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“Messy” Wars, Love, and Torture


There is a very telling exchange that takes place during the final segment of Democracy Now on November 12, 2012. Amy Goodman is interviewing retired General Stephen Xenakis who is a psychiatrist and who has advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff on military mental health issues. In response to a question from Goodman about a soldier who returns from war and runs down and kills a woman, and the case of Robert Bales who is accused by the military of mass murder in Afghanistan (16 noncombatants including 9 children), the general responds, “No, absolutely. I mean, you know, war is messy. And certainly these wars, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been very difficult and messy and chaotic.” (“‘War is Messy’: Military Adviser Calls for More Assistance to Veterans Adjusting to Combat Wounds,” Democracy Now, November 12, 2012.)

In contrast, over the past several days, the fallout from and resignation of the C.I.A. director, former General David Petraeus, (“Investigation of Petraeus Grows to Include Top U.S. General,” the New York Times, November 13, 2012) grew exponentially to include the top N.A.T.O. commander, General John Allen, and the woman with whom General Petraeus has admitted having an affair, Paula Broadwell. Then, yet a second woman, Jill Kelley, who was involved in the episode, became newsworthy when it was revealed that Petraeus’ lover perceived her as a threat (Kelley appears to be without “blame” in the Petraeus-Broadwell episode). Sounds like the stuff of a high-school lovers’ spat? Tragically, from the perspective of the legions of people who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who have been regularly killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by drone attacks by the U.S., we as a nation seem to have our perceptions of the world turned around in a sort of Orwellian take on an Alice in Wonderland topsy-turvy scenario. Nowhere in this so-called crisis is there a discussion of the C.I.A.’s former black site prisons, extraordinary renditions, and torture. Readers may justifiably wonder if a scorecard comes along with the perversity of what passes for sanity and insanity in our collective psyches when it comes to war and militarism! Indeed, in the president’s first news conference (November 14, 2012) since winning reelection, the first question asked by a representative of the Associated Press was not on budget negotiations with Congress but about the affair.

Those who still possess a modicum of sanity and memory may remember the pre-recessionary race to attract volunteers to the military by the command structure that utilized “moral waivers” to allow those convicted of felonies and other crimes to serve in the armed forces. Compare the latter to the constant drumbeat in the press and major media outlets about the sanctity of military service and the heroes that come from such service. If military veterans are indeed heroes (I am a strong supporter of full veterans benefits), then why are over 800,000 former service members* still waiting for their disability claims to be settled with the Veterans Administration? With the embedding of so-called objective journalists during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reporting of atrocities in those wars nearly vanished from the national consciousness and conscience, as we were encouraged to celebrate war, however messy.

In a piece in Reuters (“U.S. Army battling racists within its own ranks,” Reuters, August 21, 2012), the military earned the praise of The Southern Poverty Law Center for the military’s efforts to fight right-wing political extremists in its ranks. But, a 2008 Justice Department report cited in the Reuters piece “found half of all right-wing extremists in the United States had military experience.”

Following September 11, 2001, many would volunteer for military service without concern for the issue of blowback that came as a result of supporting the then disgruntled Osama bin Laden who had previously had our unyielding support in the 1980s for his efforts to defeat and expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. The occupation of Afghanistan, even under the most “liberal” of scenarios needed to end in 2002. Iraq, never a threat to U.S. security interests, never needed to have happened at all, save for the delusionary concepts of the rogue administration of George W. Bush. Well over a million are dead as a result of the latter!

From the perspective of a Vietnam-era war resister, the desire for empire and prestige on the world’s stage has exacted, and continues to exact an enormous toll on those we target for our enmity. And a degree of racism always seems to be a concomitant part in this diabolical saga. After decades of ceaseless war and the 2010 troop surge ordered by Barack Obama, even a casual observer might be led to utter: enough!

* As a veteran, I was encouraged by a representative of the organization the Disabled American Veterans to file a disability claim with the Veterans Administration following the Vietnam era. The Veterans Administration rejected my claim.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He can be reached at

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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