Fort Hood Massacres Show How Vulnerable We Are to Soldiers Who Have Suffered from the Traumas of War
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Iraq veteran Army Spc. Ivan Lopez was dealing with depression and anxiety. On April 2, Lopez went to the 40th Transportation Battalion administrative office at Fort Hood, Texas, where he requested a leave form, so that he could attend to “family matters.” He was told he would have to return later to retrieve it, which then sparked a verbal altercation between him and Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook and Sgt. First Class Daniel Ferguson. Within minutes of the dispute, Lopez returned with a .45-caliber pistol. In a killing spree that would last 8 minutes, filled with more than 35 rounds, Westbrook, Ferguson and Sgt. Timothy Owens would lay slain, alongside 16 wounded, before Lopez ended his own life with a bullet to his head.
The shooting grabbed national headlines. The memorial for the dead was nationally televised with President Obama in attendance. The nationalistic pomp and ceremony of military memorials is not only orchestrated to purge the reality of war, but also to fool us into believing these tragic events are unique. They’re not. They’re all too familiar and now serve as reminder that the American empire is in rapid decline.
In small towns across America’s heartland, local newspapers contain headlines with similar stories. Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings.” Lakewood, Washington: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, SD: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Las Vegas: “Iraq Veteran Arrested in Killing.”
In 2008, the New York Times published a detailed report showing an explosion in the rate of military veterans who commit murder. The paper found Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had committed 121 instances of homicide on U.S. soil. Two years later, Current TV explored the link between post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the two recent wars and violence after returning home. The documentary found that the trend had continued with another 43 veterans charged with murder in the period 2008 to 2010.
Another report showed that the murder rate among the 3,500 members of the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team based at the U.S. Army’s Fort Carson, Colorado, was 114 times the average for Colorado Springs.
The NYT report found that murders committed by active-duty military personnel rose 89 percent from the pre-war period to present day. Of the 121 veterans who were charged with murder through 2008, 13 had committed suicide, which leads to the next alarming statistic: 22 veterans in this country, who are no longer able to fight the silent enemies of depression, PTSD, and anxiety, commit suicide each day, according to the Veterans Affairs Department. More than 2,000 veterans have committed suicide in 2014 alone. More sobering still is the fact that more Vietnam War veterans committed suicide after the war than the 55,000 killed during it.
The purpose of this piece is not to stigmatize veterans. It’s a reminder of what the corporate-led war machine does to young men and women, and how our crumbling infrastructure and decaying state is unable to care for them when they return.
It’s easy to stigmatize veterans who suffer mental health disorders when you have no idea what war is really like. The media and Hollywood present war as heroic and entertaining, turning war into nationalistic porn. I have not witnessed war, but I have witnessed a terrorist suicide attack. The smell of burning human flesh, the grisly sight of severed limbs, and the violent end to life is something I do not wish to see magnified by a scale of 10 on any battlefield. I trust returned soldiers and veteran war correspondents when they recount stories of 19-year old soldiers holding their intestines while screaming for their mothers.
Jess Goddell, who served in the Marines mortuary division during the war in Iraq, published a memoir titled Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq. "Our cammies would be stained with blood or with brains," she writes. "Sometimes things come in with nametages. Or sometimes one is Hispanic and you could tell who was Hispanic and who was the white guy. We tried separating flesh. It was ridiculous. We would open a body bag and there was nothing but vaporized flesh. There were not four hands or a whole leg in a bag. We tried to distribute the mush evenly throughout the bags. We had the last body bag come in. We opened up the body bag and it was filled with the heads. I looked at four before looking away. The eyes were looking back at us. We saw on the heads the expressions of fright and horror."