Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Black Matter for the King

Deanie Mills writes:

But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads chopped off in battle shall join together at the latter day and cry all "We died at such a place"--some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle, for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the King that led them to it, whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.--Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act IV, Scene I.

For all the patriotic flag-waving and yellow-ribbon magneting, there is nothing particularly patriotic or romantic about death in combat.

Even if you are lucky enough to survive the IED or the sniper or the rocket propelled grenade that killed your buddies or blew off their legs and hands and arms and burned them, you have to be there for them. You have to pull them from burning vehicles when their skin slips off in your hands like a glove. You have to tie a tourniquet around spurting stumps to save their lives.

You have to watch them die.

It's not pretty, when a buddy dies in combat. Sometimes they fight to live, and you can see them fighting, and you can see the young medic working valiently to save them, and you can see the life leave their eyes.

And then you have to go back to where you lived together, and help gather up their photographs of wife and children or mom and dad and girlfriend, and the letters from home they have saved, and other things.

And then you have to live.

You have to go home and hug your family and know that they won't be able to, and you have to go on with your life as best you can. You have to live the life they would have lived if only they could have. You have to honor them--as best you can--with your life.

And that's a pretty heavy burden for a kid barely out of his or her teens.

According to the March/April 2007 issue of Mother Jones magazine (sorry, I had this copied over in Word and did not save the link):

94% of soldiers & Marines in Iraq have been shot at

86% know someone who was seriously injured or killed

77% have shot at or directed fire at the enemy

68% have seen dead or seriously injured Americans

51% have handled or uncovered human remains

48% said they were responsible for the death of an enemy combatant

28% said they were responsible for the death of a noncombatant

It's not enough that they are exposed to intense combat conditions 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end, but this is the first war in our history where they have not been permitted to rotate in and out of a rear area where some measure of rest and recreation was possible.

This is the first war I know of in our history where you don't just serve your deployment. You serve it knowing you will have to go back, and the whole time you are "home" you are training for more combat for your next deployment, and then you have to go back.

And then you have to go back.

There is no time, I told my son, for you guys to recuperate from the traumas you have witnessed, before you have to go back.

According to Benedict Carey, writing for the New York Times:

The Iraq war, experts say, is a new kind of war--a 360-degree battle space with no front or rear, no safe zone outside the large fortified bases, and the compounded physical uncertainty of roadside bombs and mortar attacks. The lack of any control over these factors, and the generally limited sense of progress, only intensifies the stress for troops.

"You can endure a lot of physical and mental exhaustion as long as you feel you're having an impact, you're accomplishing something and that you have some control over your situation," said Dr. Andy Morgan, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University who has worked extensively with regular and Special Operations troops. "If you don't feel you have any of that, you quickly get to a point where the only thing that's important is keeping yourself and your buddies alive. Nothing else much matters."

As pointed out by one of the finest war correspondents I know, Tom Ricks of the Washington Post, the stress of multiple deployments increases with each new tour of duty.

Marriages are cracking up, kids are suffering, and the odds of a soldier or Marine showing more symptoms of post traumatic stress are increasing exponentially--not to mention the danger of suffering a traumatic brain injury from getting "blown up" and then sent back to duty the next day.

And yet, at the same time, unbelievably, the Bush administration has slashed benefits for mental health care of active duty troops and combat veterans.

That's not even the beginning of the outrages.

According to Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe, the fancy new task force created by the DoD to study the best and most effective way of protecting troops from vicious IED's, has been--like everything else--outsourced to so many contracing firms for so many millions of dollars with virtually no progress being made while, at the same time, operating in virtual secrecy--that the Democrats in Congress are getting ready to crack that nut and find out what the hell is going on.

Meanwhile, yet another defense contractor gets rich on the blood of American troops. God bless America, eh?

This whole bullshit Bushspeak about "supporting the troops" is OVER.

The troops themselves want out--ask them. "We can't stay in Iraq for the next thousand years." said one soldier on CBS news.

Over on Morgan Pardee's incomparable blog entry, she wrote about the personal cost of the recent news flash that six more soldiers died in a fiery IED explosion in the Diyala province. Those men were friends of her son's. His wife was shopping in a mall with the fiancee of one of the men who died. The poor girl got a cellphone call telling her about the death, and she collapsed in the middle of the mall.

One can only wonder what others were thinking as they moved around her on their way to the latest sale at Sears.

Like Shakespeare, I am afeared there are few who die well that die in battle.

My only hope in life these days is that it will be a black matter, indeed, for the king--and all his enablers--that led them to it.

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