Nov 17, 2003
In personal stories of soldiers, in statistics tucked into tiny corners of some newspapers, it's possible to glimpse something of the accumulating injuries to the U.S. soldiers occupying Iraq.
The deaths of soldiers are but the tip of the iceberg – though the government even forbids news coverage of that tip, the coffins flown daily into Dover Air Force Base.
Nor do their physical wounds measure the damage, even though 1,059 were classified as wounded in action from May 1 (when Bush proclaimed the major combat over) through October 22. More than 30 soldiers per day are flown out to the Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where the medical staff is working 60-hour weeks and the commander said, "We don't have any illusions that it's going away."
A stark measure of the deeper wounds being suffered today, that will show up tomorrow, is from Viet Nam: 180,000 Viet Nam veterans have committed suicide, compared to 60,000 who died there in battle.
Whether in Viet Nam or Iraq, soldiers who are sent to occupy a place where they are not wanted use brutal methods. They must suppress a whole population, including women, including children, never knowing who is harmless or who may be a deadly threat. The experiences and the suicides of a whole generation of Viet Nam veterans shows how difficult a return to "normal" can be.
The Iraq-Afghanistan reports are only beginning:
At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, three veterans of Special Operations in Afghanistan and one airborne soldier killed their wives in the six weeks between June 11 and July 29 of this year. Two of the veterans then committed suicide.
Four soldiers from Fort Benning, Georgia, are accused of stabbing to death a fifth soldier just days after their return from Iraq.
In October, Iraq combat veteran Pfc. Tyrone Roper of the 101st Airborne was a machine gunner whose weapon blew people apart. A married father of two, Pfc. Roper went AWOL less than a month before he was to be discharged. Roper is now in hiding, and sometimes writes letters to his hometown newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. In parts that are published, he has written of his nightmares from the war, his loneliness, and his guilt: "i know it was my friends or myself or them but i still feel guilty ... why i don't know." "Im starting to drink too much and im scaring myself." His wife reports that he would cry over his children, and would awake in bed screaming. His mother, interviewed, said, "They sent our boys over there for what – the sake of oil? – and these boys who came home can't function. He was an emotional wreck; his life was ruined."
The Army says 478 soldiers had been evacuated from Iraq for mental health reasons, as of September 25. At least 13 soldiers are confirmed suicides in Iraq, with two dozen more likely. So far.
This cruel, brutal ruination of lives is another cost of this filthy war – one which will go on many years after it's over.