March 12, 2009 – At a family wedding, I had the chance to catch up with a cousin who has decided to join the military in lieu of unsubsidized education, blaming lack of personal direction and available work. This reason is sound, as the gap between rich and poor has widened to the worst of any industrialized country in the world. The criminal nature of this institutionalized gap is exemplified by our country’s ranking as the most financially prosperous for more than a century now.
As more working lower-class men enter the world without direction from single-parent, labor-oriented family situations, the benefits of becoming a soldier will drive many to risk their lives becoming a killer for our country and possible prosperity or purpose.
More veterans returning from the wars of the past have caused the familial milieu deprived of traditional nuclear families, or middle-class two-parent households. Previous returns from war have complicated the economy as unemployed skilled men flood the military-oriented economy that has a hard time absorbing them and the cost of the benefits promised by the G.I. bill.
Soldiers bring more than economic complications with their return from service. Heavy journalism has been presented, largely under the radar, about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a serious maladaption to life as a killer of men, women and children in war.
PTSD denies easy reintegration into society as soldiers experience war-like reactions to everyday stimuli around their civilian lives. In the documentary, “The Ground Truth,” soldiers in Iraq repeatedly identify scenarios in which they grow depressed, alienated and eventually suicidal with untreated symptoms resulting from PTSD.
Soldiers are offered the possibility of being treated for PTSD before leaving service, but the offer occurs after the term of service ends and before returning home. The soldiers must choose between staying in a specialized facility to treat PTSD, or return to their homes, families and friends. The soldiers invariably choose to return home and many cases thus go untreated as red tape prevents many soldiers from receiving medical benefits post-service.
Bureaucratic red tape can often be biased against the soldiers as their PTSD symptoms are often classified as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Since schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are personality disorders, they can be explained away as conditions attained prior to military service and then the benefits for treatment of PTSD are not given out. Many veterans are also denied treatment by military-backed psychologists who refuse to assist “conscientious objectors,” described as those soldiers who have problems as a result of killing someone they didn’t want to: women, children and other non-combatants.
Support for PTSD is often provided by civilian and ex-military-based protest groups. Soldiers dissatisfied with their and others’ treatment form organizations such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA, optruth.org) and Veterans Against the Iraq War (VAIW, vaiw.org) to protest the negative effects of the war. Their protests cover domestic and foreign mismanagement that has adversely affected soldiers. Their support for PTSD treatment is paramount as well, forming support groups and funding therapy for many returning soldiers.
The rise of PTSD is attributed to mismanagement of the war from recruitment to deployment and ending with soldier to civilian reintegration.
Recruitment is often gilded as recruiters seeking bonuses introduce all the possibilities of military life without ever mentioning the killing. Basic training is the opposite.
Basic training is the process of breaking the individual personality to form group ideology and remove the aversion to killing. Ethology describes this process as imprinting. The previous ethical and personal identity is removed through extended periods of exhaustion during which they are encouraged to kill dehumanized subjects while cultivating hatred, all in the pursuit of removing the aversion to kill from a young man or woman. The new imprint of a killer replaced the previous identity of the new recruit.
After this reorientation, the soldiers are placed in urban environments that can frequently be classified as “hostile zones” wherein soldiers are under orders to treat all in the area as hostile. With such orders—including often having to lay suppression fire on crowds of people, though there may be only one shooter—civilian casualties often occur. Soldiers walk through “hostile areas” and see children’s shoes and toys on the floor, or the dead children themselves, along with all the other death, and develop psychological coping mechanisms.
Coping with killing, during which one may be a conscientious objector but unable to deny orders, and under the auspices of protecting one’s fellow soldiers, is harder when one has to carry memories away from the battlefield and interact with civilians that might have been those same “casualties” were they living in Iraq.
Recognizing the problem of making men into killers who were once morally against it, the military turns to its most prevalent answer: anti-depressants and sleeping pills. Instead of treating the moral implications of a soldier’s role with the psychological care required, pills are a quick substitute that maintains the mental function of troops and allows for extended tours of service without the need to remove the soldier from the battlefield at all.
TIME magazine reported at least 20,000 troops on medication such as Prozac, Zoloft and sleeping pills like Ambien in the fall of 2007 alone. With war support waning at home and the amount of troops being withdrawn from the battlefront increasing, the medications undoubtedly have risen in popularity amongst the effort to keep the war front moving.
Killing is not the only exacerbating factor in PTSD. Soldiers often return from the war in Iraq jaded, frequently questioning their role in Iraq and the role of corporate interest. Soldiers have a front-row seat to injustice on the war front that they are also the victims of. The initial invasion of Iraq began with a fervent order to secure the oil fields, which were held before the order to attack the capital was given.
Support services for troops were frequently below standards of basic sanitation. Halliburton, awarded no-bid pay plus contracts for providing troop support and securing oil interests in the area. Pay plus contracts award the cost of supplies to support the troops to Halliburton, but then also awards a percentage of the price as extra pay to the company. Under this policy, contractors would often burn perfectly good vehicles that got flat tires or other simple mechanical problems since the loss could be written off, and Halliburton simply makes more money as more money is spent to replace the vehicle.
Due to the profit-seeking motives of the company, essential services are often mismanaged with reports of refrigerator trucks used to transport dead bodies being used to supply troops’ ice. Reports of infected water supplies, cheap meals, substandard shelters and lack of body armor mar the support for troops that should be foremost for military spending.
Corporate involvement is exemplified by the scandals surrounding private security contractors. Security contractors, such as Blackwater, are mercenary organizations frequently reported to have fought alongside normal troops, engage in missions, and fire upon unarmed civilians—the cause of the scandal. Since the United States government classifies the mercenaries as “private contractors,” laws for conviction of mercenaries do not apply and are thus under no legal restrictions for their actions.
The scandal is proof of corporate involvement in the war process if nothing else, and soldiers saw this every day. If they accept their role and seek better pay without restrictions, ex-soldiers can join these private militaries after service. Such a transition is psychologically pragmatic, as their honor is worthless when the government keeps soldier deaths secret by preventing unescorted, unedited journalism in the war zone. Without the honor that comes with having one’s role as a killer for the country upheld and respected in its passing before the national eyes, the role of the soldier closely mirrors that of a mercenary, receiving money for their killing ability.
Since the military invariably prevents free journalism wherever it can and disallows images of returning coffins and the honored dead, the war’s toll on people is largely invisible. For those soldiers who have been through hell and back, coming home to people who have no idea the toll the Iraq war has taken is the worst part of their reintegration, with or without PTSD.
Betrayal of soldiers as much as civilians necessitates the organizational support for Iraq soldiers that protest Plutocratic—government by the wealthy, of the wealthy, and for the wealthy—mismanagement.
As boys are made into killers, kill and return home, the society must change to absorb them and the soldiers try to change to prevent depression, despondency and, most monstrously, suicide.