Sunday, November 14, 2004

Marines and soldiers coming back from Iraq are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health problems in large numbers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Pentagon says it did not expect combat-related problems to be as severe as they are, and so did not plan adequately to implement treatment programs, either in Iraq or back in the United States--even though psychological and emotional problems in men who have been in combat is as old as war itself; and even though PTSD was a major problem after the Vietnam War.

Mental health experts in the Pentagon say this is only the tip of the iceberg, because

  • only military personnel who reported having problems were included in the study.
  • the study was done early in the invasion, before the "postwar" insurgency had begun--and before stop-loss orders that extended the service time of many soldiers.
  • reservists, who usually experience more mental health problems after combat than trained Marines and Army personnel do, were not included in this study.

Soldiers in the survey report deliberately subjecting themselves to pain so they could feel something, anything, instead of feeling "dead inside" as one man put it.

Another soldier walks around the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center wearing the blood-soaked combat boots of his buddy, who bled to death in front of him.

Still another is convinced that snipers are aiming at him in the streets when he is driving.

Some see their marriages crumble, when there was never a problem before.

Soldiers have been arrested for threatening their wives or girlfriends, or for actually attacking them or even killing them.

Soldiers commit suicide--31 soldiers have done that since the invasion of Iraq began, according to the Pentagon.

Other soldiers just wish they could die, or that they had died, when they were in combat.

What this tells me is that war is not inherent to human nature, as apologists for war claim it is. War is not at all natural for human beings, much less inherent in our nature. War goes against every moral commandment given to us by every religion in the world. "You shall not murder" is the most familiar one, but every society and culture has some variant of that proscription on taking human life. Apparently it is not possible for human beings to violate that principle, which they have been taught from childhood, without doing violence to their hearts and minds, and suffering severe damage to their psyches. In order to do what it is that soldiers must do in war, they literally have to distort and twist themselves into shapes human beings were never meant to assume.

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