Sunday, January 13, 2008

Further casualties

The New York Times is often an interesting read. I noticed this article yesterday on Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans who commit murders when back home in the US. It's certainly odd in places, but makes for compelling reading.

These veterans and their victims constitute hidden casualties of war. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a phenomenon that is now widely recognised as a common after effect of experiencing extremely prolonged stressful situations, like war zones. The BBC reported a few years back how more UK veterans of the Falklands War had committed suicide than had died in the conflict itself - a fact it put down to the heavy hand of the past on the mind of the living.

The New York Times describes how those most in danger from these traumatised youngsters are those who are closest to them;

"About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja...

"A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq.

"And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car."

How much of the inability to deal with civilian life after a period in the "counter insurgency" is down to pitiful after care and how much is the inevitable consequence of the dehumanisation inherent in both combat and military service itself it is difficult to tell. If we can train people to kill, can we untrain them too? At present we do not know because soldiers are discarded once they had served their purpose.

One veteran describes the questionnaire the army gave them when signing off "“The [questions] were retarded,” he said. “All of us were like, ‘Let’s do this quickly so we can go home.’ They asked: ‘Did you see any dead bodies? Did you take part in any combat operations?’ Come on, we were in Iraq."

Whilst the Pentagon keeps no track of crimes committed by veterans it cannot help but see the distress that many of their personnel suffer. "Military health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force."

The scars of war can most easily be seen on those who commit suicide, commit murder or are simply unable to function in society. These things are measurable. What of those things that we are not able to measure? What of those who can keep their life together but will never be the same again after their experiences at the dirty end of someone else's war?

1 comment:

Leftwing Criminologist said...

If i remember correctly, there are a disproportionate number of ex-soldiers in prisons too.