ACT THE ANGEL, BE THE BRUTE
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Many of our mortally wounded are not coming back wrapped in body bags or bandages.
Doesn't it break your heart to see pictures of soldiers in the newspapers? They're young and not so young, parents as well as children, husbands as well as wives. They're our neighbors and our friends and our co-workers as well as our students. All of them are our loved ones. Many of them never intended to engage in violence - maybe they wanted to get an education, or learn a career, or escape a dead-end town and a dead-end job.
They love their country. They are proud to serve. What are we doing to them?
November was a particularly bloody month in Iraq. The number of Americans killed, 135, matches the worst month since we launched the war. The total official American death count is 1,255, and it keeps growing. The number of American wounded is being kept more or less a secret. Officially, as of the end of November, it was 9,326. Other estimates put it between 15,000 and 17,000.
The number of Iraqi civilian dead has been put as high as 100,000.
But the body count doesn't tell the whole story; it's much deeper than that. According to UPI, as many as one in every 10 soldiers hospitalized in Europe has been sent there for mental problems.
When New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh spoke at Hampshire College in Massachusetts a few weeks ago, he told two stories about the mental damages of war. The first came from his reporting of the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam.
"There were 547 people killed in My Lai," Hersh said. "People don't know this, but the blacks and Hispanics shot into the air. It was the white rural farm kids who did most of the shooting. One rural mother said to me, 'I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer.'"
When he was reporting on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, Hersh got another call, this time from a devoutly Catholic mother. When her daughter, young and newly married, returned from serving in the military police at Abu Ghraib, she immediately left her new husband and her family, cut off all contact with them, and started living alone. Every weekend she gets more big, black tattoos - enough so they now cover most of her body.
The mother said she began to understand what happened to her daughter when Hersh's Abu Ghraib stories started coming out. She began to clean out the files on her daughter's laptop and found one labeled "Iraq." It contained over 1,000 pictures.
"One of them was run in The New Yorker," Hersh said. "It was the one with the man with two dogs on either side, and they were coming to attack him. The whole thing was photographed. The dogs attacked. You can imagine what they bit. There was a lot of blood... This is something no mother should see, something no child should see. On that level, we're dealing with enormous atrocity."
There may be prosthetic limbs, but there are no prosthetic minds. Call it shell shock, call it post traumatic stress disorder, but in every war large numbers of the living come back to us in black mental body bags, their lives as shattered as the mosques of Fallujah and the bodies being buried there in mass graves now.
The President is committed to "staying the course" in Iraq, whatever horrors that course holds. "He doesn't care how many body bags come back," Hersh said, reminding me of the time, before the war, when the President's mother said on television, "Why should we hear about body bags and death... It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
The Bush administration is not only sucking up our international credibility and our money like a big vacuum cleaner, it is also sucking up our people - men who haven't held a rifle in a decade along with young kids who have just had young kids. It is sending them - like stuffed dolls mounted on a rotary wheel in a shooting gallery - to be targets in an endless, fruitless cycle of war. When it runs out of military reserves, maybe it will start sending the rest of us.
Pascal says, "Man is neither angel nor brute, and the unfortunate thing is that he who would act the angel acts the brute."
President Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of these arrogant men and women are the brutes. They are as guilty of crimes against their own people as Idi Amin and Augusto Pinochet. They are also guilty of crimes against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Think of all the reasons we went into this war. Even if Saddam Hussein had had nuclear weapons poised at Israel or ourselves - which we now know he did not, even if we need to consider ourselves the "liberators" of Iraq, even if we, in a hubris so enormous that the gods must be furious, really want to spread peace, love and democracy throughout the Middle East, how can it be worth the enormous damage we have done to the Afghan people, to the Iraqi people and to our own?
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.