PTSD in 1945: let there be truth

I was excited to see Paula Span’s piece today in the Times, “No End to Trauma for Some Older Veterans.” She follows one 80-something vet in his struggles and notes that seeking help wasn’t popular in his war: “The prevailing medical advice — even for someone like Mr. Perna, who had fought in North Africa, Italy and France, who had been wounded and spent six months in a German P.O.W. camp — amounted to “put it all behind you.”

And as much as that may be true, I did feel she left out an important element, as well as the role played by one of the ‘stars’ of ‘my’ World War II chapter.

I said so in a comment  I made on the Times website. Below is the one I first wrote, which takes a stab at explaining why the truth has been so long suppressed.

The piece  is wonderfully thoughtful, and tells me tons I didn’t know. Thank you – and thanks to Mr. Pena, who agreed to go on the record.

Let_There_Light_001-550wI do wish you’d been able to slip in a reference to the John Huston film ‘Let There Be Light.’  In 1945, the Army sent Huston to Mason General Hospital in Brentwood, Long Island, to film a veterans’ psychiatric unit at there.  (One of its long-term inhabitants was Dr. Jacob Ochs ( a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge), long before his son Philip sang “I ain’t marching anymore!”)  The film is a little hokey by today’s standards, earnest young men learning to call their illnesses “psycho-neurotic anxiety disorders” while assured by doctors that “we’re conducting an education campaign” to erase the stigma. Instead, just as with San Pietro, the Pentagon moved quickly to suppress Let There Be Light. “They wanted to maintain the ‘warrior’ myth, which said that our American soldiers went to war and came back all the stronger for the experience.”

The truth was probably in between, but after seeing the film the Army immediately suppressed it from public viewing for 30-plus years.The Cold War was beginning, after all, so no call for admitting any kind of “weakness” in American men.

Interestingly, the film was just included as an “extra”  in the DVD release of The Master,  whose protagonist  is a traumatized WWII vet.

Thanks again for this piece. I hope it gets some families to seek help.

I watched the film when I was just starting out on this book, before learning that Phil Ochs’ dad had been a patient there.  I look forward to seeing it again,and posted the whole thing here in case you don’t want to spring for the Blu-Ray.

In the news today

RWR-CharterMember-FTAarmy9jNot to turn this into a videolog. but with so much to do it’s hard to avoid sometimes — and this is too good not to share.

A new docu about Occupy features one of my favorite VVAW pranksters, Ward Reilly (you saw him in this Fort Meade account a while back). He’s so much of a firecracker now, I can only imagine when he was an infantryman stirring up trouble in 1974.

At left, Reilly’s self-customized dog tag. You know what the acronym stands for.

 

 

 

 

these might be giants: report from Fort Meade

I went back to Fort Meade this week, more than two years after  Manning was first brought to court. Now in dispute during these last pre-trial motions before the court martial, now scheduled for June 3: those two-plus years.

If there’s not another delay, that means that Bradley Manning’s court-martial will begin almost exactly three years after he was first detained in Kuwait, on May 26, 2010. Please excuse the bold/italics: that’s  three years which already have felt plenty long in actual life — without imagining I’d spent them in military detention, much of it in a single cell without all my clothes.

All of this despite the fact that the Uniform Code of Military Justice includes a guarantee of “speedy trial” that must begin within 120 days of arrest. And much of last week’s proceedings were about that — whether all the delays were due to inevitable national-security issues, and whether the government is obligated to cooperate with the defense and share what it found in its long investigation. There were also some interesting rulings — including how much the trial will cover Manning’s motivations for his actions, something important when someone is  charged with “aiding the enemy.”

But I won’t write much about the hard news here: I’ve been hired by Boston Review to do that (yay!) so you’ll have to wait. In the meantime, check out summaries from Ed Pilkington at the Guardian, Julie Tate at the Washington Post, and Hari Sreenivasan of PBS’s Newshour  (who delivers his report in that worried middle-of-the-road tone we all know so well).

David-Coombs-attorney-for-0071You should definitely check out Scott Shane’s profile of David Coombs, seen at right exiting the Fort Meade courthouse.

When I decided what to title this post, Lt. Col. Coombs is one of the two people I meant. I never got a chance to see William Kunstler or Clarence Darrow at work, but I now feel I kind of know how that feels.

Shane’s coverage of the case itself is predictably bland. But he manages, if you look at it closely, to convey some of the slyness of the veteran advocate:

Mr. Coombs, 43, is deep into one of the most high-profile American military cases in recent years, leading an aggressive, if unorthodox, defense. In weeks of pretrial hearings, the tall, crew-cut lawyer, flanked by uniformed military lawyers who make up the rest of the defense team, has attacked the government’s case on every conceivable ground, even as he conceded that Private Manning was the WikiLeaks source.

Coombs, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, served 12 years in the Army before leaving active duty and opening a military-oriented defense practice in 2009 in Providence, R.I. He has worked, both in court and in a public speech last month, to frame Private Manning’s disclosure of documents not as a reckless act of national security vandalism but as a deed of conscience, intended to expose government misdeeds and defend the public’s right to know.

It was an honor to watch Coombs deliver his speedy-trial brief, in which he countered the government’s catalog of everything they’d been doing by enumerating the ways in which it could have acted with more alacrity, adding on every single week in which he saw government inaction “while Pfc. Manning remained in pre-trial detention.”

Each individual omission added up like layers of paint on a canvas, until Coombs closed by citing the Rule of Court-Martial 707(d):”The accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial have been violated. And the sole remedy for such a speedy trial violation is dismissal [of the affected charges] with prejudice.”

The whole presentation led to a super-caffeinated rebuttal by the prosecutor, which told me that it was as brilliant as it had looked.

The other giant I met this week was someone I knew only from her posts at Firedoglake, without realizing who she was: Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who gives her take on the trial below.

jesselyn_radackWith all my attention around soldiers who dissent, I find I’m sorely ignorant of much of the history of civilian whistleblowing, and had forgotten about Radack in specific. And I’m not sure I ever knew her full story, as one of the few employees in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department who actively questioned its behavior in the aftermath of 9/11.  The photo is from the Brown alumni magazine around that time, when she refused to help interrogators corners in the questioning of John Walker Lindh.

Radack has been offering legal and logistical support to Manning’s defense, adding him to the Government Accountability Project’s Whistleblowers honor roll. I hope I can go to DC to meet with her and the rest of GAP, to explore what whistleblowing really means in the 21st century. (And maybe ask how she’s kept her  multiple sclerosis at bay, since with her it’s still the invisible kind).

One of the most fun, and humbling, things about this project is how often I come into contact with such giants. Though it has me listening to this band, so much that I had to include the video below. Tell me the lyrics to the song don’t get you hoping for a whistleblower of your own.

Men and MST: getting to the core of it


!  airplaneAce-croppedAnother military rape scandal — this one at Lackland Air Force Base.  A very few of you might have guessed my first thought: “Ground Hog Day. When will they learn?”

I say that because it’s nearly 18 years since a similar scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground changed my  job description and catalyzed the formation of the short-lived Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAAMP— the link is to its ghost site at archive.org, since STAAAMP stopped existing as a nonprofit org a decade ago.) Back then, scandals at Tailhook, the Air Force Academy (the 1993 one), and a monumental 1995 Veterans Administration study had cracked the ice somewhat, and I was already talking to survivors of what we now call MST every week. Then came December 1996, when those brave young basic-training women came forward. Above, the image I chose to illustrate the peerless Kathy Gilberd‘s article about it all, for a magazine I edited.

A lot has changed since then for the good, of course. Congress mostly gets it, which is why they scheduled hearings on Lackland for January 23. Columbia University’s Helen Benedict wrote an iconic book on the subject.Visionary filmmaker Kirby Dick made the documentary those brave survivors deserved, which has been nominated for an Oscar this year.  And  STAAAMP has largely been replaced by the super-competent Service Women’s Action Network and the grassroots VetWOW and Protect Our Defenders.

And still, per the LA Times:

Hearings began this week for Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jaime Rodriguez, a Houston recruiter facing life on charges of rape and pursuing illicit relationships with 18 women, according to Air Force Times.

Last week, Staff Sgt. Christopher Jackson, 29, became the sixth basic training instructor convicted of sexual misconduct since April. Jackson received 100 days in jail, 30 days’ hard labor and was demoted to airman first class,  but was allowed to remain in the Air Force.

Ten others are headed to court, including Master Sgt. Jamey Crawford, who waived an evidentiary hearing this week, and faces up to 22 years in prison is convicted on charges sodomy, adultery and giving a false official statement, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

At least now, when it happens, even the current Defense Secretary (thanks to that film!) knows the problem is both endemic and systemic. And next week’s hearings will feature both SWAN and a multi-generational group of MST survivors, including the impressive Jenny McClendon (seen here when the scandal first broke).  McClendon has”cautious optimism” about the hearings, she  told reporters this week.

But as my dear friend Lily Casura (founder of Healing Combat Trauma.com) points out in San Antonio News-Express, the hearings will lack one important ingredient: representation from male Lackland victims. None have yet come forward. Yet the national numbers imply  that there must be some. Casura reflects on the possible reasons:

It’s hard for men (or women) to talk about it, and apparently even more so for men. Of the same active-duty males of every service surveyed who were assaulted, more than four in every five (85 percent) didn’t report.

Men don’t report for reasons ranging from thinking it wasn’t important enough or not wanting anyone to know, to doubting the report would stay confidential, or being afraid of retaliation, reprisal, being labeled a troublemaker, or concerns about affecting promotion.

But there’s also personal shame involved when a man is assaulted. I recently interviewed a former Marine, one of the few men featured in “The Invisible War” documentary on MST. He was gang-raped on active duty by other Marines he worked with. Did he report? Absolutely not. “I was embarrassed, scared, didn’t know what to do at the time, so I denied everything,” he says. “Big mistake.”

He also went back to work after the assault. “I sucked it up like a man,” he said, adding, “I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I know the culture.”

I know the culture. That sentence summarizes why, I think, the issue has been stinking up the military for so long — despite all the earnest commissions and exposes. There’s deep work to be done on making the system’s jurisprudence and reward system more just, and SWAN and POF are right to fight for it.  But I fear that there’s a far broader conversation about military “masculinity” that few are ready for yet, and without it you might get no more than  cosmetics.

Still, I wish them all – the survivors, the groups,  Congress — godspeed on trying to move this forward. And the reporters covering these hearings should also ask the probable new Secretary of Defense how he plans to confront this, especially as these wars wind down.

Why Bradley Manning belongs here

WWI_FortMeade I’m already getting assailed for including in my title Bradley Manning, who so many have already branded a traitor — even some vets who are themselves in the book draw the line at what he’s done. But as mesmerized as I am by the case, I’m even more mesmerized by the way it’s galvanized so many people — some soldiers/vets, some civilians like me who’ve internalized that old VVAW slogan “Love the warrior, hate the war.”  It’s why I got my butt onto that Occupy bus and went down to Fort Meade for Manning’s first pretrial hearing more than a year ago.

Here’s what it was like— something I hadn’t put up here because I thought would be the prologue to this book. As I pull my manuscript apart to reshape it, some leaves fall off that might still be worth sharing — and I thought this might explain some things. I’ve posted photos of that weekend on this blog  before, and they’re not hard to find — so the image above is simply that of old Camp Meade, back when it was an army camp instead of the intelligence-HQ Fort Meade. I’m betting that the scene outside the fort last month wasn’t that different from what I described then.

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Fort Meade, MD, December 16, 2011

The morning had already begun to chill as the bus pulled onto Reece Road long past the highway signs that said FORT GENERAL GEORGE MEADE.  Were it not for that sign, it might have seemed a suburban neighborhood like any on the Beltway, streets filled with ranch houses and McMansion where barracks once stood (thanks to the DoD Privatization Initiative). Certainly no sign that this had been, in 1917, one of the first camps built for new troops in 1917, its three infantry divisions processed 400,000 soldiers (as well as 22,000 horses and mules.). Or that seven million had done the same during World War II, including the women telephone operators known as Hello Girls, and certainly no sign of  the Vietnam-era 11th ACRBlackhorse Regiment, which had beginning in 1966 powered the Sheridan tanks arriving in Phu Hoa, South Vietnam with the then-new   Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle.

Those were long-ago days, and all that was left of those huge posts was the intelligence units that had been at their core, now morphed into the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. To look at now, you would have to look hard to find signs of either, until you arrived at the base’s low-profile main gate, where dark-uniformed personnel waved in cars and gestured to the driver of a chartered bus, that had come all he way from New York with members of Occupy Wall Street. Most were twentysomething activists, happy to be plastered with a sticker with a photo of an Army private even younger than they. The group was directed to the lawn in front of the fort, and told it was their “designated protest area today.”

Already on the lawn were reporters sheltering their notepads from the wind shadowing a mix of weathered activists, some young (like the Occupants)  and some who looked like they could have been at Woodstock, including a scattering of veterans from wars spanning three decades. Many wore stickers or held signs with the three words being chanted by the rest: FREE BRADLEY MANNING.

Almost none of holding those signs saying “Free Bradley Manning” had even met the 24-year-old Army private in question, or even seen him. This was definitely true of the thousands of around the world who had written, rallied, or donated toward his defense and the Bradley Manning Support Network. It was even true of those who, either now or elsewhere, had worn the well-circulated mask with a photo of Private Manning’s smiling face and the words “I AM BRADLEY MANNING.” All had their own reasons for doing so, and not all of them about the case itself: some were fuzzy about the details, though all knew that Private Manning was being charged with the largest intelligence leak in 50 years.

For some supporters,  it was enough that Manning’s alleged actions challenged the U.S.’ national-security apparatus. Those opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wowed by the probability that he had leaked footage of an Apache helicopter raid, later nicknamed Collateral Murder. “He saw what needed to be public, and made it so!”  And for most of those from the loosely-termed Occupy Network, it got even morer specific: Manning had allegedly linked diplomatic cables that are often credited with sparking the “Arab Spring”  with  long-suppressed truths about dictators Tunisia,  Yemen, Egypt, The protests in the Arab world had then helped spur the first ‘Occupy’ encampments. “I asked Why? And when I heard ‘Bradley Manning’s trial,’ I said hell yea,” a slim blond woman from Occupy Newark had told this reporter at 5 a.m., before we climbed the bus from New York’s Zuccotti Park.

Aboard that bus was also Captain Lawrence Rockwood, also a whistleblower of sorts, who’d himself been court-martialed back in 1994 when he refused to ignore conditions in Haitian prisons (during Clinton’s Operation Restore Hope). “I haven’t been back here since I was in uniform,” he said before he departed the bus.

A few feet away, talking to a reporter, was Jeff Paterson, who had refused in 1991 to board the plane taking him to the Gulf War, dragged off the tarmac in handcuffs. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he liked to say.

Behind Paterson was former Marine Corps Reserve lieutenant Michael Thurman, 24, who thanks to help from Paterson bore with a brand-new discharge on the grounds of conscientious objection.  “Were you court-martialed?” he was asked by Lt. Dan Choi, not that much older than Thurman  and still in his Army dress blues, though since being expelled for coming out as gay he’d mostly worn his uniform for TV or protests like these.

As morning turned to noon, the Vietnam-era rebel soldiers turned up, first recognizable from afar in their lined faces and graying heads.    A few had gotten up early enough to be allowed into the courtroom, like Nate Goldschlag, who toward the end of that war had founded one of the largest underground GI  newspapers at his German base.

The latter group hugged each other in greeting before holding signs and asking motorists to honk. Colonel Ann Wright, 64, who had quit the State Department in 2003 when war was declared against Iraq, had a voice as girlish as her round blond  face as she led a chant: “Free Bradley Now!”  Beside her was Bill Perry, who decades earlier had testified before TV cameras about atrocities he had seen in Vietnam as an Army sergeant, at a hearing in Detroit known as “Winter Soldier.”

Ward Reilly, his gray hair reaching his shoulders, wore a hand-crafted pendan, made from his mutilated dog tags, reshaped into three letters: FTA (Fuck the Army).  “I was court-martialed four times,” he told Thurman and Capt. Rockwood. “My platoon sergeant wanted to put me away for 20 years. But the platoon was short of good marksmen, we just kept getting sent back to the infantry. During Vietnam,” he explained for the civilians listening, “a prison sentence was kind of a promotion.”  The vets just laughed, in that kind of soldier-solidarity not usually available outside the American Legion.

As the sky darkened, and the air chilled further, the crowd splintered a little — some took breaks in warmer spaces, others huddled together under the Occupy tent.  Thurman went off to the theater that had been set up for remote viewing of the legal proceedings, though he hadn’t gotten admitted to the courtroom. He came back and sad he’d seen Nate Goldschlag stand up and shout “Bradley Manning is a hero!” before being ushered out by military police. Goldschlag was exuberant, only somewhat because he knew his outburst would lead the evening news.  Less exuberant at end of day was Lt. Dan Choi, who said he had been manhandled by security as they escorted him out of the courtroom. “They tore my dress blues!”

Some chapters of Veterans for Peace had brought identifying  banners, including Baltimore’s PHILIP BERRIGAN CHAPTER and the Massachusetts SMEDLEY BUTLER BRIGADE, both bearing names of vets who had famously written against war. In addition to those ghosts, supporting from afar was Daniel Ellsberg, the former Marine whose similarly huge Pentagon Papers had helped end the war in Vietnam, and Scott Olsen of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Occupy Oakland, now famous for being injured by a police tear-gas canister.

For this reporter, there were many other virtual allies at the rogue soldiers’ backs — many elsewhere that day, others long dead.  Major Hugh Thompson, who’d stopped the bloodshed at My Lai. Lt. Silas Soule, who’d done the same during an 1864 massacre against Indians. Evan Thomas, one of the World War I objectors whose tortures were vividly described by poets. As the vigil broke up, everyone knew it wasn’t near over.

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And it isn’t of course. Neither is the trial, which I’ll cover here eventually. I’m making no declarations about his heroism or not: but this is an important moment, in our “post-9/11” world, and these guys are definitely shaping it.

A book by its cover?

With my book in total re-moulting mode, a dear friend designed four concepts for a possible cover for the book. I don’t have the rights to any of the images, but it does feel like a weighty historical tome this way. And either way, I think I’ll make it the signature image for the Kickstarter campaign I hope to launch next week, to help fund this last (really!) push.

What do you think? Any other images or approach you’d prefer?

Design by Brian Siano

Some late ‘Veteran’s Day’ reading

imagesI’ve been so glued to reports from Fort Meade that I keep putting off commenting on the way it’s being framed by the media; I will soon, with links to cogent analyses by others. But in the meantime, one piece of unfinished sorta- Veterans Day business: I wanted to hype an amazing resource on soldiers, civilians and struggle, with some of the best writing out there.

The Dart Society, composed of journalists interested in trauma, devoted the November issue of its newish magazine Dart Society Reports to veterans, edited by star journalist Jina Moore. Included in its super-rich contents:

I did want to mention that in connection with the issue, the Society editors asked me for a Q&A or the Dart Society blog.  They asked me to talk about soldiers who dissent, which got me to elaborate on my definition of same:

Some of the early dissent was quite private —  a letter home bemoaning the war, a cryptic but elegiac poem — and some public but wordless, like desertion or a refusal to cross a border when ordered. When troops desert, it doesn’t always mean they’re dissenting — they could be homesick or felonious  – but when large-scale desertion occurs, it’s a symptom that something has gone very wrong.

From 1754 on, though, enlistees were also not afraid to confront their commands when they felt it necessary. They considered themselves citizens with rights and formed “committees” like the ones that started the Revolution. In a famous 1779 “riot,” Philadelphia militiamen marched on the home of the Treasury Secretary to protest inflated bread prices.

Wars that followed, especially wars more obviously of choice, were rife with both crises of conscience and insubordination. Two hundred years ago this year, we were trying to invade Canada in the War of 1812.  One of the reasons it failed was because some troops refused to cross the border, others deserting whole platoons at a time.

Even what most folks consider the “good” wars, the Civil War and World War II, engendered the most passionate critics of the wars that followed. Frederick Douglass’ son Lewis spoke out against the Spanish-American War after fighting in the Civil War’s famous Massachusetts 54th, and William Kunstler was an army major in Asia in 1944, before leading the early movement against the Vietnam War.

Then there are what I call the gender-dissenters: gay troops surviving purges and persecution, and women at first dissenting simply by serving. Harriet Tubman led operations in the South and recruited black soldiers, which at the time felt as revolutionary as you get. And the recent movement on behalf of survivors of military sexual trauma is so profoundly, brilliantly disruptive that it sounds chords with so many prior dissenters.

Whatever you think of my ramblings, go over and look at the issue: the writing over there will delight and change you. And the Society knows what she knows – that every day should be Veterans Day.

Iraq and a hard place

pc-1

All this Manning talk has distracted me from writing about this amazing mural, powered by the singular organization Warrior Writers. They’re poets, essayists, performers and visual artists of all stripes, mostly from what their director calls “veterans who’ve served since September 11.” Together with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program,  they produced this testimonial a half-mile away from where I live, entitled “Communion Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” It was funded in part by veterans’ health agencies who believed sort of what I do: that creating art is a key way to tapping the strength inside the trauma.

I was there for the opening on Veterans Day, when the commissioners and City Council folk celebrated the work of the artists and all the vets who helped them create this mural. You get to decide if dissent is involved, but to the extent that vets turn their own trauma into something that speaks truth, there’s no question it deserves our attention.

At the mural opening, I also had the privilege of meeting a newer member of Iraq Veterans Against War, a talented writer from Western Pennsylvania. And he gave me permission to post the poem he read that day, which you should read aloud to yourself: I think it even without the line breaks it sings.

Continue reading

we all have our secrets

Speaking of Bradley Manning…

Photo: Bill Perry

Photo: Bill Perry

I first saw the video below last year, during the very FIRST of Manning’s pre-trial hearings; I was at that week’s vigil outside Fort Meade, which also doubled as a Veterans for Peace convention. (I’m the one in the beret in this photo, behind Dan Choi and Ray McGovern).

Even though the text was drawn from the chat logs, I had the same worries about posting it as about writing about the gender issue. Now, I think it’s an easy way to get a peek of some useful information, including a glimpse of that young-libertarian mindset that’s familiar to so many of us.

Bradley Manning Had Secrets from Animate Projects on Vimeo.

bradleymanning1.jpg.scaled1000Before he ever was a soldier, Manning was an out gay guy – a gay Starbucks barista, of all things.  We know that from his Facebook page, preserved for us by PBS. We also know that he stayed openly gay AFTER enlisting. He doesn’t mention being gay-bashed in basic, something his peers told Welsh journalists about, though he does mention being in the “discharge unit.”  But by then he was a soldier, and felt himself part of something important, and hoped to stay on. And then.

Then hasn’t ended yet, by a long shot.