How an Iraq War Veteran Sees the Donald Rumsfeld Documentary

I remember Rummy.

I remember him well. All those press conferences prior to the Iraq invasion, prior to me enlisting in the Army. All those press conference after I returned from my combat deployment in Iraq as a soldier in the Infantry.

I was a heavy weapons machine gunner. (Unofficial motto: PUNISH THE DESERVING.) I loved that job. Shortly after my unit returned home in late 2004, I was at a chow hall, and up on the TV, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense – my boss – was answering a question from an employee. Was there anything being done to more armor to our vehicles, asked the soldier. Rumsfeld responded:

As you know, ah, you go to war with the Army you have – not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can be blown up.

I remember realizing: these people in Washington really don’t give a fuck if soldiers live or die. They really don’t. To them, we are numbers. That’s it. But that’s also what I signed up for.

It wasn’t till years later, after I studied a bit of military history, that I kind of understood more clearly what Donald Rumsfeld was trying to say. American soldiers have always gone to war with the Army they had. Doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be – and, yes, it sucks – but I guess that’s just the way it’s always been. I wonder if any of the soldiers who crossed the Delaware River went up to Mr Washington and said, “Excuse me, sir. It’s freezing cold and we have no shoes. Some of us are tying old rags around our feet. I was just wondering if there was anything being done to correct this?” War, like always, is hell. That’ll never change.

Something else that won’t change: the more I try and forget about Iraq, the more I’m reminded of it.

I tried hard. Inside the movie theater, to see the new Errol Morris documentary, the Unknown Known, I tried to block out every conversation around me. I wanted to leave. Some of the many symptoms of PTSD: reliving “the event”, nightmares and flashbacks, crowd avoidance, avoidance of any and all situations that remind you of “the event”.

One couple discussed, in agreement, how George W Bush and company should all still be tried for war crimes. They verbally regurgitated literally every single liberal talking point imaginable. This was San Francisco’s upscale Marina district, after all, but here was another couple, and the woman told her new man friend how wonderful it was that they served tea at the concession stand. They held hands. They kissed. They talked about their next vacation.

I wanted to vomit.

Who the fuck goes on a date to a documentary in which the architect of the Iraq war tries to defend himself?

I remembered the advice a mental health physician once gave me, at the VA hospital. She claimed to tell every veteran the same thing: “Don't drink any alcohol or take any drugs whatsoever”, and “Whatever you do, don’t watch the news or any movies that might remind you of the war”.

The Rumsfeld movie hadn’t event started yet and I couldn’t take it anymore. Especially after the trailer for this really lame Tom Cruise movie where he’s this badass futuristic super soldier who just shoots the hell out everything. I pulled out my prescription pill container, provided by the VA, “as needed for anxiety”. I had already popped my selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (side effects: suicide).

I was also longing to go back home. Sadly, there’s no medication the VA can provide me to correct this. As they say in the Army: suck it up and drive on.

A few soma pills and I started feeling a little bit better. Rumsfeld dizzily going on and on in the opening scene, about all these knowns and unknowns.

I remember realizing: I had no idea what Donald Rumsfeld was talking about.

I don’t know if it was the fog of being all drugged out on my PTSD medication, or the fog of war, or whatever, but I felt no negative feelings whatsoever, as Rummy rambled on about the past. None at all. Nor did I feel anything else, for that matter. I just blankly sat there in the present. It didn’t really matter what Rumsfeld said to me now. It was just words, as it always was.

I felt numb and nothing. Which is exactly how the war has made me feel.

Sometimes, under questioning from Morris, the hawkish Rumsfeld would smile and laugh. Sometimes the couples around me would shake their heads in disbelief, or laugh mockingly, or let out a disdainful tsk tsk. One guy even blurted it out loud: liar!

I was ambivalent to it all. It was a familiar disinterest, and I had it over there: what do all these words matter? It’s not like my fellow soldiers and I sat around for hours, analyzing foreign-policy decisions. We had work to do, such as “destroying and repelling enemy ground forces”.

Bored in the theater, I tried to type, from memory and onto my yellow memo pad app on my iPhone, the entire Infantryman’s Creed.

I am the Infantry. I am my country’s strength in war, her deterrent in peace. I am the heart of the fight – wherever, whenever. … I forsake not my country, my mission, my comrades, my sacred duty. I am relentless. I am always there, now and forever. I am the Infantry. Follow me!

Nailed it.

Toward the end of the movie, I logged onto Facebook. I’m friends with a lot of other veterans, and it seemed like every single one of them was taking time out of their Saturday afternoon to type up press releases on the recent Fort Hood shooting.

I wondered why the Fort Hood shooter didn’t just call the VA hotline. You’re looking for help, or at least more meds. They put you on hold. The voice-over, on loop: “The VA is here to serve you. … If this is a mental health emergency or you are thinking about committing suicide, please hang up and call 9-11. … If you are having thoughts of hurting others or want to talk to a mental health professional hang up and dial…”

After that I messed around on Pinterest for a bit.

The next thing I knew, the movie, like the war, was up and over. I sat there, as all the happy couples got up and left. I was alone.

As the Infantryman’s Creed also states: “Never will I fail my country's trust. Always will I fight on through the foe, to the objective, to triumph over all. … If necessary I will fight to my death.”

After that, I got up and walked home.

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