By now all of us have seen the horrible video that was released from wikileaks yesterday.
This video is now rightfully in the public sphere so that we can debate things such as: what happens when you start a war, rules of engagement, PTSD, military cover ups, etc...
This video affects me deeply on a personal level because it conjures up many painful emotions. I am writing this diary, in part, to give a perspective to those who are looking to understand, but also as a form of therapy for myself.
First, I want to explain some of the emotions and feeling that I went through in my tour in Afghanistan, and how they still affect me today. Then, I want to talk a little more about the video and the tendency to cover up these things.
If you are interested, follow below.
UPDATE: Thank you all very much for your comments. I welcome all perspectives. The discussion is needed.
When I went to Afghanistan, I was assigned to train, mentor, and advise a company of Afghan National Army troops. At the time, I believed in the mission, and supported the idea of helping Afghanistan return to a state of stability and peace that they had ca. 1940-1974. I learned to speak, read, and write Dari, the Afghan dialect of Persian/Farsi, and I made a serious effort to be sensitive to Afghan and Muslim culture.
We spent the first 6 weeks in and around Kabul, which was very safe at the time, and I actually enjoyed it. I was learning a lot about Afghanistan history and culture. Then, they sent us to Kunar province along the Pakistan border.
In Kunar, my Afghan company and I were assigned to a Marine Battalion. Our mission tempo was very high, meaning the Marines used us like crazy, and we had enemy contact almost on a daily basis.
IEDs were the most dangerous threat, and they were a common occurrence. Several had killed ANA in my company, as well as Afghan Police and Marines on the roads that I used daily. They were impossible to spot, and this made driving a very nerve wracking process. The tension built up over time. Once I was driving in the front of a convoy, and drove right over an IED and never noticed it, nor did the 8-10 vehicles who went over it behind me. Luckily for me, the people firing the device wanted to hit a bigger target, a Marine vehicle farther along in the convoy--not so lucky for them, 4 were seriously injured, and 1 later died of his wounds.
When you are hit by an IED there is no fight. There is no opportunity to get the people who caused you this harm. Along with the constant feeling of fear, comes a deep seated hatred for those that are the cause of the stress. My mind went to very dark places, I wanted those people dead. I wanted to do it myself, up close. You may not understand these emotions, and I have difficulty today with them. Writing these words makes me very emotional. Even today I have violent visions for conflict resolution, both in my dreams and waking thoughts. I have envisioned doing horrible things to people--I have to deal with that constantly.
When we actually got into shooting engagements, this fear and hatred took control. I fired my machine gun, grenade launcher, or M4 with an anger that later horrified me. I became completely desensitized when several of my close Afghan soldiers were killed or wounded recovering the body of a Marine. After that, I felt euphoric in a fight, especially when we killed the enemy.
Once, when we were delivering a MEDCAP, which is a mission that involves medics treating people in a small village, we were attacked by a sniper. We had to abandon the mission, and many people wished we would just bomb the village. I have to admit that for a brief moment, I shared this feeling. Then, I began to think about it, and became horrified at what I was becoming. Luckily, I controlled these emotions and always chose my targets. I never fired on innocent people, but the urge was there. I wondered if they weren't pretending and in some way helping the other side.
So, when I look at this video, all of these emotions come out. In the initial engagement, I see the reporter round the corner with his camera and point it in the direction of the helicopter. With hindsight, we know that it is a camera, but 2 weapons can be clearly identified beforehand, an AK and an RPG, and the camera does look like a weapon, especially the way the cameraman manipulates it around the corner. It is probably safe to say that he was manipulating it to get a good "shot" in cameraman language, which is pretty hard to distinguish from getting a good shot in military language. The overall body language of the group was not aggressive, but in an insurgency that is not uncommon. I explain their callous comments afterwards to the euphoric feeling I expressed earlier.
So, I view that first part of the film as a tragic sequence that can only be avoided by not starting wars. Especially unnecessary wars. As long as there is war, there will be this kind of incident.
However, what happens when the van shows up is just damning. There is no excuse for lighting up the van the way they did. There are no two ways about it. There were no visible weapons or aggressive maneuvers by the people involved. This part sickens me and is just so depressing. I think of the emotions that I felt, and wonder how people, especially very young men and women, who have had more than one tour, feel. Through this war we have created a monster, but that is not what bothers me the most.
What bothers me the most is that the military tried to cover it up. These types of things need to be out in the open and addressed immediately by the people in charge. We MUST have a collective conscience, our entire society. We have to show everyone that this is unacceptable, and make efforts to prevent such things from happening again.
Often, people invoke, what I call the "Few Good Men Defense". They say things like "How dare you question the methods I use to protect this country". Well, I have been there too, and I not only question the methods, but the system in general. It is amazing to me that this video had to be leaked. If the military had just been open and addressed the issue publicly and definitively, they wouldn't create the feelings of anger toward all members of the military. Many who chose to do the right thing, and not fire on innocent people.
Many of the comments that I have read concerning service members here on Dkos over the last couple of days have been very painful to me. Partly because I know deep inside that we are somewhat deserving of them, but also because of all the people who signed up to serve their country, and will come home with so much emotional damage. Many of them do not share our values, and truly believed that they were going to fight to protect our freedom.
I just wish people would have mentioned that in the run up to our war. It is true that our casualties have been relatively low in these wars, but what about the emotional effects. No one mentioned that many of these young kids were going to have to deal with the after effects of killing.
In the end, those pilots and their command will have to come to grips with what they have done, hopefully through a fair court martial, and treatment. More importantly, the military and our society are going to have to come to grips with who we are.
Thanks for reading. I have to go out, but I will be back to respond later.