May 23, 2013
War Is Betrayal
Posted on Jul 13, 2012
By Chris Hedges, Boston Review
The disillusionment comes swiftly. It is not the war of the movies. It is not the glory promised by the recruiters. The mythology fed to you by the church, the press, the school, the state, and the entertainment industry is exposed as a lie. We are not a virtuous nation. God has not blessed America. Victory is not assured. And we can be as evil, even more evil, than those we oppose. War is venal, noisy, frightening, and dirty. The military is a vast bureaucratic machine fueled by hyper-masculine fantasies and arcane and mind-numbing rules. War is always about betrayal—betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians.
“The biggest misconception about the war is that the soldiers care about politics,” Jeffries says. “The right thinks the soldiers want support. They want to feel good. They want everybody to fly their flag and have a bumper sticker and go, ‘Rah! Rah! Rah! I support the troops. Yay, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’ The left thinks the soldiers all want to run off and get out of there, that they’re dying in a living hell. I think that most of the soldiers are young people that are having a decent adventure.”
But, he goes on, “They may be having a very hard time. They’re frustrated about the amount of resources they have been provided—how many hours of sleep they get, how nice their day is, whether they get to play their PlayStation or read their book at night or whatever. Like any human, you’d like to have some more of that.”
Yet, while soldiers don’t want to be forgotten, the support-the-troops brigade only maintains the mythology of war on the home front by pretending that we’re actually all in it together, when in fact it’s overwhelmingly the poor, powerless, and adrift who suffer.
It is no surprise that soldiers sometimes come to despise civilians who chant patriotic mantras. Those soldiers may not be fans of the remote and rarely seen senior officers who build their careers on the corpses of others, including comrades, either. But to oppose the machine and risk being cast out of the magic circle of comradeship can be fatal. Fellow soldiers are the only people who understand the psychological torment of killing and being shot at, of learning to not think at all and instead be led as a herd of animals. Those ostracized in war have a hard time surviving, mentally and physically, so most service members say and do nothing to impede the madness and the killing.
Jessica Goodell came to understand that torment only too well, as she relates in her 2011 memoir Shade it Black: Death and After in Iraq. Goodell wasn’t poor. She grew up in a middle-class home near Chautauqua Lake in upstate New York. Her father was a lawyer, and her mother worked at home. But her “universe fractured” when she was sixteen and her parents divorced. She could barely continue “the motions of everyday existence.” She was accepted at Ithaca College her senior year, but just before graduation a uniformed Marine came to her high school. He told her he had come to find “tough men.”
“What about tough women?” she asked.
By that afternoon she was in the Marine recruiting office. She told the recruiter she wanted to be part of a tank crew but was informed that women were prohibited from operating tanks. She saw a picture of a Marine standing next to a vehicle with a huge hydraulic arm and two smaller forklift arms. She signed up to be a heavy equipment mechanic, although she knew nothing about it.
Three years later, while stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in the desert town of Twentynine Palms, California, she volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps’ first official Mortuary Affairs unit, at Al Taqaddum Airbase in Iraq. Her job, for eight months, was to “process” dead Marines—collect and catalog their bodies and personal effects.
She put the remains in body bags and placed the bags in metal boxes. Before being shipped to Dover Air Force Base, the boxes were stored, often for days, in a refrigerated unit known as a “reefer.”
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