As the much too familiar saying goes: "In war there are no winners, only losers". This is plain to see as we have all witnessed incredible loss due to the war in Iraq: the lives of over 3,400 American troops, of over 63,000 Iraqi civilians, and the projected cost of more than $2 trillion. But beyond what we are capable of measuring, we are also losing some humanity with each day the war continues.
During Marine Combat Training, I remember the other instructors teased Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich for being too friendly. Having just survived boot camp, I was relieved that at least one of my new instructors had no desire to belittle or yell at me. Although I did not know him very well, I can honestly say that Wuterich was one of the most pleasant and sensible people I met during my time in the Corps. Which is why I was absolutely shocked when he became the face of the Haditha Massacre.
Recently, another Marine testified that he had seen Sgt. Wuterich shoot five unarmed civilian Iraqis as they stood with their hands in the air. Wuterich has been accused of unpremeditated murder of 12 civilians and the ordering of six more inside a house cleared by his squad, and then lying about what had occurred. In the legal proceedings, which began earlier this month, two other enlisted Marines have been charged with murder and four officers have been charged with dereliction of duty.
I never met anyone in the Marine Corps who I felt would be capable of committing the crimes that Frank Wuterich and these other Marines have been accused. But nearly everyone I knew were people that had not yet seen combat and not known the horrors of war. When we send our young men and women into combat in Iraq, we are not only asking them to risk their lives, but also their humanity.
Even the most intense and strenuous training cannot prepare someone for warfare, and no one can know with any certainty how they will react to living in a war environment. I was lucky enough to recognize early on during combat training that my spirit and conscience would not allow me to take part in this war or any war. I speak out about being a conscientious objector because the military does not offer the resources or guidance to those in service who feel conflicted about their duty. People who have lived through war and have been put in a kill-or-be-killed situation for prolonged periods, or even short periods of time should definitely seek out help. Instead, the military actively discourages even just talking about these experiences, and equates needing help with being weak.
The results of this attitude are devastating.
Many veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems, but are not receiving the help that they need and deserve. As a result of these untreated disorders, returning veterans are in danger of following the same path as some Vietnam-era veterans and are at risk of homelessness, drug abuse, and suicide. It is vital that they know that there are many resources available.
One group I work with, Vets4Vets, is a non-partisan veterans peer support organization dedicated to helping Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans. This organization holds all-expenses paid gatherings throughout the year for veterans who benefit from sharing their experiences. I am currently organizing a retreat for LGBTQ veterans to share their particular experiences. It will be held in San Francisco to coincide with Pride, if you are interested in attending please contact me.