March 31st, 2006
In response to my article Sending mentally ill soldiers back to Iraq: Reckless disregard for soldiers’ welfare and for Iraqi lives I have received several heart-wrenching letters. Here is another one:
I read with interest your latest piece on Z. I’m personally tied up
with a young 21-year-old Marine, a student at my University,
and recently recalled to Iraq. He’s a very smart, and wise, guy who
knew enough to oppose the war before he went in 2004, but is urged on
by a sense of duty, obligation to buddies, etc. He served as a sniper
guarding Abu Ghraib. He hints openly in public talks in ways that
make it clear that he has killed Iraqi civilians. He drank himself
nearly to death over a six-week period after being recalled, but now
says that “it will be OK” and that if he doesn’t go, someone else less
intelligent and compassionate will go in his place. He told me a year
ago that he had been diagnosed with PTSD. I’ve had him speak in my
classes at my U. and he’s opened up, to an extent, to me,
enough that I can imagine some of the horrors that fill the gaps.
He’s due to go back to Iraq this summer.
I’m walking a line of respecting his decision while continuing to
challenge, offer alternatives, badger, jest. Even he realizes that
“his decision” is suspect and that he’s not himself. The most gut
wrenching for me was when he stood in front of a classroom of peers,
and in answer to the question, “How did Iraq change you?” said, “I
used to like myself.”
The other night he let loose with a number of rap poems that were
brilliant. When I pressed he said that the “empty bottle” and the
“gun to the head” were only metaphors.
I wonder what thoughts you might have. I’ve appreciated the writing
you’ve been doing, and have been trying to figure out what I can do.
On the one hand I say that he has parents and friends and can make his
own decisions. On the other, I know that if he were my own son, I
would never let him go back.
Here is part of my reply:
These situations are heart wrenching. I think that all we can do is be
available to discuss and give advice when asked. Ultimately, your
friend will make his own decision. Remember, he’s the one who will
have to live with it either way. To refuse deployment, of course, can
have major life-altering consequences, such as jail, exile, or later
difficulty obtaining employment. Plus, he may feel he let his buddies down.
Of course, in addition to a potential danger to Iraqis, your friend’s
mental health, not to mention his physical health, may be at risk if
he has PTSD and returns to combat. I think many of these guys end up
going back. I wish them well, but have deep concerns for their long-term emotional well-being.
Jay Shaft, an independent writer has been publishing interviews with,
and letters from GIs in Iraq. His latest set [http://www.williambowles.info/iraq/2006/0306/letters_iraq_pt1.html]
is from “mentally ill” soldiers who did go back, like your friend.
They have regretted it. Perhaps you could show them to your friend.
But read them before you decide. They are very disturbing!
If your friend should decide to fight deployment, there may be a legal
basis. Here is a link [http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r40_501.pdf] to the Army regulations for medical fitness. The Marines are probably similar.
On p. 56 it says “(8) Psychiatric. Any disorder that has the potential
to prevent performance of duty, even if controlled by medication,
should not deploy….”
I’d love to hear what happens with your friend and will
think of him, and of you.