Veterans' Day: The Costs of War That Soldiers Pay
Tonight, HBO will air a new documentary, Wartorn: 1861-2010, on the history of war's after-effects on American veterans since the Civil War--"post-traumatic stress disored", as it is now known. Yesterday, Democracy Now featured an interview with filmmakers:
A new documentary, Wartorn 1861-2010, airing on HBO on Veterans Day, chronicles the lingering effects of war on military veterans throughout American history, from the Civil War through today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We speak with the filmmakers, Jon Alpert and Matt O'Neill, and with the parents of two soldiers who committed suicide after coming home from Iraq.
- Jon Alpert, 15-time Emmy winner and co-director of Wartorn 1861-2010. He is also the co-founder of Downtown Community Television.
- Matt O'Neill, producer of Wartorn 1861-2010.
- Cheryl Softich, her son, Noah Pierce, killed himself in July of 2007 after serving in Iraq.
- Chris Scheuerman, his son, Jason Scheuerman, shot himself in 2005 after serving in Iraq.
Today, an issue of Random Lengths comes out dealing with WikiLeaks and its lack of impact on the midterm elections. I mention it because one of the main things WikiLeaks has done, IMHO, is substantiate the Winter Soldier testimony of Iraq and Afghanistan vets, which has also been almost totally ignored by corporate media and the political system. Much of what those vets testified about was related to war crimes, just like the original Winter Soldier hearings. The bottom line truth about war crimes is that--with few exceptions--they are driven from the top down. And the bottom line with PTSD is that its primary cause is that soldiers are human, and have a natural revulsion towards killing another human being. It's shooting people, not being shot at, that's the primary cause of PTSD, because those on the front lines are not war criminals at heart. They are being forced or tricked into carrying out the war crimes of their political and military "leaders." And they are, many of them, the last victims of the crimes they have been manipulated into committing.
Here's how the segment began:
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Tomorrow, November 11th, is Veterans Day, the day that honors soldiers who have served in war. While the methods and technologies of war have changed over the years, over the decades, the effects of war on military veterans has stayed the same. What's known as "post-traumatic stress disorder" has been called many other names throughout the years. During the Civil War in the 1860s, it was called "insanity" or "melancholia." During World War I, it was "shell-shock." And in World War II, it was "combat fatigue."
Whatever its name, the effects of war on military veterans can be devastating. An Army report found that in 2009, 160 soldiers committed suicide; another 146 died by other violent means, such as murder, drug abuse or reckless driving while drunk; another 1,700 attempted suicide.
Well, a new documentary about post-traumatic stress disorder is airing tomorrow on HBO. It's called Wartorn 1861-2010, and it chronicles the lingering effects of war on military veterans throughout American history, from the Civil War through today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
SGT. MAX HARRIS: Feeling a disturbing feeling, feeling someone's heart beating from inside their body. I still wake up with horrible nightmares from that sometimes, crying and scrubbing my hands, trying to get blood that's not there off. SPC. ELIZABETH HALL: I don't want to talk. I don't want to eat. I don't want to sleep. I don't-I don't want to move. I just want to sit in a corner and just be a vegetable.
SPC. JAMESON WEATHERFORD: When I came back, it was paranoia. A lot of paranoia, emotional detachment. You know, my spouse and I had basically grown apart.
STAFF SGT. KATISHA SMITTICK: Some things you just don't want to remember. You block them out. And I've been blocking it for so long.
SGT. JEFFREY BROWN: I couldn't pinpoint a direct day where it would be like, "Oh, yeah, that happened, and that's what caused it." I couldn't do it. I just know that it's just-it's not the same anymore.
SGT. MARK JOLLY: Never in a million years did I ever think that I would lose my mind.
The entire segment was deeply moving, and I'm sure the documentary will be as well. But here is the part that I found particularly devastating, particularly revealing:
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, two of the parents featured in the film are joining us here today. Cheryl Softich is joining us form Minnesota. Her son, Noah Pierce, killed himself in July of 2007.
Cheryl, thank you very much for joining us today. Talk about what happened when your son returned from Iraq.
CHERYL SOFTICH: My son returned physically, but mentally, he never returned. He served two tours of duty in Iraq, turning 19 and 21 over there. And he just-my son died from the inside out, which is what post-traumatic stress will do to you. Left untreated, it festers and grows. And he came home, and about a year and a half after being home, he put a gun to his head, and he pulled the trigger, and he is dead. He couldn't handle the nightmares, and-he couldn't do it. He didn't want to live that way for the rest of his life. And he just got ridiculed for having post-traumatic stress disorder, because there's such a stigma on it. The American people don't want to really seem to acknowledge that it's no different than losing a limb, a leg or an arm. It just needs to be treated differently.
AMY GOODMAN: Cheryl, describe how he dealt at the end and what you saw the signs were. In the film, you talk about your son feeling like he had gone bad because he had killed people in Iraq.
CHERYL SOFTICH: That's the way he felt. He felt that he killed, and so now it was time for him to be dead, because he wasn't brought up to kill people. And I could never get him to understand that what he did was he was-he had a job. It was for the Army, and it was his job. And he didn't kill like he thought he did. Everybody shot. It doesn't mean Noah necessarily killed anybody. But he did kill a few people, as happens in war, and it ate him up from the inside out. He couldn't deal with it.
AMY GOODMAN: It was very graphic, his feeling about himself and the way he killed himself, Cheryl, if you could bring yourself to talk about that.
CHERYL SOFTICH: He went to a childhood spot that he had always went to hang out when he skipped school or when he was rabbit hunting or whatever. And he stabbed each and every one of his IDs through the face with a pocket knife. He put his fist through the side window on his truck so he wouldn't have to look at his face. He put his dog tag to his temple. He wedged the gun to that dog tag, and he pulled the trigger. It was his way of saying that "I am dead because of my tours in Iraq. The Army killed me." It was his way of letting me know why he did it. It had nothing to do with us.
Who supports the troops? Who really supports the troops? Well, their families, obviously, as this heartbreaking interview once again underscores.
But who supports the troops en masse without even knowing them?
Anti-war activists, that's who.
Remember to thank them as well this Veterans Day. That is, if you actually give a damn about veterans in the first place.