American Marines and soldiers have become socialized to atrocity. The American killing project is not described in these terms to a distant public. The politicians still speak in the abstract terms of glory, honor, and heroism, in the necessity of improving the world, in lofty phrases of political and spiritual renewal. Those who kill large numbers of people always claim it as a virtue. The campaign to rid the world of terror is expressed with this rhetoric, as if once all terrorists are destroyed evil itself will vanish.
The reality behind the myth, however, is very different. The reality and the ideal clash when soldiers and Marines return home, alienating these combat veterans from the world around them, a world that still dines out on the myth of war and the virtues of the nation. But slowly returning veterans are giving us a new narrative of the war — one that exposes the vast enterprise of industrial slaughter unleashed in Iraq for a lie and sustained because of wounded national pride and willful ignorance. “This unit sets up this traffic control point and this 18 year old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50 caliber machine gun,” remembered Geoffrey Millard who served in Tikrit with the 42nd Infantry Division. “And this car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split second decision that that’s a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts 200 rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father and two kids. The boy was aged four and the daughter was aged three.”
“And they briefed this to the general,” Millard said, “and they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, ‘if these fucking Hadjis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen.'”
Those who come back from war, like Millard and tens of thousands of other veterans, suffer not only delayed reactions to stress, but a crisis of faith. The God they knew, or thought they knew, failed them. The church or the synagogue or the mosque, which promised redemption by serving God and country, did not prepare them for the betrayal of this civic religion, for the capacity we all have for human atrocity, for the lies and myths used to mask the reality of war. War is always about betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics and of troops by politicians. This bitter knowledge of betrayal has seeped into the ranks of American troops. read more