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Eestimated 22 vets kill themselves every day.
An estimated 22 vets in the U.S. kill themselves every day, according to a two-year study by a VA researcher. That's a rise of 20 percent since 2007. The numbers reiterate a concern that freshman Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly recently voiced at Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing: “In 2012, we lost more veterans to suicide than military combat." Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called the suicide level “unacceptable,” and an “extraordinary tragedy which speaks to ... the need for us to do a much better job assisting our soldiers and their families as they return home.”
From ancient times to Afghanistan today, guerilla warfare, terrorism, and insurgencies have been the way that we make war. Michael Korda salutes a brilliant and important new book, Max Boot’s ‘Invisible Armies,’ that tells that story.
Much of one’s view of human history, past and present, is dependent on whether one accepts Hobbes’s view of it or Rousseau’s. Rousseau, setting the course for “liberals” of all kinds, and for optimists and revolutionaries of every stamp, wrote: “Man is born free, and everywhere is in chains.” Hobbes on the contrary declared the conservative and pessimistic view of the human past and future: that far from being “born free” the condition of man in his natural state was “… solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and that without the civilizing effect of the great institutions of the state there would be “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continued fear and danger of violent death.”
‘Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present’ By Max Boot. 784 pages. Liveright. $35. (Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty)
Max Boot, in this enormous, brilliant, and important book, leans toward the Hobbesian view, not surprisingly since his subject is war, always the dark side of history. He makes it very clear that the natural state of man has been one of continuous small-scale warfare, going right back to the beginning of humankind, some of these wars ritual, as is still the case among the savages of New Guinea; others small wars for more territory, for the women of other families and tribes (an unconscious way to prevent inbreeding), and for slaves.
The natural way of war is to strike by surprise, and to retreat stealthily back into the wilderness to safety with as few casualties as possible. Primitive people do not “stand and fight”; they hide and kill. Their method of warfare is the ambush: “bushwhacking,” as it was called during pro- and anti-slavery fighting in Kansas before the Civil War, far from being “dishonorable,” is the traditional way of fighting, as is “terror,” in the sense of sudden and unexpected assassinations and horrendous threats of violence designed to break the enemy’s will. The introduction of efficient lethal weapons manufactured to a standard design and furnished by the state, and of such huge advancements in organized warfare as marching in step and of moving in lines or columns, of formalized ranks, uniforms and discipline, produced in the growing national empires of the ancient world—Egypt, Babylon, Greece—the equivalent of professional armies intended to carry out the state’s policy.
These national armies waged long campaigns, necessitating supply lines and the birth of “logistics,” and were intended for the specific purpose of fighting great, decisive battles and inflicting the largest possible number of enemy casualties. They set a high premium on “honor,” and of iron discipline, the one often being confused with the other. (Until very recently, the penalty in all serious armies for disobeying an order in combat or for cowardice was death—death sentences for “cowardice in the face of the enemy” were not uncommon in the British Army in World War I, and the last American soldier to be shot for cowardice was Private Slovick, whose execution was confirmed by General Eisenhower in December 1944.)
By contrast in the “natural” warfare as it was practiced throughout most of human history, running away when the enemy was in superior numbers was the sensible thing to do—the aim was to kill the enemy when he was off his guard, to cut his throat when he was sleeping, not to display courage by advancing in the open in large numbers, but to fight from concealment whenever possible.
As America prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan after so many lives lost and billions spent, John Kael Weston urges Obama to reconsider—to keep a real presence of U.S. troops that will maintain our painful gains there.
There is a popular new TV show in Kabul. It’s called 2014. Guests surmise how bad things could get after NATO departs. The program epitomizes the mood I found after three weeks in Afghanistan, confirmed and reconfirmed by numerous conversations in Herat, Kandahar, and Kunduz. Afghans described “a dark horizon” ahead. More important, they question why the United States is abandoning them. Most believed that with the U.S. alongside—meaning some thousand troops, not tens of thousands—their country stands a chance. The show, they said, fit Afghans’ dark humor, irony, and stoicism. Their overall mood matched wintertime Kabul’s gray, pockmarked setting, inverted polluted cold air, and trapped below the Hindu Kush’s snowy peaks.
No Afghan I spoke with knew the name of the American ambassador, and one said that whenever the four-star NATO commander addressed them, it was “only bad news regarding more civilian casualties.” American silence made things worse. Property prices in Kabul already had dropped 40 percent. Gun prices had increased in multiples. Afghans were hunkering down, and several mentioned another civil war.
U.S. and coalition investments in Afghanistan have been significant, colored in reds and green. Thousands dead, even more wounded, with billions disbursed. The Longest War in American History. Americans are tired. NATO is tired. So are the Afghans, even more than we are. Their costs have been greater. Their bravery far less heralded—no autobiographical war books scribed by Pashtun warrior-poets on Amazon.com or in Hollywood scripts.
U.S. Marine Lance Cpls. Matthew Scofield (left), 19, from Syracuse, N.Y., and Jarrett Hatley, 21, from Millingport, N.C., a squad automatic weapon gunner and an improvised explosive device detection dog handler with 3rd Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, rest next to Hatley’s dog Blue after clearing compounds with Afghan National Army soldiers during Operation Tageer Shamal (Shifting Winds) in Kartaka, Helmand province, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. (Cpl. Reece Lodder)
The fundamental question before President Obama and his team persists. How to ensure U.S. national security is not undermined as we “responsibly” draw down? After spending almost three years in Afghanistan (mainly in Khost and Helmand), I am convinced a baseline troop presence is necessary ... for a long time. Think decades, not years. Think Korea or Germany.
SEALs and drones will not be enough in this high-stakes game, though a seductive image from Zero Dark Thirty. It’s a mirage. Talk of zero troops in Afghanistan might be a short-term and perhaps effective negotiating ploy. A sustained message from the White House along these lines, however, would amount to national security malfeasance. I can hear the late, great Richard Holbrooke lecturing from beyond the grave, thundering with conviction and cause:
The general and others overthrew the old guard and changed the American way of war, but will their revolution stand? John Barry on Fred Kaplan’s new book—and Petraeus’s legacy after his sudden departure.
“Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should.
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.”
Former U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus in Kandahar, Afghanistan, July 4, 2011. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/U.S. Navy via Getty)
Rudyard Kipling’s verdict on the Boer War—Britain’s 1899–1902 assault on the Dutch-Afrikaner settlers declaring independence in South Africa—can stand as an interim verdict on America’s expeditions into Iraq and Afghanistan. These are military and political debacles to rival the Boer War. Iraq lurches sullenly toward civil war or dictatorship; the Afghan elite prepare for America’s withdrawal by sending out so much cash that a special channel at Kabul airport handles the stuffed suitcases.
Where did it all go wrong? Unraveling the decade of America’s wars since 9/11 is already a historical cottage industry. Multiple memoirs, at least three serious efforts at historical reconstruction, half a dozen narrative accounts, a rising pile of combat memories transmuted into novels. It’s an outpouring utterly different from the stunned silence that followed Vietnam, and America is the healthier for it.
Fred Kaplan’s new book goes over this war-torn terrain from a different perspective. Just over 20 years ago, Kaplan produced The Wizards of Armageddon, chronicling the evolution of America’s nuclear weapons strategy after Hiroshima. There is no lack of tomes on this topic, but Kaplan’s account remains essential reading because he reconstructed a debate as a narrative driven by the lives and views of the participants. In The Insurgents, Kaplan does the same for Iraq and Afghanistan—using personal narratives to explore, as his subtitle says, “David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War." Kaplan’s subject is the counterinsurgency strategy midwifed by Petraeus: its creation, adoption, and what Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed about its limitations. For anyone interested in figuring out what went wrong, Kaplan is essential reading.
Forty years on, the passions of Vietnam have faded into history. Yet they’re seminal in the story Kaplan reconstructs. For the U.S. Army, Vietnam was so traumatic—such a humiliation—that, in its aftermath, the Army leadership of the time drew one overarching lesson: Never Again. The Army’s job was to prepare for the Big One: the armored showdown against the Soviets on the plains of central Europe. That war, thankfully, never came. But Desert Storm, the expulsion of Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait in 1991, was essentially a dry run: the divisions and air wings came to Saudi Arabia from Europe; the tactics were those of “AirLand Battle,” the fighting doctrine devised for Europe. Afterward, as the collapse of the Soviet Empire brought defense budget cuts to shrink the U.S. Army, the officers retained were those who had done well in that comfortably conventional conflict.
After an embarrassing article forced General McChrystal to resign, he kept a low profile until finally telling his side of the story in a new memoir. Eli Lake on the former general’s low-key recounting of the fight against al Qaeda, his fight with Obama, and his happy home life.
Stanley McChrystal is probably the most revered military officer of his generation. He rose through the ranks from being an Army Ranger officer to commanding the Joint Special Operations Command to taking command of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Then it all came crashing down in the summer of 2010, when Rolling Stone magazine published a profile of him in which men under his command were caught saying insulting things about President Obama and his staff. One might expect the memoir of such a man to dish juicy details on the president, who chose to accept his resignation instead of looking the other way. But that is not the case with My Share of the Task, which takes the high road and barely has a bad word for Obama or other rivals.
Instead McChrystal devotes his memoir to telling the story of an often-secret war against al Qaeda and other terrorists. He tells the story with surprising flair. The general provides visceral details, such as his description of how the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, bled from his nose and ears after a 500-pound bomb exploded the house where he was staying. In other parts of the book, McChrystal explains the origins of the CIA’s post-9/11 relationship with Special Operations Forces.
It turns out that McChrystal actually encountered al Qaeda very early in his career, but he did not quite know it at the time. The year was 1987, and McChrystal was working for a Ranger battalion as part of the once-every-two-year joint military exercise known as Exercise Bright Star with Egypt. As part of the preparations, McChrystal worked with Ali Abdelsoud Mohammed, a special-operations command sergeant who served as an interpreter. “Ali Mohammed was effective, but the atmosphere with the Egyptians was uncomfortably cool, and it was difficult to determine why,” McChrystal wrote. On their walk back to their tent that evening, the Egyptian-born sergeant explained that he had been a major in the Egyptian commandos. Then the next day he was gone. “I never saw him after that,” McChrystal wrote. “Only years later did I hear of his membership in al Qaeda, his September 1998 arrest in Egypt after being subpoenaed in conjunction with the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, and his public discussions about al Qaeda as an organization.”
Much of McChrystal’s book is devoted to his hunt for Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist who lead al Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq. McChrystal discloses in the book that the Joint Special Operations Command almost captured Iraqi master terrorist Zarqawi in February 2004, more than two years before McChrystal’s team did finally find and kill him. A team of Delta Force soldiers had a tip that Zarqawi was visiting a townhouse in the Askari neighborhood of Fallujah that evening. But by the time the Special Operations team got to the townhouse, Zarqawi had already escaped. McChrystal speculates that he may have leapt from a two-story building. McChrystal writes, “On that dusty night in February 2004, while we were disappointed to have missed him, the bloody consequences of our failure were not immediately apparent. On that night, he was not yet Iraq’s bane.”
Hero Project TV host and Jarhead author Anthony Swofford sits down with Girls actor and fellow Marine veteran Adam Driver, whose foundation Arts in the Armed Forces engages veterans through performing arts as a means of self-expression.
A new study suggesting psychedelics could help treat veterans suffering from PTSD might bring hope to many, but the findings don’t hold weight, writes Kent Sepkowitz.
Drugs and soldiers have a long, close and very sad relationship. In the Vietnam War, for example, up to 20% of returning soldiers had developed a drug problem during their time overseas. Easy availability and participation in a dizzying war made use irresistible to many. Generally, the addiction was to street drugs – cheap, pure and plentiful in Asia – which, as so many discovered, lead to nothing but legal and medical trouble back in the States.
There is, therefore, a strange logic in the notion that psychedelics might be beneficial for war-related psychiatric distress. After all, the grand-daddy (a young grandfather, at that) of all synthetic psychedelics, LSD, was used extensively in the 1960s by the CIA and U.S. military to explore new frontiers in truth and brain control right out of bad sci-fi pulp novels. Indeed, the various schemes of the golden age of the CIA, now declassified, seem to be providing Hollywood with some of their best scripts: Argo, Men Who Stare at Goats, and even corners of Homeland come to mind.
Iraq War veteran Brad Hammond holds his son Cooper. Seven years after returning home from Iraq, Hammond continues to experience severe PTSD, and the effects of traumatic brain injuries he sustained in combat. (John Moore/Getty)
So it is no surprise to hear of studies that examine the possible utility of MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy, in conjunction with psychotherapy to treat soldiers still emotionally crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A recent report has provided follow-up information on a small placebo-controlled trial that commenced years ago when 20 patients were randomized to MDMA (12 patients) or placebo (8 patients). In the original study, a suggestive but not statistically significant improvement was seen. (12 of 20 responders with MDMA versus 2 of 8 receiving placebo: p=0.17, statistical shorthand for saying that the likelihood that the result was due to the drug was 83% and to random chance, 17%. For any medical publication, a “p value” of 0.05 reflecting 95% likelihood that the drug caused the change is necessary to pass muster. An 83% score is not even glanced at twice.) In the new dispatch, evidence for durable improvement was noted. The same sort of interesting but not significant finding was reported by a Swiss group that also studied a small number of patients.
If confirmed by larger trials, this finding would be welcomed. But the hunger for something – anything – that portends good news for sufferers of PTSD should not prevent us from bringing the same yardstick to these studies as we might to any drug-based therapy. And from this perspective, there is very little here here. Or worse yet, there is lots here – lots of conflict of interest: as the authors state at the article’s end, “Our sponsor [a non-profit called The Multidsciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)] played a role in the study design, data analysis and writing of the report… Three authors…are employed by the sponsor. [Two lead researchers] received payment from the sponsor for conducting this research.” Like any non-profit, MAPS probably needs good news and promising findings to keep donors interested.
The MAPS team clearly believes in what they are doing. There is no money to be made here; the scientists seem moved by the plight of the soldiers with PTSD. And so they are trying to push a pet theory forward – always a gigantic problem in science where affection distorts and absolute affection distorts absolutely. Indeed almost all of the literature on MDMA to treat PTSD and other conditions comes from this group of researchers, one a shrink in private practice in South Carolina and another running central HQ in Santa Cruz California. But though their fervor and good intentions cannot be questioned, their objectivity surely can and must be. Were this Big Pharma funding salaried Pharma people to release a statistically insignificant happy-time story about soldiers, accusations would fly that they were just squeezing the Department of Defense for even more tax-payer dollars in another amazingly audacious display of high finance chutzpah. There may be more enthusiasm in the press for MDMA as a wonder drug than among patients who theoretically might benefit.
Over the past three years, the number of veterans dying before their claims are processed has skyrocketed, reports Aaron Glantz of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
After seven months of delay, the Department of Veterans Affairs finally approved World War II veteran James Alderson’s pension benefits last week.
The day after Veterans Day, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Luke Parrott walks through the rows of headstones in Section 60 where several of his friends and soldiers he served with are buried at Arlington National Cemetery Nov. 12 in Arlington, Virginia. A veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Parrott was injured in an IED blast in Baghdad in 2005. Parrott spent time sitting and talking to the graves of the soldiers he knew. "It's as close as we can get to talking anymore," he said. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
But it was not a cause for celebration or relief for Alderson, whose life’s work was the farm-supply store he founded near Chico, Calif., after returning home from the Battle of the Bulge.
The 89-year-old veteran had died three months earlier in a Yuba City nursing home.
“My father was a very proud person,” Alderson’s son, Kale, said. “Whenever I saw him, he would ask if I’d heard from the V.A. and whether his money would hold up. It really took a toll on him.”
The V.A.’s inability to pay benefits to veterans before they die is increasingly common, according to data obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The data reveals, for the first time, that long wait times are contributing to tens of thousands of veterans being approved for disability benefits and pensions only after it is too late for the money to help them.
A retired special-forces officer reflects on the Connecticut school shooting, arming citizens at home—and what a first-grade teacher shows us about courage.
U.S. society feels like a war zone to me. I want to carry a weapon, but I don't want the burden of walking around armed. I can imagine walking into a mall and feeling the weight of a revolver in an ankle holster. I sit down to watch my 8-year-old pick out a dress in a kids’ store and wonder who will notice the older gentleman with a strap hanging below his pant cuff.
An AR-15 style rifle is displayed at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop in Aurora, Colo., in July. (Alex Brandon/AP )
I just came back from Afghanistan, where I didn't carry a pistol, but a rifle. Pistols are worthless when facing a rifle, and all the Taliban carry AK-47s. Also, by carrying an M-4 carbine, everybody knew I was carrying something that could stitch even U.S. body armor. My rifle was inconvenient to carry, but pistols were common to almost every dead U.S. service member who died in a green-on-blue attack. I have no idea if my rifle deterred an Afghan from shooting me in the back. But everyone knew I was armed and presumably dangerous.
I'm going to live in such a manner in my own country, the land of the free, the home of the brave? We’re all going to carry so we can be the armed sheep dogs waiting for the next attack? We’re going to turn the malls into OK Corrals waiting to happen? Maybe we should all carry and use what we have learned from weaponized robots, like drones with Hellfires.
We have the technology to arm surveillance cameras. We could put an aim dot on the lens, just like the .50-caliber-machine-gun mounts on the armored trucks driven around Afghanistan, and mount rifles on the side of the cameras. Somebody could monitor from a secure room and pan over the crowd looking for the wolf. Are we really going to turn our public spaces into shooting galleries?
As an individual, I say no.
Did the Bush administration’s desperate need to build up the military for the Iraq War lead recruiters to turn a blind eye toward supremacists and gangs? Matt Kennard’s Irregular Army deals with how the wars reshaped the character of the armed forces.
Fears of white supremacists infiltrating the U.S. military date back at least decades. In the 1970s, a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan was discovered operating at California’s Camp Pendleton. It was not until 1986 that then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger issued a directive requiring everyone in the military to “reject participation in white supremacy, neo-Nazi, and other such groups which espouse or attempt to create overt discrimination.” Recruiters were asked to screen potential recruits for incriminating tattoos and associations with potentially troubling groups. Yet as recruiting levels during the first years of the Iraq War continually failed to meet targets, incentives to look the other way were huge.
‘Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror’ by Matt Kennard. 288 pp. Verso. $27.
Matt Kennard’s Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror is an angry account of how the Bush administration’s handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have necessarily reshaped the essential character of the armed forces—very often for the worse—by imposing operationally untenable political ideals on them.
Irregular Army begins by focusing on the prevalence of white supremacists and former gang members, groups that have had an increasingly easy time slipping through the military application process. “I get into fights myself twice a month because I’m a Nazi … I’m completely open about it,” one subject admitted to Kennard. Forrest Fogarty served in Iraq as a military police officer in 2004 and 2005, and had previously been associated with the National Alliance, the largest neo-Nazi organization in the country founded by The Turner Diaries author William Pierce. Fogarty is also the lead singer in the neo-Nazi hardcore band Attack, whose album Survival featured a photo of Fogarty in uniform and on duty in Iraq.
Many white-supremacist groups informally encourage people to enlist, not necessarily because of love for the government, but in order to gain weapons and combat training for the inevitable racial holy war, or RaHoWa. After the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, a heavily armed group of National Socialist Movement members patrolled the streets anticipating retaliatory attacks on white people. The group has also sent volunteers with camouflage uniforms and assault rifles to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. In a 2009 report to the Department of Homeland Security, analyst Daryl Johnson focused on these groups, writing that the “greatest fear is that domestic extremists … [carry] out a mass-casualty attack.”
Kennard cites a number of U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command cases where neo-Nazi accusations were barely taken seriously. One soldier at Fort Hood was found to be posting on a prominent neo-Nazi message board, but no further action was taken because the investigator couldn’t find him for an interview. Another investigation in San Antonio found that a soldier had provided an Improvised Munitions Handbook to a leader in the supremacist group the Celtic Knights, which planned to attack five different methamphetamine labs around the city. The suspect was interviewed only once, and after the group failed to get explosives, the investigation was dropped in 2006. When Fogarty enlisted, his girlfriend at the time sent pictures of him at neo-Nazi rallies to his superiors. Fogarty was called before a committee and offered only one defense: his girlfriend was a “spiteful bitch.” The committee let him serve.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) hosts this week’s #vetchat.
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), @TAPS4America, discusses strategies you can use to cope with loss this holiday season. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
Nicolas Checque, killed rescuing a physician from the Taliban, was the third Navy SEAL to lose his life in Afghanistan in recent weeks. Michael Daly on the heroism of the dedicated young men whose lives ended all too soon.
The 28-year-old Navy SEAL who was shot and killed rescuing a kidnapped American physician from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan over the weekend visited the 9/11 Memorial with his team just six months ago.
Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque was part of the team that raided bin Laden's compound. (Warrick Page / Getty Images)
Nicolas Checque was just starting his senior year at Norwin High School in Huntingdon, Pa., when the World Trade Center was attacked. He had followed two-hour workouts with the wrestling team by swimming laps for an hour and going on four-mile runs. He even got corrective eye surgery so he would have the 20/20 vision he heard he needed to become a SEAL.
He enlisted shortly after graduation and achieved his goal, getting deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and earning a Bronze Star. He had been in the Navy for 10 years and a SEAL for almost as long when he and his team made the pilgrimage to the site where jihadist attackers murdered thousands of innocents and triggered a war on terror that continues more than a decade later.
Nearing 30, he was about the age of many SEALs who had visited the site in the past. But a new generation was joining the team and many of the SEALs who came with him were younger. One was just 21, but had those same SEAL qualities of intense awareness and self-control, right down to the rate of their breathing.
“Focus,” says someone close to the team.
Was member of elite Special Forces team.
The Pentagon has identified the member of SEAL Team 6 who was killed in a rescue mission over the weekend as Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque. A Defense Department statement confirmed that Checque, 28, was killed during efforts to save Dr. Dilip Joseph of Colorado Springs, Colo., who was being held by Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan. Six people were reportedly killed in the course of the mission, and two Taliban leaders captured.
The ACLU hosts this week's #vetchat
Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. EST, Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a special guest host an hourlong discussion with readers about military and veterans’ issues. This week, the ACLU discusses their recent lawsuit that challenges the Pentagon's rule barring women from ground combat. To join the conversation, go to Twitter and tweet with the hashtag #vetchat.
For more information, or if you’d like to host one of the chats, follow or contact @HeroSummit or @HellerJake.
Soldiers are supposed to be tough, cool, and ethically confident. But what happens when they have seen and done things that haunt their consciences? New studies suggest that the pain of guilt may be a key factor in the rise of PTSD.
They called themselves the Saints and the Sinners, a company of Marine reservists from the Mormon land of Salt Lake City and the casino shadows of Las Vegas. They arrived in Baghdad a day before Iraqis danced on a fallen statue of Saddam Hussein, and as they walked deeper into the city, they accepted flowers from women and patted children on the crown. Then their radio operator fell backward, shot in the head.
In a series of pioneering studies, one researcher found that, from World War II to today, killing was the single greatest risk factor for PTSD, bigger even than heavy combat. (Alex Majoli / Magnum for Newsweek)
Perhaps 5,000 rounds followed in an undulating crosscurrent of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. At a five-point intersection near the headquarters of the Republican Guard and Defense Ministry, the men of Fox Company—Second Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment—dug in. They aimed at everything, because everything seemed to be aiming at them. From second-story windows and around corners, they fired into the road. Their bullets broke windshields, pierced soft flesh, and exited into seat cushions. At least three enemy vehicles broke through the American barricade. The company’s radio failed, cutting them off from reinforcements, and a grenade bounced behind their line—a dud, or the casualties might have been even worse.
Although all the men in the unit came home alive, many came home changed. Within five years, one in four had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Today one in two of them carries debilitating psychic wounds, according to an estimate by the men. They are jobless, homeless, disposed to drugs and alcohol, divorced from their spouses, and cut off from their former selves. One made love to his girlfriend, the mother of his twin daughters, then immediately drowned her in a warm bath. If you ask the military and mental-health establishment what happened to the men of Fox Company, the answer is simple: they lived through “events that involved actual or threatened death,” felt “intense fear,” and like the 300,000 other service members who share this narrow official path to PTSD, they were badly shaken by it.
But as clergy and good clinicians have listened to more stories like these, they have heard a new narrative, one that signals changes to the brain along with what in less spiritually challenged times might be called a shadow on the soul. It is the tale of disintegrating vets, but also of seemingly squared-away former soldiers and spit-shined generals shuttling between two worlds: ours, where thou shalt not kill is chiseled into everyday life, and another, where thou better kill, be killed, or suffer the shame of not trying. There is no more hellish commute.
Tony Dokoupil joins "Jarhead" author Anthony Swofford to talk about the changing definition of PTSD.
This map, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, displays 58 VA regional offices and the number of backlogged claims by week on a national, regional and local level. This application will update itself every Monday to show each office's change in pending claims.
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.
Newsweek & The Daily Beast are thrilled to introduce a thought-leadership initiative that strives to define America's Next Greatest Generation.