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Blowback from a Bad War

By Bob Koehler  Posted by Bob Koehler (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   No comments
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Tribune Media Services

And where is it that the Vice Lords meet the Aryan Nation? Why, in Baghdad, of course - where, in one of the less obvious unanticipated consequences of W's disastrous war, potential domestic terrorists and "army of one" nutjobs are getting top-notch weapons instruction and plenty of target practice. It's sure to come in handy when they get home.

With the military unable to meet recruitment goals for an unpopular war, gangbangers and white supremacists are having a far easier time getting "moral waivers" to enlist, according to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center called "A Few Bad Men," as well as an investigative series in the Chicago Sun-Times in May. The upshot: a future compromised in yet another way, as we train and further desensitize the psychologically fragile and psychotically embittered.

Some of them, baptized in hellfire, could, like Timothy McVeigh, John Allen Muhammad and a long list of others, turn around and bite us. Bush's war to promote terror - the perfect self-sustaining fear machine - isn't just generating an endless supply of hardened enemies beyond our borders. It is also creating the conditions of social breakdown and psychological blowback within our borders. Guess what? Under Plan Bush, we'll never be safe.

Among the costs of mobilizing for and waging war - even a "good war," with huge popular support - is a general cheapening of human life. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them," Lt. Gen. James Mattis famously blurted out about the Iraqis during a panel discussion in San Diego a year and a half ago, to much applause from couch-potato warriors everywhere.

Such glibness notwithstanding, the actual desensitization process the military must employ to turn raw recruits into killers is serious and often irreversible. David Grossman, a lieutenant colonel, psychologist and author of, among other works, "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society," has researched the evolution of U.S. military training since World War II. In that war, he has noted, recruits' natural aversion to killing human beings was short-circuited by such techniques as replacing bull's-eye targets with human figures during marksmanship training. The process of "disengagement" is now a standard part of basic training.

Citing Grossman's studies, Doug Saunders wrote in the Toronto Globe & Mail: "Some observers believe this (the desensitization process) may be why mass murders have become far more common in the past 50 years."

Saunders pointed out that some of the most high-profile mass murderers and serial killers were vets, including McVeigh and D.C.-area sniper Muhammad, as well as Jeffrey Dahmer, David ("Son of Sam") Berkowitz and Charles Whitman (who killed 15 people and injured 31 from atop a tower in Austin, Texas, in 1966).

The romanticization of war and militarism within the general culture - the proliferation of "point and shoot" video games, for instance, along with formula revenge-motivated movie and TV violence - expand the "disengagement training" to non-vets, contributing, along with plentiful handgun availability, to a state of domestic insecurity far more serious than the threat of outside terror that Bush has turned into his political meal ticket.

What's unnerving about the SPLC report about white supremacists in the military and the Sun-Times series about street gang members in the military is the special new twist on all this.

In "A Few Bad Men," author David Holthouse, citing a 1998 Department of Defense study warning that white supremacists were infiltrating the military, writes: "The reasons are obvious: Soldiers are trained to be proficient with weapons, combat tactics, and explosives, to train others in their use, and to operate in a highly disciplined culture that is focused on the organized violence of war. This is why military extremists present an elevated threat to public safety, and why extremist groups both recruit active duty personnel - especially those with access to classified information or sophisticated weaponry - and influence their members to join the armed forces."

In the mid-'90s, after three neo-Nazi soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., killed an African-American couple in Fayetteville in a random hate crime, the military made an effort to purge white supremacists from their ranks. But that was then and this is now.

Now we're bogged down in a pointless, high-casualty war based on lies, with stop-loss orders trapping many GIs in indeterminate tours of duty. Enlistments are way down and recruiters, often under extreme pressure to make their two-bodies-a-month quota, are circumventing every standard.

For instance: "I had one case where a recruiter and his wife took a guy to their house and covered up his tattoos with makeup so he could pass his (physical examination)," said Scott Barfield, a Department of Defense gang detective quoted by Holthouse.

We are, in short, inflicting a lot of bad dudes on innocent Iraqis and we will ultimately inflict them back on ourselves. Turns out the cost of waging a pointless war is even higher than the cost of waging one that has rational justification. The social degradation is deeper when we wave a soiled flag.

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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
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