• Iraq: What They Died For

    July 4, 2014

    Posted in: Democracy, Iraq, Military

    FOB Hammer


    Over this July 4th weekend, and as I see the images of Iraq’s unfolding civil war, sometimes I think I even recognize a place I had been, having spent a year in the midst of America’s Occupation there, 2009-2010. I was a State Department civilian, embedded with an Army brigade of some 3000 men and women far from the embassy and the pronouncements of victory and whatever bright lights Iraq might have had. I grow weary now of hearing people talk about America’s sacrifices, our investment, the need for more troops or air strikes, our blood and treasure spent to free Iraq, or whatever it was we were supposed to have gone there to do.

    So many people say those things. But before another one says another thing, I wish they could have seen what I saw in Iraq. This.


    I

    Private First Class (PFC) Brian Edward Hutson (name changed), in Iraq, put the barrel of his M-4 assault rifle into his mouth, with the weapon set for a three-round burst, and blew out the back of his skull. He was college- aged but had not gone and would never go to college. Notice appeared in the newspapers a week after his death, listed as “non-combat related.” Of the 4,486 American military deaths in Iraq, 911 were considered “non-combat related,” that is, non-accidents, suicides. In 2010, as in 2009, the years I was in Iraq with PFC Hutson, more soldiers died by their own hand than in combat. Mental disorders in those years outpaced injuries as a cause for hospitalization. The Army reported a record number of suicides in a single month for June 2010. Thirty- two soldiers in all, more than one a day for the whole month, around the time PFC Hutson took his life.

    The M-4 rifle PFC Hutson used to kill himself, successor to the M-16 of Vietnam fame, allows the shooter, with the flip of a switch, to choose to fire one bullet per trigger pull or three. Nobody knows whether PFC Hutson spent a long time or no time with the rifle barrel in his mouth, but he must have really wanted to be dead, because he chose three shots. The bullets exploded through his brain in sequence. He left his toilet kit in the shower trailer. He still had Clearasil in the bag. Rumor was he’d had trouble sleeping. I didn’t know him.

    I heard about his death at breakfast and walked over to his sleeping trailer along with some others. I took a quick look inside and saw the fan spray of blood and brain on the wall, already being washed off by the Bangladeshi contractor cleaning crew KBR had brought to Iraq for the war. The bleach solution they used was smearing more than cleaning, and the Bangladeshis had little stomach to wring out the mop heads all that often. Blood like this smells coppery. Even if you’d never smelled pooled blood before, you didn’t have to learn what it was, you already knew something was wrong in this place, this trailer, this Iraq.

    Death does not redeem or disgrace. It is just a mess and no one who deals with it thinks otherwise. Don’t ask poets or pastors, because they do not know that pieces of people still look a lot like people and that extreme violence leaves bodies looking nothing like the bodies you see in open caskets or on TV. In Iraq I saw a girl crushed when a wall collapsed, her face looking like a Halloween pumpkin a few days too late. There was a drowned man in an irrigation ditch, gray and bloated, no eyes. Fish had nibbled them. You saw that stuff in Iraq. It was how war works.

    A week before Hutson’s suicide, another soldier lost his life. This soldier, a turret gunner, was killed when his vehicle unsuccessfully tried to pass at thirty-five miles per hour under a too-low bridge. The Army counted deaths by accident as “combat deaths,” while suicides were not. Under a policy followed by George W. Bush and in part by Barack Obama, the families of suicides did not receive a condolence letter from the President. Suicides do not pertain to freedom. They died of the war, but not in the war.


    II
    But if distinctions between causes of death were made at the Pentagon, that was not the case on the ground in Iraq. The death of any soldier reverberated through the base This was, after all, a small town, and nobody was left untouched. The comfort of ritual stood in for public expressions of actual feelings, which were kept private and close. And the ritual prescribed by regulation was the same, whether the death
    was by suicide or in combat. The chapel had rows of chairs set up, much as it would in Hamilton, Ohio, or Marietta, Georgia for a wedding, only at the front of the room was a wooden box, made and brought to Iraq for this purpose, with holes for the US and the unit flag and a slot to stand the deceased’s rifle.

    The remains of the deceased were likely already on their way home and not with us. This was not for PFC Hutson anyway, it was for us. The box holding the flags was made of plywood, stained and varnished like paneling, and reminded everyone of a B+ high school wood shop project. The dead man’s boots stood on either side of the rifle, with his helmet on top. It was fitting no one had cleaned the boots, because the presence of the dust and dirt wiped away a lot of the standardization of the ritual. Before the event started, the hum in the room was about future meetings, upcoming operations, food in the chow hall, the workaday talk of soldiers.

    There was a program, done up on a word processor, with the official Army photo of the deceased, wearing a clean uniform, posed in front of an American flag— young, so young, you could see a few red pockmarks on the side of his face, a chicken pox scar on his forehead. All these photos showed a vacant stare, same as every high school graduation photo. The printed program was standard fare— some speeches, the chaplain leading the 23rd Psalm, and a final good-bye.

    The speeches were strained because the senior officers who feel it important to speak at these events rarely knew, or could know among the many troops under them, the deceased. As with every other briefing they gave, the officers read words someone else wrote for them to give the impression of authority and familiarity. The dead man’s job had something minor to do with radios and most present couldn’t say much beyond that. The eulogy thus rang a bit hollow, but you reminded yourself that the words were not necessarily intended for you alone and that the Colonel may not have been the best man for the job. He was a responsible man, trying hard to do something impossible, and he probably felt bad for his lack of conviction. He did understand more of why we were all here, in Iraq, and that a task had to be done, and that he need not be
    Pericles or Lincoln to do a decent job of it.

    The last speaker was by tradition someone acquainted personally with the deceased, a friend if one could be found, a junior leader or coworker if not. In today’s ceremony, things were especially awkward. The dead man had taken his life and had done so after only a few months in the Army and even less time at this forward operating base in Iraq. Nobody really had befriended him, and this being the third suicide on the base made the whole thing especially grim. The ceremony felt rushed, like an over-rehearsed school play where the best performance had taken place the night before. Not a surprise really; many of the soldiers present were not long from their high schools.

    The Army is a simple organization, a vast group of disparate people who come together for their own reasons, live in austere conditions, and exist to commit violence under bewildering circumstances. These ceremonies were how the Army healed itself, left alone in the desert with only a vague idea why any of us were there in a war that had already been going on for seven years. Some of the soldiers in the chapel were eleven years old when the Iraq war started, nine years old when 9/11 happened. This is how wars work.

    But sometimes things surprised you, maybe because of low expectations, maybe because every once in a while somebody stood up and said just what needed to be said. A young Captain rose without notes. “I was his team leader but I never really knew him. Brian was new here. He didn’t have no nickname and he didn’t spend much time with us. He played Xbox a lot. We don’t know why he committed suicide. We miss him anyway because he was one of us. That’s all I have to say.”

    The word that raised the sentence beyond simple declaration was “anyway.” It was important to believe we all meant something to one another because we were part of this. When it rained, we all got wet. We could hate the war, hate the president, hate the Iraqis, and we did, but we could not hate one another.


    III
    A longer occupation, more troops, air strikes or anything else won’t bring PFC Hutson back. He– we– will never know what he died for, but we can say with certainty what he did not die for. He did not die for freedom, he did not die for WMDs, he did not die for a politician’s re-election. Like the 4500 Americans and uncounted Iraqis who died, and continue to die, he died for a mistake. Wars work like that, cost like that.

    The ceremony for PFC Hutson that day ended with the senior enlisted person calling the roll for the dead man’s unit. Each member answered, “Here, Sergeant Major” after his name was called. That was until the name called was the dead man’s. “Brian Hutson?” Silence. “Brian E. Hutson?” Silence. “Private First Class Brian Edward Hutson?” Silence. Brian was not there and almost none of us had known him but yes, today, at this place, we all missed him anyway.

    The above is based in part on an excerpt from Peter Van Buren’s book about his year of the Iraq War, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project). The story is true, thought the name of the deceased has been changed.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      If only he could have been sent home and been treated by the VA, it would have ended differently. WE wouldn’t know about it.

      http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/06/27/va-failed-my-veteran-son-and-committed-suicide/

      07/4/14 11:57 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      2

      Notwithstanding vomiting..again..I’ve already commented on this. Unfortunately, no amount of words will bring these poor deluded souls back.

      On the other hand, short of nation wide INSURRECTION..there IS something that can be done to PREVENT more of them dying for nothing. Stop potential enlistees at the doors of the US military enlistment centers and SHOW them the truth. I submit, a nation wide enlistment center OCCUPY would ground the future military to a halt. Unfortunately, this nation has neither the will nor the GUTS to do it. Even if it could be nationally organized, the US Stazi would KILL whoever tries to stop Empire’s march of death and destruction.

      Not only that, notwithstanding a certain percentage of youth potential, who’ve been indoctrinated in US “nationalism” propaganda for so many years they can’t SEE the truth, there’s so many unemployed young people who just want a paycheck, they don’t care what Empire is, nor does,…UNTIL ..they see the writing on the wall in some god forsaken battlefield..and then commit suicide for what ever reason.

      Given these choices, what does that leave to prevent more of the same? Not goddamned much. And THAT is the real sad part. All I know is..as a parent, I TOLD my son the truth. And that’s all I can do. As the son of a Navy WW11 vet who also discovered the truth post Vietnam, I’m still alive for only one reason. I saw the TRUTH early on and no amount of military propaganda could make me believe in so called “nationalism” ever again. The bodies coming home from Vietnam were living proof.

      Unfortunately, now that our STINKING Congress has allowed the statute outlawing military propaganda in the US to lapse, the US military Ministry of Truth propaganda machine is alive and well, and marching across the internet in full brigades..

      http://www.storyleak.com/us-military-caught-social-media-running-mass-propaganda-accounts/

      ..notwithstanding a nationwide BILLBOARD propaganda program with billboards every 5-10 miles on every major throughfare in ‘murka. I don’t have a link..but I SEE them. On my trip across the states I saw HUNDREDS of them. And then you have the massive amount of video games and movies glorifying war and warriors.. they don’t have a fucking chance.

      (signing in resignation) Indeed..not a fucking chance.

      07/4/14 1:32 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      3

      Rich, that link says it all. If I were a parent of a young boy now, I’d TAKE him to a VA hospital..to SEE the reality. THAT is all it would take.

      In fact, Congress should enact a law forcing US military enlistment centers to enlighten potential enlistee’s by taking groups of potential enlistees on a tour of VA hospital, where they come face to face with the realities of what “war” is really about.

      Alas..I’m dreaming.

      btw…”Happy” 4th of July. not. At least for some. Their flags arn’t waving. They’re draped over their dead children’s caskets.

      Excuse me..I’m feeling sick again..

      07/4/14 1:50 PM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...

      4

      They died for the Burning BUSHS.

      07/4/14 3:04 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      Cheney and ISIS agree on one thing: Death to America.

      07/4/14 4:31 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      6

      Rich..’muraka is already dead.

      Post holiday BBQ’s, flag waving, fireworks and all that shit..tomorrow… more bodies. The Empire carnage train continues down the tracks of imperialism…while most of Murka yawns and cheers some team playing a fucking soccer game. sheeezus. I just want to scream at the top of my lungs.

      07/4/14 8:38 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      7

      Speaking of the DCOTP(tm),

      the nationalism propaganda of the Death State continues on into the night..

      http://dc.about.com/od/specialevents/a/4thofJuly.htm

      god if they only had a clue.

      07/4/14 9:13 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      8

      melove…where are you when I need you?

      07/4/14 9:17 PM | Comment Link

    • Jhoover said...

      9

      Iraq: What They Died For

      The bloody month for Iraqis was the blood needs to be thrown on the land of this project:

      A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties

      07/5/14 7:35 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      10

      Meanwhile, Allah speaks to the god of Abraham and says..
      “Hey dude…WTF is up with these human dimwits? We give them a big bang of the universe, a stable planet, with a nice moon, big oceans, lots of land, water, food,…..and what do they do? I tell ya..we get no respect…no respect at all.. all they do is bitch, fight, rape, ,murder, etc etc. Listen pal..I don’t know about you, but I’ve got more pressing business in the universe..know what I mean?”
      (God of Abraham) “youbetcha..I’m pissed. Listen..I know this place in the 4th quadrant of the 2nd dimension that’s really cool. Let’s meet up and have a cold beer or two and decide WTF to do with these idiots.”
      Allah says: “Sounds cool. Ok, 4pm..oracle time..I’ll meet ya. Got a few black holes to take care of first..given that damn dark matter equation you fucked up doesn’t hold me up..
      (God of Abraham).. “Shit dude..all ya gotta do is twist the algorithm a bit, and voila..you know that!
      Allah: “Oh crap, I forgot..ya know with all these parallel universes..man, I need a vacation.”
      God of Abraham:” Yeah, sounds good. But listen dude..I wanta clear up this human crap first..you know..the “Armageddon solution”. I mean, these fuckers just don’t get it.”
      Allah:” Yeah, but what do I do about all those virgins I promised”
      God of Abraham:”Jesuschrist Allah..DOH! wait..oh man..I’m sorry..I meant..fuck…MUHAMMUD! C’maaan..it was just a slip of my tongue..”

      Allah: “Slip of the tongue hunh? Fuck you. I know you..your always badmouthing my messiah.”

      God of Abraham:” Oh for fucksakes Allah..give me a fucking break.,.” After all..you been laughing at the “resurection” of Jesus for nigh on 60 milleniums…”

      Allah:”Ok ok ok..Listen..I gottta go dude..

      God of Abraham: “Wait..wait..I gotta a call from Budda a few millinium minutes ago..he’s havin a problem with his batch of believers too.. and then theres those Jews who don’t believe in either of us..goddamn..DOH! shit. Dude…I’m getting tired of all this crap. Whatta ya say we just dissolve this universe and start over. Fuck…

      Allah:” Yeah..me too. Hey .let’s call a meeting and get this crap resolved. one quick mass resolution of Higg’s boson and that’ll do it. They won’t even see it coming.”

      God of Abraham:” Sounds like a plan to me. Tell ya what..you call the others..I’ll call the particle federation and set up a mass dissolution of the dimension..well get this shit settled ..once and for all.whattta ya say?”

      Allah:” geeezus…DOH! I mean..there ya go. We’ve been tryin to equalize this crap for too many milleniums..done. Let’s finish it.”

      God of Abraham: “Yeah..well..at least we warned them..over and over and over. These fuckers just don’t get it.”

      07/6/14 1:08 AM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      11

      Iraq: what they died for

      … another war that marks its 100th anniversary, which Americans generally don’t discuss. The current Iraq war and crisis are rooted in World War I —

      http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/world-war-i-led-to-a-century-of-violence-in-the-middle-east-a-946052.html

      07/6/14 6:11 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      12

      They hate US for our freedom…from sanity.

      AP: Independence Day celebrations were marred by multiple shootings in Chicago that left at least nine dead and 60 injured.

      07/7/14 11:11 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      13

      quote”AP: Independence Day celebrations were marred by multiple shootings in Chicago that left at least nine dead and 60 injured.”unquote

      Gee, I guess the Chicago SWAT were working overtime.

      07/7/14 11:46 AM | Comment Link

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