The complications of this case make it difficult to choose a side. At one end of the spectrum, the victims of the massacre must receive recompense for their loss. The deaths of children, not just adults, are enough to make anyone angry. On the other end, making this soldier pay for his crimes by means of the death penalty turns him into a scapegoat of sorts, a sacrificial lamb to appease the masses. While justice must be served, the simple execution of one man ignores the larger question at hand; what is the emotional and psychological toll of America’s longest war?
As the following CNN story makes known, the soldier who committed these murders was deployed to Iraq three times and was technically not supposed to go deploy to Afghanistan. He suffered physical and psychological injury prior to his Afghan deployment but was still cleared for active duty. What must be criticized is not necessarily the actions of the soldier in question, for he may well have been out of his mind when committing these attacks, but rather the vetting processes the U.S. military uses to judge a warrior mentally and physically fit for battle.
The U.S. military is experiencing a wicked case of combat fatigue. The amount of time we have been engaged in warfare is unprecedented in American history. We may well have the best fighting force in the history of mankind, but even Alexander the Great turned around and went home. All too often, politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to forget that the military is not merely made up of advanced fighter aircraft and heavily armored vehicles. There is a human element that enables the military to function. And while soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors all understand the risks they are taking by reciting their oaths of service, a government which sends them to war, has an obligation to ensure their safety. While war is certainly risky business, this tendency to stop loss and use the lies of patriotism to get our troops to deploy three, four, of five times is absolutely disgusting.
The idealism so characteristic of the American warrior is being taken advantage of to further the existence of the military industrial complex. And it is within the confines of this military industrial complex where troops are treated like the equipment they wield. We assume they can be repaired like a machine. A few fixes here and there and they’re ready to go. But the psychological impacts of war run much deeper than what we can see. Psychological damage is much more subtle and it takes years, if not decades, for that damage to heal. To assume that any of our warriors are somehow immune to the daily horrors they witness on the battlefield is dangerously naïve.
The trials that some of these men and women endure is enough to drive the rest of us into a state of shock. The prospect of having to take another life, coming face to face with their own mortality or physical mutilation, and watching friends perish on multiple, sometimes daily, occasions creates memories that cannot be easily vanquished by one visit to a psychologist. Just like the saying goes we always remember the things we want to forget, but forget the things we want to remember. The warrior cannot easily forget the trauma which he or she has witnessed. Their experiences are often terrifying and constant exposure to these horrors eventually wears down their bodies’ strengths and sensitivities.
A significant number of our troops do manage to overcome impossible odds, as our wounded warriors so admirably demonstrate. After all, our men and women in uniform are some of the most resilient individuals on the planet. They attack their obstacles with a ferocious tenacity that leaves the lot of us in a state of admiration and slight envy. But in a culture where toughness is the order of the day, some try and hide the fact they have psychological wounds that need to be addressed. For it is a characteristic of the male psyche, in general, to perceive the act of seeking help, as a form of weakness. For men in our armed forces, the perceived need to be tough is greatly magnified. As such, there are men and even some women who would prefer to keep their demons hidden so as to uphold the aura of strength. They do not want to seem weak among comrades who are likely suffering with psychological scars of their own. While burying their problems might seem like a panacea of sorts, every so often, an individual will lose it so to speak and commit unspeakable acts of violence.
We as a society need to have a serious discussion about the psychological and emotional wages of war. We need to stop treating post traumatic stress disorder like a vestige of the past that does not apply to modern warfare. Post traumatic stress is a problem and it needs to be addressed more so than ever before. War is hell and war is madness. And as long as man is pitted against man on the battlefield, the horrors that affected our veterans who stormed the beaches of Normandy are just as terrifying as those experienced by those who fight our current wars. There are simply some aspects of war that are constant and immutable. We as Americans owe it to the brave to hold our military and political leaders accountable for the safety of our troops. All of us know someone who is over there. In our capacity as concerned Americans we need to force a change in how we fight our wars from here on out.