Ft. Hood was psychologically stunned last weekend when four soldiers committed suicide. In addition to the incident last November when an Army psychiatrist shot and killed 13 soldiers there, the base has been struggling to deal with an outbreak of suicides among the troops, 14 so far this year. The Army has had 104. The suicides are related to a problem that when troops return from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crime rates in the base town of Killeen, Texas, soar with arrests for domestic violence, assault, and drunk and disorderly conduct. Drug addictions are also a big problem. A recent report says that the Army has concerns that the force is becoming increasingly dependent on both legal and illegal drugs. The Washington Post article , which reports the situation, concludes that "The skills that keep soldiers alive in war make them dysfunctional in civil society."
Duh. In regard to trying to give the troops mental health assistance, a psychiatrist says, "They don't trust us. They believe we speak with forked tongues." Double f**king duh.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates addresses the problem this way: In"an era of persistent conflict," soldiers are increasingly culturally, socially and physically isolated from the rest of the country.
Gates skirts the crux of the issue. He is too damned smart not to know that the problems in the military are caused by the civilians who maintain the services and assign the tasks to the military. That means us. It particularly means those developmentally-challenged souls who ride around with those yellow "Support our troops" decals on their tea-bagging cars. It means those people who cannot accept or choose to ignore that the contrived war on Iraq is intellectually and morally indefensible, and Afghan has become that way. And, when troops obediently carry out orders when they doubt the authenticity of their mission and the intelligence of the orders, they bear a psychological burden. That burden is the festering suspicion that the battles they are sent to fight are patriotic shams.
Begin with the fact that bureaucracies are inherently the product of self-serving idiots. The military services are bureaucracies. They serve the interests of presidential administrations, which are bureaucracies. The issue is not how big government is. It's how perversely venal it is. Venality is the organizing principle of bureaucracies, unless there is some system of oversight that keeps the f**king twithood honest. The first rule of a bureaucracy that strives to be a moral and intellectual failure is to frustrate the oversight. And make patsies out of the grunts who have to carry out the orders.
An example. Remember Jessica Lynch? She is the young woman from West Virginia who was injured, taken prisoner in the early days of the war on Iraq and was later rescued from her Iraqi hospital bed by a team of Army Rangers. The story that the press trumpeted throughout the world was that Soldier Lynch was in a convoy that came under attack by Iraqi forces and was wounded while firing her weapon at the attackers.
The actual incident that put Ms. Lynch in the hospital is a typical bureaucratic tale. She was driving a Humvee in a convoy. Its commander. Capt. Troy King, screwed up a couple of times. He made a wrong turn, in fact he made two, that put the convoy in the middle of the heavily armed city of Nasiriyah. He was supposed to be taking a route that skirted the city. When he finally checked his GPS and turned the convoy around to retrace its route, it came under attack. In the frantic effort to haul ass out of Nasiriyah, a semi in front of Pvt. Lynch's Humvee jack-knifed. She ran into the jack-knifed trailer at 50 mph. She was not wounded in combat. She did not fire her weapon. As subsequent investigations of the incident reported, all the injuries she sustained, which were serious, were from the collision with the semi trailer.
So how did the press and the American public get such a totally fabricated version of what happened to Pvt. Lynch? There is much more to the convoy story. A battalion of Marine tanks was headed into Nasiriyah to take control of the city. The tank column came under fire as it entered the city when a bullet-riddled, burning Humvee containing Capt. King screeched to a halt as it approached the tank column, and Capt. King told the Marines his convoy was under attack. The tank column's mission then became trying to extract the convoy from the city.
Some of the vehicles in the Marine column got stuck in the mud along a river when trying to turn around. The Marines called for air support. They got it in the form of two A-10 Warthog aircraft loaded with anti-tank missiles and bombs. When the Warthog pilots spotted the Marine vehicles, they thought they were Iraqi. So they bombed the shit our of them. They killed 18 Marines and wounded 17.
The Bush Administration was being criticized for waging war on Iraq, and this "friendly fire" incident could lose popular support for the war. But the Administration had put a master propagandist in place to control all the information coming out of the Iraq military. He is Jim Wilkinson, who worked for Bush in the 2000 Florida election battle. Wilkinson quickly moved to divert public attention away from the 18 Marines killed by their own colleagues. He fastened on to Jessica Lynch and made up a bunch of stuff about her, and the American public was so inflated by the lies about Jessica that it ignored the mistakes that got Jessica injured and ignored the 18 dead Marines killed by the support that was supposed to come rescue them.
This is succinctly and clearly summarized in a book about Pat Tillman, who was killed by members of his own squad in Afghanistan, the account of which was fabricated and lied about by the entire command of his Ranger unit. His family has worked to get the truth out since his death in 2004.
When soldiers volunteer to put their lives in danger and make the ultimate sacrifices, they like to think their efforts are for a higher purpose. But when it begins to occur to them that they are being sacrificed as pawns by dishonest and incompetent bureaucracies, they realize that their lives are cheap and they are simply regarded as expendable cannon fodder. Being duped and used like that is hard to live with. Many are choosing not to. It is dishonorable. Four of them chose not to at Ft. Hood last weekend.
The best mental health measures that can help our troops is to stop lying about why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan today. We can stop lying about the duplicity of the regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the culture of those countries. We can't do much about those cultures, but we don't have to support them by having our troops killed wantonly and needlessly.
The best way to honor our troops is not to get them killed. And to tell the truth. Of course, they think their commands speak with forked tongues. They know what the lies are and who makes them up.
Those "Support our troops" decals are an offense. They have nothing to do with honoring and helping or troops. They have everything with a bunch of mindless fools buying the lies about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman. And when you are fighting a war at the behest of people who like to believe in lies because they reinforce their venal politics, it may be more honorable to commit suicide. It is hard for good people to live for a lie.