Web Letters | The Nation

A sociopathic system

I remember vividly watching the Wikileaks video in which the Reuters cameramen were killed—for the first time, and then the second and the third. I started to cry about ten seconds into listening to the inhuman rant coming from the soldier(s) in the cockpit. I watched the tape of them slaughtering noncombatants and a Good Samaritan who came to help the wounded—as though they were playing a video game. It was always clear that they were not "bad apples." They may once have been "nice guys," but they had become sociopaths—created by an inhuman, psychopathic military culture. What I heard was about more than "just" a predictable response to the horrors of war. We have a disease that we've created in our military here in the United States—from the Pentagon "brass" on down through the “leadership”—and one the country as a whole needs to confront and cure.

And one of the ironies for me is that there is such honor among our troops. The way they feel about each other, the unbreakable bonds that exist within that "Band of Brothers," the willingness of individual soldiers to put themselves in harm's way – it takes my breath away. Soldiers have thrown themselves on a grenade to protect their comrades, chosen to return to Iraq and Afghanistan for yet one more tour of duty, rushed a hornet's nest of snipers that were shooting at their comrades—you take my breath away. It's everything we deeply respect and hold dear—gallantry, honor and service. Many of these soldiers are simply astonishing human beings, and I salute them for who they are.

But the esprit de corps among the men stands in dramatic opposition to the pathological attitude that prevails among their “leadership”—most especially the Pentagon “brass.” I'm sure there may have been some "editing" in this piece—edits of memory and experience and not edits of intention—but it's McCord and Stieber and Corcoles that I would want living next door to me in my town. And over and over again, it's the "command," and the "commanding officer" and the "staff sergeant" that are described as berating their troops for what are actually very positive signs that these men and women have not lost touch completely with their essential humanity.

When "the troops" come home suffering from PTSD, their "commanding officers" most often try to shame them into "manning up" and "not being a pussy." Worse yet, they pump them full of psychoactive drugs and send them back for yet another tour of duty.

Once and for all, PTSD is a wound of the mind and the soul. It is the sane human being's response to the insanity of war. The wound, and the wounded soldier, deserve to be treated with honor and respect. They suffer this wound on behalf of the collective. They went because we didn't, and they suffer because we haven't been courageous enough to stop this insane war or our obscene and greedy pursuit of Empire.

I remember reading about two "primitive" cultures; I believe one was the Iroquois and the other might have been somewhere in Africa—in which members of the tribe would move to a location just outside the main encampment when their "boys" came home from war. They would live with these men, for whatever length of time was required to re-integrate them into the kinds of normal, sane and ordinary ways of living that prevailed in peacetime. There was an explicit recognition by the entire tribe that what is asked of (primarily) men in war is insane behavior, and that they do this on behalf of the rest of us. Therefore, we owe them. Of course, here in the United States, the "brass" works at figuring out how to deny them their VA benefits and we dump them by the side of the road to beg. The shame these men feel is not theirs—it's ours.

Contrary to those who were sufficiently wounded by what they were asked to do that they return with PTSD, those who "commanded" them often appear to be quite comfortable with what they ordered others to do. They are the ones I don't want walking around my town without some serious supervision. They are truly insane, and so is the prevailing culture in the military. It is obscene—and unrecognized, unchecked and unopposed—it has the potential to rot the soul of a nation. In fact, there are signs that it has begun to do exactly that.

So, my hat's off to these three men, and to the others who have come forward to challenge what is being done "in our name." You are authentic heroes, and you deserve our wholehearted support. It is not Bradley Manning and Julian Assange who have put "the troops" in harm's way—but the men who signed their orders, and who command them in the field. These men are violating the oaths they took to protect the Constitution, and to protect the men under their command—every single day.

Let's support the troops—let's bring them home to the people who love them.

Suzie Kidder

Mill Valley, CA

Aug 7 2010 - 1:16pm

Why disillusioned?

What was missing from the education of these three young men that they could not think for themselves when we invaded Iraq? Why did they believe it was their duty to bring "democracy" to a foreign country? How did they conclude that what we have is a democracy, even a representative democracy? Even if the American system truly were democratic and representative of Americans, where did they learn that attempting to change another country's government to be like ours by invasion and occupation was the right thing to do; that killing innocent people was an acceptable cost?

The answer is in our schools, theaters, radio and TV. Not only there! We teach it in our churches. Christians are taught that they have a religious duty to spread Christianity to non-believers. How easily this obligation is translated to spreading our "way of life" to other peoples

Ralph Nader told an interviewer, recently, that one day as a boy, when he came home from school, his father asked him, "Did you learn today to believe or to think?" That is the key! Our schools teach young minds to believe without teaching them to think first. That was the "education" of those three young men.

Alvin Hofer

Tampa, FL

Aug 7 2010 - 11:28am