U.S. Soldier Goes Postal In Afganistan
March 11, 2012
Before Washington’s madness for war does in the republic, a U.S. soldier went ballistic in Southern Afghanistan, killing 16 civilians, many of whom woman and children. Sunday’s massacre should remind the White House about the real costs of war on U.S. soldiers, whose resilient personalities crack under multiple deployments. When Lt.. William Calley’s “Charlie Company” of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regimen, 11th Brigade of the American Division massacred between 347 and 504 Vietnamese women, children and elderly March 16, 1968, known as the My Lai Massacre, the nation was horrified. Little mention was made by then President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in one of the most disgraceful events in U.S. military history. Forty-four years later, history repeats itself on a smaller scale in Southern Afghanistan.
When Operation Enduring Freedom began Oct. 7, 2001 it was only three short weeks in the smoldering aftermath of Sept. 11. Former President George W. Bush acted courageously deploying U.S. forces in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his Taliban accomplices led by one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar. While Bin Laden met his fate in Abbottabad, Pakistan May 1, 2011, Omar remains at large after fleeing Afghanistan with Bin Laden Dec. 14, 2001. Despite the perpetrators of Sept. 11 escaping Afghanistan, the U.S. continues an impossible mission of rooting out the Taliban and supporting the U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai. With Karazi’s ties to the Pashtun tribes of Kandahar, including the Taliban, the enemy and ally are one big blur. Playing both sides against the middle, Karzai often blames U.S. forces for atrocities against his civilian population.
Sunday’s massacre was no exception for the 54-year-old Karzai, whose life has been saved by his close ties and concessions to the Taliban. How many U.S. and coalition troops have died because of Karzai is anyone’s guess. “This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven,” said Karzai, repeatedly begging the U.S. to stop killing Afghan civilians. Instead of attributing the tragic event to a ballistic U.S. soldier, Karzai throws gasoline on the fire making it look like targeted assassinations are commonplace for U.S. forces. Calling the killings “tragic and shocking,” President Barack Obama expressed his condolences to the Afghan people. Following a Quran-burning incident Feb. 20 in Afghanistan, 30 Afghans and 16 U.S. troops lost their lives. Since the Quran-burning, there’s little distinction to U.S. forces between friend and foe.
If the U.S. learned anything from Viet Nam, you can’t deploy troops multiple tours of duty without causing mental breakdowns in otherwise well-adjusted U.S. troops. Every soldier has a breaking point. Unlike Viet Nam that used a draft, today’s voluntary military doesn’t have enough personnel to stop redeploying troops on multiple tours of duty. When the Army investigates the history of the soldier-perpetrator, they’ll find the same post-traumatic stress transforming an otherwise adjusted soldier into a homicidal maniac. There’s only so much stress any normally adjusted soldier can take before going over the edge. Keeping soldiers on extended stays with multiple deployments increases the chances of ballistic episodes. Military psychologists know all too well what happens with extended stays and multiple deployments: The eventual mental breakdown causes suicide and violence.
U.S. military officials bury their heads in the sand when it comes to predictable mental health problems in the armed services. They know firsthand that no soldier in the combat zone is immune to mental health problems. “This may have been the act of a lone, deranged soldier. But the people of Afghanistan will see it for what it was, a wanton massacre of innocent civilians,” said Notre Dame University’s David Cortright, director of the Institute of Policy Studies. Cortright doesn’t get that the “deranging” process involves intolerable levels of stress from extended stays and multiple tours, leading to eventual breakdowns. Calling the killings the work of “a lone deranged” solider completely ignores the stresses at play that can turn otherwise normal soldiers into mass murderers. U.S. military officials must look carefully at current policies that lead to intolerable stress.
Mass murder in the military is triggered when otherwise well-trained soldiers crack under burdensome stresses from high-risk assignments, extended tours and multiple deployments. More mental health screenings on bases and in the field could help prevent future incidents as long as the military heeds the limits of mental and physical tolerance. As long as soldiers get their tours extended or redeployed to dangerous combat zones, incidents like this are inevitable. Every time they occur, military officials and politicians share their condolences instead of recognizing what could be done to prevent future episodes. “Anyone who is found to have committed wrongdoing is held fully accountable,” said Marine Gen. John Allen, promising stern action. Instead of finding scapegoats, the military must look at how current extended tours and multiple deployment policies contribute to the problem.
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