When The Troops Come Home

There is an myth out there – perpetuated by long discredited failures – that if the United States pulls out of Iraq, emboldened terrorists will sweep across land and ocean to ruffle our feathers closer to home.

That may very well be the case, although many beg to differ, myself included.

But whether US forces pull out or not, and whether those terrorists follow us home or not, one thing is for certain: the American homeland will at some point welcome with open arms, legions of individuals trained to terrorize, men and women shaped by a culture of perpetual fear and mistrust. Comparisons to Vietnam have been made, but for all the wrong reasons. This isn’t about some f’ing ‘quagmire,’ this is about not giving respect where it’s due.

The boys and girls of the American Military Machine, the heroes and the brave, at some point they will come home – most of them anyways. And those that come home alive, during the day, and not in a body-bag under the cover of darkness, those ones will have the misfortune of carrying around a lot of extra baggage, baggage few will offer to help carry.

This is not a time of war, yet a war rages and consumes real people, real Americans, and when they come home to ‘peace,’ they will discover just how peaceful things have been here all along, and how unwilling and unconditioned the rest of us are in understanding what they have been through.

No matter how outraged we become over the conditions at Walter Reed – a joke if there ever was one – we can stop deluding ourselves of the notion that we have somehow evolved to any significant degrees over the last three decades. We have learned nothing of the impact War has on the brain, the heart, and the nerves, aside from calling it post traumatic stress disorder instead of Shell Shock. Because Shell Shock was degrading. Enjoy the shiny new label. Forget about the inside.

Many of us have seen the ever changing parade of YouTube clips, documenting American soldiers abusing the nearest Iraqi, or perhaps just the ugliest one in a crowd. Taunting thirsty children with a single water bottle, from the back of a speeding Humvee, lauding the helplessness and the despair of the people they are there to “liberate” and “protect” in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.” Crushing a mans Taxi with a tank because he stole a bundle of wood. Many of us have seen these videos.

Even more of us have heard the stories, of American soldiers raping, murdering, or inflaming whole families to satisfy any number of carnal needs – libido, fear, revenge, prejudice – all in the name of fighting “terrorism” in an effort to administer “justice.”

What we don’t realize, or care to admit, is that none of the blame for the utter brutality displayed by many of these individuals can be placed squarely on them and them alone. They have been placed in situations of painful conflict that none of us will ever, ever, be able to fathom, not in our darkest dreams.

A gunman, clutching an AK-47, bobs his head around the corner of an alleyway close to a school.

Once. Twice. On the third occasion a child, a boy seven or eight years old, is thrust out in front of him. The gunman holds him firmly by the arm and steps out for instant into full view of the Bradley’s gunner to get a proper look, then yanks the boy back and disappears.

“That is really dirty,” says Specialist Chris Jankow, in the back of the Bradley, with a mixture of contempt, anger and frustration. “They know exactly what our rules of engagement are. They know we can’t fire back.”

A few minutes and a few hundred metres later the performance is repeated. A woman and three small children emerge uncertainly from behind a building, little more than a shack. They stare at the approaching armour. After a few seconds they retreat from view; then the process is repeated. The third time they emerge, a fighter is crouching behind them with a rocket-propelled grenade aimed at Jankow’s Bradley. The group disappears.

There is a long pause, a moment of excruciating moral conflict for the soldiers and for the gunner in particular.

Not to shoot would be to imperil their own lives or those of their colleagues, both American and Iraqi. To shoot would be to risk killing civilians who have been shoved in front of their guns to shield insurgent fighters.

Iraq, where Sophie’s Choice is a daily routine, where Sophie is given a paycheck to make her choice, where Sophie must make that choice a dozen times a day (if she’s lucky), where Sophie associates the mere presence of her children with her own potential demise. To say this kind of situation does things to a person, bad things, would be an understatement of criminal proportions.

From the YouTube clips we have seen, and the stories we have heard, we can clearly deduct that many of the young men and women we shipped overseas to fight in the wars of prouder men are going to return horrendously misaligned from the rest of us. It’s only natural, to endure such an experience and return unchanged would to not be human.

We’ve seen this story before. And we failed. And failing again will have far more drastic consequences than any fear of a loosely coordinated al-Qeada trying to attack the American Homeland.

To say that terrorists will not try to strike the US at home would be presumptuous, but between that and our shattered Troops returning home, only one is definitely going to happen, and we must make sure they are given the utmost care and attention. We must make sure they are not shunned prematurely or unduly because of what could very well be a growing stigma against ‘bad soldiers.’ Even those so clearly deserving reprimand, an effort must be made by all to ensure the label of the bad apple does not get mass produced. Already we have seen our elite leadership waste no time making examples of those that have given the American military a black eye. No mention of higher blame is ever circulated. It’s always the act of a criminal soldier, of course, they are only criminals if the story breaks.

Do not confuse this with condoning any of the conduct I have described whatsoever. Being placed in a tough spot allows no one carte blanche to do as they please with those around them, but there is a larger theme here I’m trying to hit: the marginal among these ‘bad soldiers’ will simply become marginalized. And soon the many are struck with the same brush used to paint the few.

To further the spiral downwards, a few days ago it was announced that for the surge to function, troop tours in Iraq will have to be extended, and congruently troop leaves will have to be shortened. Training will, ingeniously, be optional, or as good as can be fashioned in the due course of deployment.

You shoot yourself in the foot, you walk with a limp for life. Doesn’t matter who your doctor is.

The exact reason given by Gen. Petraeus was so that he could reinforce the early progress in the Baghdad security crackdown. I find this logic incredibly interesting, because in the two days prior to these delusional statements 302 people were killed in Iraq, 337 were injured, and 2 more US soldiers were killed. In just two days. In fact, this last week has been one of the most violent in recent memory. And in order to maintain this mind numbing status quo, the Troops will be kept in harms way longer, with less time between tours.

Aside from the obvious physical peril they face with extended exposure to a very dangerous situation, this kind of strategy must surely place an undue amount of strain on the psychological muscle of each soldier.

And they’re going to return to a place where nothing more than lip-service is paid to their bravery, because we’ve all been too busy playing with our iPods and deriding Bush on Newsvine. Their sacrifices, their heroics, and the permanent footprints left on their souls from fighting in such a Hellish war, will be understood by few, forgotten by many, and perhaps rarely taken into account upon any unfavorable actions further down the road. They face becoming outcasts in their own society, just like the last time. It’s already happening.

And that’s a fucking shame.

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