Last Monday, Sergeant John M. Russell shot five of his fellow U.S. soldiers at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. This is the worst case of soldier-on-soldier violence in the six-year history of the Iraq War. Sgt. Russell had been ordered to undergo counseling for stress and battle related causes:
“Sergeant Russell, 44, of the 54th Engineering Battalion, based in Bamberg, Germany, has been charged with five counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault in the shooting, said Maj. Gen. David Perkins, a spokesman for the military in Iraq.
The dead included an Army officer and a Navy officer on the clinic staff, and three enlisted soldiers who were at the clinic.”
This incident is terribly tragic, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the shooters’.
One of the worst things about this terrible incident is watching the “talking heads” on CNN and FOX News struggle with how this could have possibly happened, even with the Army’s “stress clinics” constantly monitoring him. Doesn’t the U.S. Army take care of its proud soldiers?
Sgt. Russell’s incident reveals a great truth about war, and also about the empire we insist on maintaining: our soldiers are nothing more than pawns to be shuffled around, and when incidents like these occur, the news and the military are quick to dismiss these incidents by “troubled” and “stressed” soldiers as totally “isolated.”
Except they aren’t isolated. Though barely discussed, remember when a U.S. soldier tossed a hand grenade into his fellow soldiers’ tent, killing a number of them, near the beginning of the Iraq War? Or when several U.S. soldiers tortured, beat, and humiliated innocent Iraqis at Abu Ghraib? Or when numerous veterans come home and beat their spouses, rob stores, are in crippling pain, and can’t sleep from unimaginable nightmares and terrible memories?
This is not an attack on our soldiers, who fight bravely and honorably with the incredibly difficult tasks they are given. It’s an attack on the inherent messiness and cruelty of war and the chickenhawks who send them to fight and die.
War is the most unpredictable, evil, cruel, messy, bloody, dehumanizing and scarring thing that governments engage in, and we wonder why soldiers break under this stress. Our soldiers are asked to kick in doors with God knows what behind them, drive vehicles under the constant threat of IEDs, bomb villages indiscriminately from 20,000 feet in the air, shoot people on command, and must do this with bravery, courage, and honor. Soldiers are raised by their parents to be good citizens; to not steal, kill, and to love their neighbor. Yet when we put them in a uniform, they are ordered to go against these basic, decent instincts.
What are we doing to our soldiers? We are numbing them to the murder of human life and punishing them if they protest. Actually, it’s not WE who do it; it is our giant and reckless government that asks them to slaughter, pillage, and torture, and if they’re lucky they get a pretty, shiny medal; if they’re not so lucky, they come home limbless, shell-shocked, or in body bags.
Our soldiers’ lives and minds are the consequences of our global empire, an empire that touches every corner of the globe (and is now continuing to grow with Obama pulling the war levers). Cowardly criminal chickenhawks like Obama, Cheney, and Bush (and the “men” who cheered these wars on) send younger, better men into their imperial adventures, and wrap themselves in the flag (and the classic: “support the troops”) when their war games are criticized.
I support the troops, which is why I want them home as soon as possible. This war is unnecessary; you soldiers never are.