“There is a distance, a veil between us.”
— ‘All Quiet On The Western Front,’ Erich Maria Remarque
(Illustration found here).
War as waged nowadays — slipshod and way-unnecessary — kills in ways way-beyond the flesh.
The US has destroyed a certain of segment of its population, a big chunk, in waging nasty, cruel and unusual conflicts in places far, far away.
Returning US military from Afghanistan and Iraq bring the horror home with them.
In a report released yesterday (Tuesday), the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, detailed data received from the US Veterans Affairs Department on the mental state of veterans: Lee Igel, a psychologist and assistant professor at New York University, said the numbers were “staggering” when compared to the general population.
The National Institute of Mental Health disclosed that in 2008, the latest data available, 13.4 percent of US adults received treatment for mental health problems — as of last December, of the 625,834 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans enrolled in the VA health care system, 313,670 were treated for mental shit.
And out of that nearly 314 thousand, 161,794, or 41.9 percent, received a primary diagnosis of a mental health condition, a rate three times higher than that of the general population.
In Washington state, five soldiers from the 5th (Stryker) Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are accused of participating in the murders of three unarmed Afghans in January, February and May of 2010.
They were arrested and charged last year for the incidents — all coming coming from what was called the “kill team” during their deployment to Afghanistan — these the guys who collected body parts, especially fingers, of victims as trophies.
And this week, the German magazine Der Spiegel released photos from the “killing team” as it displayed the aftermath of its namesake. (The photo above is one).
In a display of shit-hypocrisy, the US Army apologized, saying the images are “repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States.”
Long-time great investigative journalist, Seymour M. Hersh, gave his reflections on the photos and the impact of horrors of war upon the human condition in a post at The New Yorker.
Hersh, who has been reporting the terrible results of war since Viet Nam (he broke the My Lai story in 1969 and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal from Iraq in 2004), believes those images will return to bite the US on its holier-than-thou ass.
The bottom line:
Why photograph atrocities?
And why pass them around to buddies back home or fellow soldiers in other units?
How could the soldiersâ€™ sense of what is unacceptable be so lost?
No outsider can have a complete answer to such a question.
As someone who has been writing about war crimes since My Lai, though, I have come to have a personal belief: these soldiers had come to accept the killing of civilians — recklessly, as payback, or just at random — as a facet of modern unconventional warfare.
In other words, killing itself, whether in a firefight with the Taliban or in sport with innocent bystanders in a strange land with a strange language and strange customs, has become ordinary.
In long, unsuccessful wars, in which the enemy — the people trying to kill you — do not wear uniforms and are seldom seen, soldiers can lose their bearings, moral and otherwise.
The consequences of that lost bearing can be hideous.
This is part of the toll wars take on the young people we send to fight them for us.
The G.I.s in Afghanistan were responsible for their actions, of course.
But it must be said that, in some cases, surely, as in Vietnam, the soldiers can also be victims.
The Der Spiegel photographs also help to explain why the American war in Afghanistan can probably never be â€œwon,â€ in my view, just as we did not win in Vietnam.
Terrible things happen in war, and terrible things are happening every day in Afghanistan, as Americans continue to conduct nightly assassination raids and have escalated the number of bombing sorties.
There are also reports of suspected Taliban sympathizers we turn over to Afghan police and soldiers being tortured or worse.
This will be a long haul; revenge in Afghan society does not have to come immediately.
We could end up not knowing who hit us, or why, a decade or two from now.
Blowback of a quick snap shot can be a bitch.