May 24, 2004
Back in the early nineties, my wife and I briefly operated a Western-style bar and grill -- the Loading Chute Saloon -- located in a small town in California. The Loading Chute attracted all sorts of characters, some real, some faux and aside from a few dangerous moments, was a lot of fun. One of the legitimate characters who frequented the Loading Chute was a youngish rancher who had the innate ability to antagonize almost anyone he ran across. For the sake of anonymity, I'll just call him "Billy."
One day, Billy came into the Loading Chute, rapped on the bar and curtly said: "Barkeep! Beer!" What he meant, of course, was a Budweiser "long neck."
I opened a Budweiser and pushed it to him, along with a frosted glass.
Billy pushed the glass back and took a long swig of his beer. Looking around, he spotted the cook back in the kitchen area. He turned to me and said: "Do you know your cook is a murderer?"
Billy meant to rattle me, but I was ready for him. "Yeah," I said. "He killed a couple of guys in bar fights, but he did his time. He seems to be OK now."
Billy sat there for a minute, looking at his beer, lost in thought. Then, he glanced up at me and said: "I wonder what sets him off?"
I thought about a friend of my father, Major Woburn, USMC, who fought his way across the Pacific in World War II. He hated the Japanese enough to kill any and all of them -- men, women and children. Ditto, Corporal John, USMC, who still carried the physical and mental scars of the assault on Betio (Tarawa) and Saipan. I once asked John if he thought dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the right thing to do. He thought for a moment and then said: "No. We should have invaded Japan and killed them all." Both Woburn and John were "walking wounded," time bombs ready to go off given the right stimulus, or maybe for some unknown, unpredictable reason.
I thought about Ted, a Special Forces Captain, who worked among the Hmong and the Montagnards back before the United States admitted to having soldiers in Cambodia and Laos. Ted spoke to one of my classes at San Marcos High School (Santa Barbara, CA) and brought a box full of ears to show the students. The ears had been cut off of dead communists, or so he claimed. Some were traded to Ted by the Hmong or "Yards" for American money. Some Ted kept, as trophies of war.
But when Major Woburn, or Corporal John, or Captain Ted talked about war and killing, a certain spell came over them. It was as if they had left the room and were somewhere else, transported by memory back to Hell-flushed faces, glazed eyes, tongue flicking across dry lips. And what of it? They were excited by it. For that moment they were ready to kill again. It didn't last long, perhaps less than thirty seconds, but the flicker of fire was there, ready to be stoked.
I thought about the thin, chiseled face of Sergeant Timothy McVeigh. What stoked the hatred deep inside of this Gulf War I veteran? Was it anger over the government's handling of former Green Beret, Randy Weaver and his family, at Ruby Ridge? Was it the immolation of the Branch Davidians at Waco? Was it anger over what he saw in Iraq? Was it all of these things and maybe more? We will never know for sure. McVeigh wouldn't deal. Except for communication with the American author, Gore Vidal, he just kept his mouth shut. (2)
At the end, McVeigh was strapped to a gurney, rolled into the death room and given a lethal injection. He was most likely given the lethal injection by someone much like himself -- walking wounded. It would take a special type of person to strap a living human being down and inject him with poison. Wouldn't it? I mean, have you thought about it? Would you feel comfortable to have that person in your home as a dinner guest? Would it concern you to have walking wounded in your home as a family member? Would it worry you to have a killer living next door?
But the thrust of this piece is what is currently going on in Iraq and what will be coming home. No, this isn't one more article about the US Government's lies and deception. These are pervasive enough. This is about torture and murder carried out by American soldiers under the supervision of shadowy intelligence organizations, including our own CIA, NGO's and hired foreign mercenaries. (3) Most of us have seen the pictures taken at Abu Ghraib prison and we have listened to the various attempts by the Administration and their media flacks, including the so-called "major television networks" and selected talk-radio rodents.
It won't work.
It won't work for two reasons: First, the word about America is out. (Only a fool would believe President Bush, although it is likely that he believes himself.) Second, our "walking wounded" will be coming home. The second reason is the most dangerous.
Among the scarred and disillusioned troops will be scores of marginal personalities, those pushed over the edge by purposeful propaganda designed to incite hatred of the enemy. Hatred, mingled with the blood and stink of the dead makes for a deadly cocktail. You think not? Dream on.
Among our returning soldiers will be (and are) those who willingly tortured, raped, and in some cases murdered helpless prisoners under their supervision. We are asked by our fearless leaders to believe that these acts were (are) random acts of individual "bad apples." No, these are systemic acts carried out under orders. (4)
Additionally, among our returning pilots will be those who willingly strafed, bombed and rocketed neighborhoods, including children at play. (5)
Among our returning soldiers will be (and are) those who abused children, women and elderly persons such as those held in Abu Ghraib prison. (6)
Among our returning soldiers will be (and are) snipers who targeted women, children, harmless old people and even ambulance drivers who were attempting to take the wounded to hospitals. (7)
Hidden from our view will be the shadowy ones, "private contractors" and CIA types who operate independently of governmental overview, funded by a hidden "black budget." The term "private contractor" creates an image of an accountant, or maybe a plumber. No. These private contractors are mercenary soldiers, prison workers and spooks who slide in under the door; men like Steven Stepanowicz and John Israel, who worked as "private contractors" for CACI corporation. (8)
There are also men like Gray Branfield, who were recruited from the apartheid-era death squads in South Africa. Gavin du Venage, reports from Cape Town:
"Some of the worst human rights violators of the apartheid era, including a man who helped kill 14 civilians while they slept, have been employed as security contractors in Iraq. A South African killed in Iraq two weeks ago once worked for a secret apartheid death squad known as the Civil Co-operation Bureau. The CCB specialised in assassinating civilians who sympathised with black liberation movements." (9)
And among our returning officer corps will be General William Boykin who believes that President Bush was chosen not by the American electoral system, but by God Himself. Lest we neglect the women officers, there is General Janis Karpinski, who ran Abu Ghraib Prison until she was reprimanded and removed from command. (10) Will any in the officer corps be court martialed, or spend any time in prison for their war crimes? What do you think? Do you know what is going on, or not? As George Orwell noted: "Some people are more equal than others."
But the most important question is: did our trained killers like killing? Did they learn to like it, or were they singled out by their superiors, because they possessed the "proper" psychological profile to begin with? I mean, the sort of person who can slit a throat and still enjoy dinner that evening.
In any large group of veterans, the vast majority are decent men, troubled by the killing they witnessed, or had to do. But there is always a group made up of those who liked it. Many of these latter have a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.
So, where is the next Timothy McVeigh? Where is the next domestic sniper, such as John Allen Muhammed? We have trained our soldiers in the arts of war, killing and attendant terror. They will be coming home to America -- dragon's teeth -- scattered among our neighborhoods.
Billy's question comes back to me: "I wonder what sets them off?"
And Americans think the greatest danger of terrorism comes from abroad.
· · · · · ·
Notes and Resources
1. Vidal, Gore. Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 2002, p. 82. Vidal was comparing Timothy McVeigh's final court room statement with that of Iago to Othello: "Demand me nothing: what you know, you know: from this time I will never speak word." (back)
2. Ibid., pp. 125-146 (back)
3. Hersh, Seymour. "Torture at Abu Ghraib," The New Yorker, May 2004. (back)
4. Englehardt, "Postcards from the edge: We saw the pictures." Tom Dispatch, tomgram.com, May 10, 2004. (back)
5. Shobat, Orit. "Remember Falluja," Ha'aretz, April 29, 2004. (back)
6. Croke, Lisa Ashkenaz. "Accusations of Abuse Against Women and Children in Iraq," YellowTimes.org, NewsFromtheFront.org, May 10, 2004. (back)
7. Op. Cit. (back)
8. Hersh, Seymour. "Torture at Abu Ghraib," The New Yorker, May 5, 2004. (back)
9. Du Venage, Gavin. "Apartheid assassins meet match in Iraq." The Australian, April 27, 2004. (back)
10. Op. Cit. (back)
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