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War in Afghanistan Is Mutiny by a Different Name

The troops are protesting "by any other means" their entrapment in a no-win landscape where Washington politicians keep a war going beyond the limit of sanity.
 
 
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 “Any person who…with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny.”  --Article 94, Uniform Code of Military Justice

Military uprisings among the lower ranks have a long and fairly honorable tradition. The famous mutinies include Bligh’s HMS Bounty, the Indian Sepoy rising, Russian battleship Potemkin, British sailors’ strike at Invergordon, and lesser known mass revolts by French infantry divisions at the failed “Nivelle offensive” in 1917, Port Chicago in 1944 by African-American sailors refusing to unload dangerous cargo, U.S. soldier strikes in the Pacific against General MacArthur, and of course widespread GI resistance in Vietnam that broke the back of the war.

Afghanistan is an army mutiny by another name -- on both sides. In “green on green” killings, Afghan soldiers have been on a spree killing American and NATO soldiers. Now an American sergeant, on his fourth combat tour, with previously diagnosed transitory brain injury, has “gone postal,” murdering 16 Afghans including women and nine children.

Yet the army doctors at the killer sergeant’s home base, Joint Fort Lewis-McChord, considered him “fit for combat duty” and as for his brain injury he was “deemed to be fine.”

Fort Lewis-McChord, in Washington state, is notorious for its cruel handling of returned combat veterans. Its forensic psychiatry unit at Madigan Medical Center had two doctors fired for mistreatment or otherwise ignoring soldier complaints. The two included lead psychiatrist Dr William Keppler under whose leadership 285 diagnoses of PTSD were reversed because “we have to be good stewardships of the government’s money.” Since 2010, 26 GIs from Fort Lewis-McChord committed suicide. In this crisis of violence the command’s response was to lay off mental health caseworkers. 

This latest GI mental explosion by the staff sergeant was preceded by increasing acts of American troop indiscipline – Marines pissing on Afghan bodies, the Koran-burning fiasco, units loudly cheering indiscriminate Hellfire drone attacks on a village – that an increasingly demoralized junior and midgrade officer corps has neither the ability nor will to stop.

The troops are protesting “by any other means” their entrapment in a no-win landscape where Washington politicians and career-crazy senior officers keep a war going beyond the limit of sanity.  

It’s no stretch to suggest that GI suicides, domestic violence by returning soldiers and their self-harm by narcotics are a depoliticized form of protest against the same despair that was felt by General Westmoreland’s cannon fodder at Hue or World War I French infantrymen at the Chemin des Dames allied massacre when they refused to fight any more.

The Afghan war is over. Yet the president, his cheerfully on-message advisers, and most of the stenographic media refuse to call it a night when the situation on the ground, with its secret night raids and brave but fucked-up soldiers, can only get much worse. Mitt Romney, who never served and has five military-age sons, wants to stay there presumably forever and fight it out. Rick Santorum wants to hang in until “mission accomplished,” whatever that is. Yet even Newt Gingrich, from the militarized state of Georgia, says that “we have lost” in Afghanistan and that “the mission is not doable.”

What are we waiting for, an engraved invitation to leave? It will never come as long as Karzai and his crooks-in-government and our U.S. contracting corporations can keep milking the American taxpayer.

A Rand Corporation study estimated that one in five veterans of fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from major depression or PTSD. After years of struggle, at last the public sees PTSD as a serious illness that must be attended to. How long will it take us to recognize that what's happening in Afghanistan is mutiny by another name?

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist in Los Angeles.