Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another Atrocity Waiting To Happen

What causes men and women to abuse and torture other humans? For many there is some degree of sadism and tendencies towards deviant behavior, but for many others it is the stress and frustration of constant fear and uncertainty.

We are about to increase the amount of time our service personnel spend in Iraq and we are decreasing the amount of time for leaves. By keeping our service people in these heighten states of fear for these extended periods, we are laying the groundwork for more atrocities on civilians in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Any military or civilian doctor will tell you that wars like these are extremely stressful on the soldiers, because there are no fronts to guard or hide behind. The soldier is constantly surrounded by both friend and foe and no real way to distinguish the two. As we put more and more soldiers in close proximity to civilians as the surge plan does, this increases the level of stress for the soldier. Our military personnel can only take so much stress before time has shown; they will become less inclined to abide by the rules and conduct of engagement with civilians.

The detailed mental health survey of troops in Iraq released by the Pentagon on Friday highlights a growing worry for the United States as it struggles to bring order to Baghdad: the high level of combat stress suffered during lengthy and repeated tours.[1]

The fourth in a continuing series, the report suggested that extended tours and multiple deployments, among other policy decisions, could escalate anger and increase the likelihood that soldiers or marines lash out at civilians, or defy military ethics.

That is no small concern since the United States’ counterinsurgency doctrine emphasizes the importance of winning the trust and support of the local population.[2]

In an effort to sway public opinion in America our political leaders are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of civilians in both countries. Because they have stretched our military to the point of breaking and new recruits are becoming more difficult to find, the current troops are being asked to do more than even the military knows they should. But rather than stand up to this Commander and Chief they are allowing the seeds to be planted and when the harvest comes in with more atrocities they will once again blame the ordinary soldier for behavior that they in fact put into motion by their cowardice.

Another component to all of this is the lowering of standards for the military. To try to keep pace with the growing need for bodies in uniforms, the military has been lowering the standards for recruits that are being accepted. As we lower our standards for military personnel, we increase the likelihood for abuse. The new recruits are more likely to have criminal histories or behavioral issues that could manifest themselves under stress related duty. Remember, we are putting these young men and women under some extreme conditions and expecting them to behave as robots, it isn’t going to happen. These conditions could bring out the savageness in anyone of us. Who is to say what any of us would do under those conditions?

By placing our troops in the middle of the sectarian violence, we are making them targets for both sides. Also, we are dealing with a civilian population that is growing more and more frustrated with the violence and the reconstruction efforts. This is a recipe for disaster, and it is unfortunate that no one is going to speak out until the next massacre or other atrocity. And again only to condemn the soldier, but not the policy that has placed them in this situation. As we place them in more and more stressful situations the casualty count will increase, as well as the mental health issues. We are already providing woefully poor care for our current veterans in the mental health area and now we are going to dump more people into an already congested pipeline. I hate to think it, but I have a feeling the number of veteran suicides may very well increase due to the current stress load being applied.

Those of us at home must not continue to stand pat while our military personnel are placed in these situations. Just because we may not have a direct stake or loved one involved; it does not allow us the right to be mute. In a democracy it is the people that decide inevitably when and where our soldiers fight. The President can declare a war, but without public support it cannot continue. The lives of our military and of innocent civilians are at stake. There are those who may say that innocents may die if we leave and that well may be true, but we won’t be the ones killing them.



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