, when he saw he wasn’t making the sale, pulled the “I’m a former Navy Seal” line on me. Trust me, if he was a Navy Seal, I was, well, someone younger, stronger, and fiercer.

Then came the news over the weekend of the shoot-down by the Taliban of a Chinook helicopter carrying members of Seal Team Six (including a specially trained Seal dog), an Army aircrew, two Airmen, and several Afghan commandos. At first it seemed like a non-military event because what military wants to admit that the rag-tag Taliban could bring down a U.S. helicopter. Just ask the former Soviets how naive that concept is. After the admission that the helicopter had been shot down, some weekend anchors heard “Seal Team Six” and started mourning the crew who had taken out Osama bin Laden, not realizing that a Seal Team has several hundred members. I will admit when I first heard someone say that I wondered what idiot officer (Dad was a career non-com) had put the team members from the bin Laden raid back in a country where keeping secrets isn’t easy. Some anchor then compounded the idiocy by “thanking goodness” it wasn’t the same team. Idiot.

I’ve tried all weekend to come up with words to express my feelings. I feel every loss in both these wars. When the Washington Post prints pictures of the fatalities, I look at each picture. I read each name and home town. No war since World War II has touched my family in that way. Cousins came through Vietnam and Desert Storm physically unscathed, so I felt I owed that to the families who suffered the ultimate loss, an acknowledgement of their sacrifice. I’m a born Virginian (yes, there is a distinction), and Seal Team Six is based in Virginia Beach, VA. In that way, it was a home-state loss, and Virginia will step up and comfort these new widows and fatherless children, these parents who have lost sons who gave the last full measure of devotion.

The Seals would say they were just doing their job. In this instance it was rescuing some Army Rangers who had been pinned down in a Taliban stronghold. Had it all gone successfully, the two groups probably would have met up in the Green Zone and traded jabs about how the Navy had to come to land and rescued the Army. There would have been a lot of macho posturing I have little patience with, but everyone would have understood you don’t leave your people behind, regardless of which service they belong to. And the Rangers would have begrudgingly given the Seals their due. Begrudgingly.

Instead, there will be too many funerals, too many flags pressed into the shaking hands of next of kin, too many 21-gun salutes, too many playings of Taps. Too many tears will be shed, too many nights will be spent alone in a bed meant for two. There will be too many nightmares where children wake wanting their Daddy. In the past ten years, there has already been too much of this, but that’s another matter. Right now, families and a country will come together to mourn and, then, carry on. The Seals would expect nothing less.

The title of this post is an unofficial Seal motto. How apt for the weeks to come as bodies are identified and sent home to be honored and laid to rest. For the families, it can only be a mantra.