Turning Veterans Into Sociopaths

The movie scene we watched in class resonated with me; two war vets confessing their darkest memories of combat to each other. It resonated because it reflected my experiences talking to vets. My grandfather served in World War II. I’ve talked to vets from Vietnam. There was a commonality in all their stories. If they talked about them at all, it was a sense of sadness, a sense of regret for the things they had to do. They would have done the same things again; the vets I’m speaking of were not pacifists. [1] They were proud of their service; they believed the things they did simply had to be done.

But they did not gloat about them.

I later learned the two boys – they had to be ten years younger than me, so they were "boys" even though they could legally drink – were in the National Guard. They were 11 Bravos – that’s infantry for one of you civilian types – and at least one of them was planning to go active duty after his commitment to the Guard was up.

But that was later.

They were talking outside between bands, loud but private. Perhaps they were half-deaf from the band before, perhaps it was just an assumption that nobody else was around. While they smoked, it was easy for me to hear them even ten feet away. It was easy to hear the tones of their voices. [2]

“Yeah, [the Iraqi kids] wouldn’t always take lemon-lime Gatorade from us. They thought we were giving them piss. ‘Cause some of the guys would piss in the jars on patrol then just throw them by the side of the road. Some guys would piss in the orange, though, and then give that to the kids.”

“It was weird, they wouldn’t be scared of a pistol, but if I just put a laser pointer on them they’d start pissing their pants. Got to so I wouldn’t bother with my pistol – just use the laser pointer or the fifty-cal.”

“There were always all these sheep. Once, I [hooked up a bunch of small munitions] and tossed it into a bunch of ’em.” [Other guy] “That’s like a grenade!” [First guy] “Yup. Boom.”

“Though the most [screwed] up thing I did was when some kid was throwing rocks at us, y’know? He was throwing these rocks and I just heaved an [inaudible] at him. It hit him on the head, man. [laughter] There was this big metal thunk, and he just fell down and lay there. Dunno what happened to him, he was still laying there when we left. Serves him right for throwing rocks at us.”

It wasn’t the words so much. Compared to past atrocities, these things were nothing. What bothered me was the tone. I’ve heard that tone before. I’ve used that tone before.

They described inhuman treatment in the same tone you use when you’re telling someone about a really great party, or a fun movie. The way you talk about how things were when you hung out with your friends in high school, or at the last convention.

That was what struck me about these new veterans. That was what scared me. That these boys talked about such dehumanizing brutality (including a possible murder) the same way you’d talk about that party when your friend had the lampshade on your head. It’s that kind of attitude that breeds atrocity. It’s this attitude that explains why studies of veterans from prior wars [3] don’t have the same huge increase in domestic violence that we’re seeing in soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

That is the real cost of this war. We will be paying that cost far, far into the future. [2]

[1] Pre-emptively: I served active duty in the US Army for eight years. I did oppose our invasion of Iraq, I did not oppose our invasion of Afghanistan. I get really annoyed with people who never served telling me I’m not as patriotic as they are.
[2] These are excerpts, with the profanity removed, and probably distorted slightly by my memory. I’ve also clarified pronouns a bit and cleaned up the text for space considerations. Or in other words, this isn’t a transcript.
[3] Note the date of 2005. This statement was issued less than 24 months after the start of combat in Iraq. The CBS article is from 2009, after there’s been time for the effects to really start to show.

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One Comment

  1. November 7, 2014

    They probably just making shit up, for example the one talking about pistols and laser pointers.
    In Saddams Iraq, those with a pistol were seen as having power, and back then the most common form of execution was performed with a pistol.

    One day, after we had taken a few casualties from SVIEDs(suicde bombers) tensions were running high and we upped our security procedures. At any rate, we began to have people too close to our convoy, kids and adults.
    While i was there we had seven children open fire one us, or were rigged with explosives. We weren't going to take chances.
    I didn't want to shoot a child, god no, but if it meant saving my fellow marines, or myself, i would have without hesitation.
    I tried to yell at them in arabic to leave, nothing.
    I then,pointed the .50 cal,machine gun at them, they laughed and threw rocks. When i asked doc to borrow his M9, and pointed it at the crowd, they scattered like cockroaches. I thank whatever diety out there that i didnt have to kill a kid, not sure if i could,come back from that.
    I have seen combat, i have engaged fanantic muslims, and yes i am guilty of joking about it, call it a coping mechanism. But when some one shoots at me, i dont have any sympathy for that person when i killed them, in fact i may have been happy for it, or more likely happy i was alive.
    I don't talk about my experience to anyone, other than vets who have been where i was.
    Warfare changes a man.
    It can humble a man to,live a better life.
    Or the demons of his actions can,make him take his own,life.
    And for some, who were borderline to begin with, it can set them,over the edge.
    I find myself torn between the first two, everday.
    Have i done things i shouldn't have? Yes. Like giving Iraqis canned ham and calling it chicken, thats about the worst of it.
    One time i punched a kid, maybe 10 or 11, in the face. Why? He pointed a rubber AK47 at me, and I almost shot him. His father shook my hand, and then,proceeded to beat his child for being stupid.

    Dont let a couple of wannabes/or possibly true psychos ruin your perception of the mainstream modern combat vet.

    Attrocities take place in every war, and on both sides. The key is to not,generilze, and understand that bad people are in,all occupations, not just the military.

    Corporal D.
    USMC 0311
    OIf, 2007-2009

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