“the poor and Midling will bear the burden”

I promised more last time, so here are some mavericks, some eary CO’s, and the guys who pioneered the idea that “War costs. Who pays?” As my last (?) deadline on this book looms, pieces like this will come faster, I think. (At right: the cover of one of my book’s precursors, by the acclaimed Carl Van Doren — who narrated in much more detail than I could one of the first such rebellions.)

all being Volunteers

The Continental Army was itself built upon a “revolutionary crowd,” the “mobs” who stomped on the Stamp Act and and threw tea into Boston Harbor.By 1775, the empire began to crack down, finally noticing that these “mobs” had gradually acquired more and more autonomy for themselves and their legislatures. Parliament enacted the Administration of Justice Act, under which a soldier who killed a rioter could only be tried back in England, out of sight of the colonists being suppressed.ii When four thousand nervous redcoats laid siege to Boston, one result was the “Massacre.”

The militia responded in kind on April 19, 1775, alerted by Paul Revere and his cohorts. A young Minuteman named Daniel Shays was among the 70 militiamenwho mobilized after the redcoats had set fire to homes and fields and most civilians to flee Boston.v Shays was one of the many Irish immigrants that joined the call early, inspired to fight the same oppressors that had driven them across the Atlantic.

After Lexington and Concord, armed rebel supporters camped out at Harvard Square. Most were from already-existing state militiasvi from all the Mid-Atlantic colonies, come to defend Boston’s famous Minutemen and the towns’ “Committees of Safety.” It was this possibly-unruly lot that the First Continental Congress then declared an Army under the command of George Washington, a former British Army colonel from Virginia. Among the enthusiastic recruits at “Cambridge Camp” was young Daniel Shays, who was soon commissioned second lieutenant in the new Army.

A similar offer was being made to Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, and their Green Mountain Boys, who by then included a printer’s assistant named Matthew Lyon. Lyon had arrived in New-York from Ireland in 1765 (the week the Stamp Act was passed); after eight years of indentured service to the captain who’d brought him over, he started drilling with Allen and moved to the border area known as “New Hampshire Grants” (now Vermont). On May 10, the Boys flooded into the nearly-unguarded Fort Ticonderoga and seized it from the British; the ammunition inside helped end the siege of Boston and equipped the new army for the battles in New-York. Inspired by these victories and emboldened by Jefferson’s 1776 poetry, even more joined the fight.

The new Army was thus a loose coalition of regulars and state forces organized along regional lines. Commanders and newspapers alike lauded the “Maryland Line,” the Connecticut and New-Jersey Lines, the swelling forces of the western frontier in Pennsylvania. Some native allies were reported to join in: in Boston a local chief was quoted as “offering to raise a tomahawk” against the British, given the Bostonians’ solid treaty agreements. Benjamin Franklin, who’d spent the revolutionary spring in France, exulted in July: “The Tradesmen of this City were in the Field twice a day, at 5 in the Morning, and Six in the Afternoon, disciplining with the utmost Diligence, all being Volunteers.”

That “utmost Diligence” included immunity to the cause for desertion so often parodied in Voltaire’s Candide, that “Swiss disease” known as nostalgiavii — at least according to Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Continental Army’s first physician. In letters, Rush exulted that the more they felt like a national army, the less subject they would be to the disorder now known as PTSD:

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Bradley Manning: WIRED folds, and my dilemma is moot.

WIRED has just released the full transcripts of the conversations between Manning and that snake Adrian Lamo – meaning that everyone that cares about Manning, thinks him hero or traitor, has no way of not knowing about the gender issues. They’re mesmerizing reading, though I agree with Gawker that Lamo turns out to be even more unethical than we knew before (and as much of a scumbag as Glenn Greenwald has said all along.)

And here I just got my letter from David Coombs, basically refusing to discuss it – and I was trying to figure out if that was a coded request to honor what was left of his client’s privacy. Now, I feel that writing about this respectfully is the only way to show that respect. What do you think?

More later when I’ve finished reading the transcripts:  comments sorely requested. Was it Hemingway who said, “The writer’s job is to find out the truth and then write it. But that can be very difficult.”?

Operation Recovery’s Oleo Strut

About a year ago, Iraq Veterans Against the Wars began a campaign that sounded almost conservative: Operation Recovery, against the deployment of traumatized troops. The celebrated Camilo Mejia, when he and I talked in Philadelphia, was skeptical : “Sounds like the VFW.”

Actually, it’s a sign that IVAW gets it, in a very deep way.

Photo: New York Times

By “it” I mean the confluence of dissent-ingredients I’ve been tracking in my book, most especially the multifaceted effects of combat trauma. This week, a team at Fort Hood in Texas reported on what they saw:

–       We listen to the Military Police Sergeant talk about her soldier that is only 21 years old and after one deployment just can’t function any longer. He needs help and treatment, and their commander makes his every attempt to get help harder as opposed to easier.

–       We listen to the Medic Sergeant talk about the number of suicides and attempted suicides that no one is talking about.

–       We listen to the soldier on extra duty talk about being shot on his third deployment, needing to take pain relievers, running out of pills, taking his wife’s pills to get through the day, and then getting courtmartialed for taking the wrong medication.

–       We listen to the soldiers talk about their non-commissioned officers that are shaken and struggling with anxiety and memories but are gearing up to deploy again.

All of the above is often greeted with “Suck it up and drive on,” at least in the Army. To insist that the Pentagon do otherwise is actually quite a sucker punch to the machine that relies on obedience to that one instruction.

My friend Luis Carlos Montalvan, told TIME Magazine (published this week): “There are 18 suicides a day among veterans. I’d do anything to help prevent that tragedy.” We all know now that the numbers for active-duty guys are just as troubling. Luis and his amazing book (buy it!) are on a mission of essential if non-controversial service. Op Recovery, as I said to Camilo, is just as essential and potentially revolutionary. Dave Cline, founder of the Vietnam-era Oleo Strut, would have been proud of them.

every day is PTSD Awareness Day

But today’s the official one, apparently. Whatever name one gives combat trauma – there are many that hate the term “disorder” – it’s been with us since our first armies, from “nostalgia” to “soldier’s heart” to “battle fatigue,” which may be my favorite. (Above, the beginning of the movie John Huston made about the latter, after the Battle of San Pietro left him screaming.)  Nowadays mostly we just use the initials — as in a T-shirt I found at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, PTSD: DON’T LEAVE IRAQ WITHOUT IT.

For today, we’re asked to post links to PTSD resources, such as the official one from the Defense Centers of Excellence. Of course, I’m much more inclined to promote the unequalled Healing Combat Trauma,  and for women, Susan Avila-Smith’s powerful VetWow or Service Women’s Action Network. What’s most essential is that anyone reading this reach out, and keep reaching out. If your local Veterans Administration seems unresponsive, keep going. It’s your latest and most important mission.

PTSD in contractors? Who’s surprised?

Yeah, those guys in the fancy non-uniforms and big paychecks and company names that sound like something out of “Caprica.” I’d guessed this was coming; now, see ProPublica’s new investigation of the issue here.

I also commented on their study at my new Alternet blog. From now on, the current-affairs stuff here will often originate there, and vice versa. But only here can you see bits and pieces of the book in process, and tell me what I’m doing wrong.

is this true?

… if it concurs with the experience of someone you know – or maybe you. From Shannon Meehan’s excellent piece in today’s Home Fires:

Killing enemy combatants comes with its own emotional costs. On the surface, we feel as soldiers that killing the enemy should not affect us — it is our job, after all. But it is still killing, and on a subconscious level, it changes you. You’ve killed. You’ve taken life. What I found, though, is that you feel the shock and weight of it only when you kill an enemy for the first time, when you move from zero to one. Once you’ve crossed that line, there is little difference in killing 10 or 20 or 30 more after that.

War erodes one’s regard for human life. Soldiers cause or witness so many deaths and disappearances that it becomes routine. It becomes an accepted part of existence. After a while, you can begin to lose regard for your own life as well. So many around you have already died, why should it matter if you go next? This is why so many soldiers self-destruct when they return from a deployment.

I know something about this. The deaths that I caused also killed any regard I had for my own life. I felt that I did not deserve something that I had taken from them. I fell into a downward spiral, doubting if I even deserved to be alive. The value, or regard, I once had for my own life dissipated.

I guess this is why Lt. Col. David Grossman spends so much time giving seminars to soldiers: to get them over that first hump so they can accomplish their mission. But it’s also why you see him sometimes, in those peppy seminars, in the same segments that start with soldiers’ suicides — something that Meehan also talks about.

The Pentagon is trying right now with special training to rewire people after it’s over, something they call “Battle-Mind.” Or have they moved on to a new name, a new idea? Or is it now just tossing handfuls of Zoloft, crossing their eyes and hoping for the best?

Leave no FNG behind: thoughts on Kelly Kennedy’s They Fought for Each Other 

TheyFoughtForEachOthercoverI’ve hoped to grow up to be Kelly Kennedy ever since my friend, rockstar author Alia Malek, profiled the Military Times reporter for Columbia Journalism Review. I knew it was impossible, of course, as the very first line of Kennedy’s author bio makes clear: “Kelly Kennedy served as a soldier in Desert Storm and Mogadishu, Somalia.” Back when I was stuffing envelopes and marching to stop the wars she was in, Kennedy was in uniform, making all my experiences working with GI’s kind of feel beside the point.

Still, the latter may have accounted for the way I responded to her book, a month-by-month chronicle of the travails of Charlie Company, 10th Mt. Division, in the first few years of the Iraq war — during which the tight-knit unit lost more than half its men.

The book’s climax, I knew before I started, was a mutiny: echoing for me those during the Vietnam War chronicled in David Zeiger’s film Sir! No, Sir! Kennedy notes that echo, but also notes that these soldiers acted not so much in opposition to the war but because they knew their orders would likely result in losing more men.

In an email exchange before I got the book, she and I talked about the difference. When I said “her” boys belonged in my book, she asked “Oh, I guess you mean the mutiny?” I said yes — especially to illustrate an important change among today’s soldiers. In Vietnam, troops went in and out one by one (thus the “he’s a short-timer,” common lingo in all Vietnam films). Now, with whole units staying together through multiple deployments, members re-enlist. don’t go AWOL. take all their action out of a deep sense of loyalty — that profound love about which soldiers that Homer wrote so beautifully.

“In the framework I’m working in,” I told Kelly, “[that mutiny] feels like a near-perfect example of how a strategy designed to make wars go smoothly (encouraging greater unit cohesion than in, say, Vietnam or Korea) can have unplanned consequences when you take today’s slightly older, mostly brilliant, thinking soldiers into account.” And she agreed: “I’d say that’s what the title says, really — In Vietnam, nobody cared about the FNG [fucking new guy], and it seems as if the guys could opt out of getting to know people they knew they’d lose. These guys got to the point where they didn’t care about the war, but cared deeply about each other.”

None of this chat prepared me for the book itself — which I recommend highly, but also recommend keeping a box of tissues nearby. I had to stop reading for days on end because I kept crying: because she has made me care about Oscar Avila, More Campos, Ross McGinnis — and then she blew them up, or rather the war did.

I can’t even choose passages to quote, because just reading the names makes me well up. Go ahead and buy a copy, share it with everyone you know.

Last, two lessons for me from the book’s compelling writing:

First, she integrates the complexities of today’s PTSD challenges as well as anyone can — and keeps it close to the narrative. The medical professionals come off as both essential and often clueless about how to cope with these responses in the middle of a war zone. It’s stunning, actually.

Second, Kennedy does not appear as a character ONCE. Having just read another acclaimed book whose author kind of gets in the way of her story, I’m even more determined to keep my own details away from the book as a whole.kennedycover