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Posted on Apr 17, 2014

Photo by Jo Naylor (CC BY 2.0)

By Ann Jones, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

In 2012, Georgia authorities charged Aguigui and three combat veterans from Fort Stewart with the execution-style murders of former Private Michael Roark, 19, and his girlfriend Tiffany York, 17.  The trial in a civilian criminal court revealed that Aguigui (who was never deployed) had assembled his own private militia of troubled combat vets called FEAR (Forever Enduring, Always Ready), and was plotting to take over Fort Stewart by seizing the munitions control point.  Among his other plans for his force were killing unnamed officials with car bombs, blowing up a fountain in Savannah, poisoning the apple crop in Aguigui’s home state of Washington, and joining other unspecified private militia groups around the country in a plot to assassinate President Obama and take control of the United States government.  Last year, the Georgia court convicted Aguigui in the case of the FEAR executions and sentenced him to life.  Only then did a civilian medical examiner determine that he had first murdered his wife.

The Rule of Law

The routine drills of basic training and the catastrophic events of war damage many soldiers in ways that appear darkly ironic when they return home to traumatize or kill their partners, their children, their fellow soldiers, or random strangers in a town or on a base.  But again to get the stories we must rely upon scrupulous local journalists. The Austin American-Statesman, for example, reports that, since 2003, in the area around Fort Hood in central Texas, nearly 10% of those involved in shooting incidents with the police were military veterans or active-duty service members. In four separate confrontations since last December, the police shot and killed two recently returned veterans and wounded a third, while one police officer was killed.  A fourth veteran survived a shootout unscathed.

Such tragic encounters prompted state and city officials in Texas to develop a special Veterans Tactical Response Program to train police in handling troubled military types.  Some of the standard techniques Texas police use to intimidate and overcome suspects—shouting, throwing “flashbangs” (grenades), or even firing warning shots—backfire when the suspect is a veteran in crisis, armed, and highly trained in reflexive fire.  The average civilian lawman is no match for an angry combat grunt from, as the president put it at Fort Hood, “the greatest Army that the world has ever known.”  On the other hand, a brain-injured vet who needs time to respond to orders or reply to questions may get manhandled, flattened, tasered, bludgeoned, or worse by overly aggressive police officers before he has time to say a word.

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Here’s another ironic twist. For the past decade, military recruiters have made a big selling point of the “veterans preference” policy in the hiring practices of civilian police departments.  The prospect of a lifetime career in law enforcement after a single tour of military duty tempts many wavering teenagers to sign on the line. But the vets who are finally discharged from service and don the uniform of a civilian police department are no longer the boys who went away.

In Texas today, 37% of the police in Austin, the state capitol, are ex-military, and in smaller cities and towns in the vicinity of Fort Hood, that figure rises above the 50% mark.  Everybody knows that veterans need jobs, and in theory they might be very good at handling troubled soldiers in crisis, but they come to the job already trained for and very good at war.  When they meet the next Ivan Lopez, they make a potentially combustible combo.

Most of America’s military men and women don’t want to be “stigmatized” by association with the violent soldiers mentioned here.  Neither do the ex-military personnel who now, as members of civilian police forces, do periodic battle with violent vets in Texas and across the country.  The new Washington Post-Kaiser survey reveals that most veterans are proud of their military service, if not altogether happy with their homecoming.  Almost half of them think that American civilians, like the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t genuinely “respect” them, and more than half feel disconnected from American life.  They believe they have better moral and ethical values than their fellow citizens, a virtue trumpeted by the Pentagon and presidents alike.  Sixty percent say they are more patriotic than civilians. Seventy percent say that civilians fail absolutely to understand them.  And almost 90% of veterans say that in a heartbeat they would re-up to fight again.

Americans on the “home front” were never mobilized by their leaders and they have generally not come to grips with the wars fought in their name. Here, however, is another irony: neither, it turns out, have most of America’s military men and women. Like their civilian counterparts, many of whom are all too ready to deploy those soldiers again to intervene in countries they can’t even find on a map, a significant number of veterans evidently have yet to unpack and examine the wars they brought home in their baggage—and in too many grim cases, they, their loved ones, their fellow soldiers, and sometimes random strangers are paying the price.

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Kabul in Winter, among other books, and most recently They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars—The Untold Story, a Dispatch Books project (Haymarket, 2013).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars—The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Ann Jones


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