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Matthis Chiroux

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All I Want for Veterans Day Is Not to Feel Dead Inside

Posted: 11/11/11 09:14 AM ET

I'm sick... and I need help. I need help that I'm not getting and I fear I'll never find. I'm sick of being a veteran, and there is no cure for me.

The other night I dreamt of death. It's ALWAYS there, in EVERY dream. This one was particularly violent. I'm being executed with a half dozen others. We are being hung for the entertainment of a cheering audience. Behind our bound and choking bodies is a wall with several narrow shelves. My heels can barely brace my weight when they find the edge, but alas, the executioner drops some slack, and I come crashing down until the rope snaps taut and I am hoisted skyward again. "Inflicting agony is a sport to these people," I'm thinking. "Please, let the next fall break my neck."

I used to wake up from dreams like this writhing in pools of sweat with my heart beating through my chest and rage exploding from my core. My body has grown accustomed to my state of mind though, and now doesn't react as dramatically.

Your veterans are slipping away, America, at a rate of about 18 a day. The Veterans Administration said that last year veterans accounted for 20% of all suicides in the U.S.; a startling statistic given that we're only 10% of the population.

For those of us who have not become suicide statistics, we are wrought daily by the consequences of our service to Empire. We cannot say we defended our country, or that we feel safer and sleep better at night. If anything, the War on Terror has left us irrevocably unsettled. We remember the faces of the dead and the occupied, and we remember ourselves as the occupiers.

All I want for Veteran's Day is not to feel dead inside. So many times have I stared into the abyss that its gaze has become familiar, and comforting and warm. It's the world now that seems so very cold and alien. Death no longer scares me like life does.

The truth is, I deserved the same death in Afghanistan I felt prepared to inflict on its citizens. While occupying that country, should I have been killed by an explosion or a sniper, or had my head sawed off for the media, it would have been more just than the occupation that put me and my M-16 in their streets.

Trying to convince myself that I don't still deserve that same death is the struggle. My acknowledgement of my inhumanity as a soldier is a testament to my survival instincts and my desire to transform, not just myself, but society. My humility and willingness to account for past wrongs are among the only tools left I have to rebuild with. When people rub the flag in my face, and thank me for my service, it brings me closer to death because it puts me back in the military. It reminds me of the worst of times; of recklessness and transgression.

I have written prior about at least one reason I no longer wear my uniform. Another is how sick it makes me feel inside. To me, it is a murder suit that I wore at my very worst. When I see veterans in uniform protesting injustice, it defies logic and reason to me; like wearing a swastika to protest antisemitism. You can imagine my chagrin upon hearing that uniformed veterans would be marching on Wall St. last week in response to our brother being shot down in Oakland.

"What a disaster," I thought, from purely an organizing standpoint. "If they don't steal the movement from the 99% and make it about themselves (the 10%, I guess), they'll drive out the organizational core with the nationalism, elitism and PTSD fits." What I wasn't thinking, and I should have been, is how that action could hurt not the movement, but the very veterans involved.

Anthony Wagner of Chicago, an Iraq War veteran, a fellow We Are Not Your Soldiers activist and a friend was found dead in Bayonne, N.J., Nov. 3, less than a day after participating in the veterans march on Wall Street. While the exact circumstances of Anthony's death remain unknown, as it appears he died alone in a hotel room, what has been said is that his death was "unexpected," and it should give us all reason to pause.

I can only imagine what was going through Anthony's mind the evening after the march, hours before he died. Having similar views on the war, the military and resistance, and having participated in many uniformed protest marches, I suppose he was feeling as conflicted as I always did. Each time I marched, I felt more like Sgt. Chiroux again, and increasingly alienated from Matthis. Even though I despised the military, I would catch myself singing their cadences. And my revolutionary brothers and sisters around me would go from humble to boastful; from patient to demanding. And then would come the orders and the confrontations and the blow-outs.

Fortunately, we were all usually together afterward. We'd even conduct "decompression" sessions where we'd talk at length about negative emotions the uniform and marching had stirred within us. To my understanding, after the march, Anthony was left alone. To me, as an organizer, this sounds like a recipe for disaster. What's worse is that none of the veterans organizations that inspired Anthony to Wall St. that day have even acknowledged his passing. In the clamor to defend the living, so very worth defending, many have forgotten the dead. Anthony, you will be missed, dear brother. We will treasure what pieces we have left of you always.

I have heard it said by veterans again and again that they wished for death while in combat. Not a glorious death to bring honor to their families, but a swift death as a release from the horrors of inflicting war. What's fact is that while many die in combat, just as many if not slightly more are killing themselves after returning home alive or even having never deployed at all.

I didn't wish for death until the night before I was discharged, and I didn't really wish for it as it simply was all I could imagine. What was the point of living when everything I ever believed in had been destroyed? I lost my faith in not only a creator, but in humanity, goodness, progress and myself. I couldn't envision life after the military, not after what I'd experienced in more than four years overseas, both in hostile and friendly occupied lands.

I came to New York and settled in Brooklyn in late 2007. For two years or more, I would know little peace, as I struggled to adjust to civilian life before getting slammed with recall orders for Iraq. Becoming a war resister in my first semester of college was not my idea of trying to relax and focus on the next stage of my life. With no solid support network here, my psychological state crumbled and I nearly became a statistic on Argyle Rd. Instead, I resigned myself to fighting back against that which destroys the innocent, and nullifies humanity to impose its own order.

Sisters and Brothers in the veterans community, do not go lightly as though you had never lived! Do not let the weight of this day bury your truths under the valor stolen from the victims of our violence. Do not submit to these holiday flag-draped mockeries of your suffering and knowledge of the true burden of war. Bear witness to the suffering in the most forthright manner you can, as though your very lives depend on it! It is alone we die in shame and misery. But the nation must be made to share this weight!

Many more will die before the last veteran has been discharged from this battlefield or the next. We will comfort their families and loved ones as we can, but never forget who killed them. It wasn't Iraqis or Afghans or themselves. It is the government and corporations that send them to the slaughter, and wrap their bloody remains in a flag, like butcher paper, for their loved ones to take home.

Yes, I am a Veteran, but Veterans Day's not for me. This time of year I feel my worst. I might not leave the house.

If you are or know a servicemember or veteran struggling with depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website for help.