A year ago, a family member returned from Iraq. She was a Major there, involved in moving detainees around, usually at night with no lights on the vehicles. During her time there we believe she was raped by a superior officer though no charges were ever brought.
Conversations with her about the “War in Iraq” were difficult at best. Time and again she would tell us “there’s no way you could UNDERSTAND!” I believed that. How could I understand what she went through?
This past weekend, I watched the movie Taxi to the Dark Side. My inability to understand what she had gone through came sharply into focus as I watched this amazing film.
As one of the convicted soldiers in the movie put it, “you put people into crazy situations and they will do crazy things.” Nowhere was this more acutely true than in our detention facilities in Abu Ghraib (Iraq), Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) and Bagram Air Base (Afghanistan).
The biggest blow-up between me and our family’s only veteran came when we discussed the “War in Iraq”. I told her, “We’re not at war WITH Iraq. The Iraqis are our ALLIES.”
She responded that we sure as hell WERE at war with Iraq. She was NOT going to ever believe that she had lost so many friends and soldiers there if we weren’t at war with them. Again, she told me there’s no way I could understand. Only people who had been there could ever understand.
She then went on to describe the Iraqis working at their base, along with the other foreigners working there doing menial labor, in terms of them being less than human. It became clear that she and her fellow soldiers saw them as below them in the most profound ways. She took laughing pride in the fact that “Iraqis and Russians were washing MY dirty underwear!”
This was something I could not understand. This Indiana-bred farm girl would never have referred to people in this way before her experience in Iraq. She had completely changed.
After watching Taxi to the Dark Side, I now understand how and why this happened. Our service men and women are encouraged to see the detainees as no better than animals and, in the case of the dogs used at the base, maybe even less so. It’s not hard to see how they could extrapolate this to ALL Iraqis and other foreigners, particularly when their brothers and sisters were being murdered on a daily basis by people that looked like and lived with Iraqi citizens.
Our country brainwashed these men and women and they NEEDED to believe these things to keep their sanity. There’s no other way to remain sane when you’re in that environment. And there’s easy no way to come back from that and then be forced to contend with any notion that they weren’t there for a very good reason. To believe that they were there based on lies and deceptions and that all those friends and coworkers were killed because of that is to walk down the path toward madness.
So what? Why did I write this blog entry?
Because we ALL, as Americans, need to understand what it is like for these men and women who are returning from this insane environment. They are trying desperately to fit all the pieces together into some sort of coherent picture that allows them to accept what has happened, come to terms with that, and then move on with their lives. And they are often doing it while dealing with physical injuries and/or psychological injuries like PTSD. They may also be dealing with intense guilt for things they have done or that they lived while others did not. Those of us who haven’t experienced this can NOT understand. There’s no way we could. The best we can do is show understanding. Most of them will find their own way to reconcile this madness and come to peace with it, perhaps with the help of professionals. But it can not be forced upon them by people who do not understand — people like us. The best we can hope to do is to understand THAT and to show them understanding.
And that is what we should do.
I’m just sayin’…
P.S. I posted this today on the Daily Kos. It wasn’t one of my most widely-read diaries ever. However, the few comments I did get are among the best ones I have EVER received on anything I’ve ever written. I commend your attention to them HERE.