1-6: Spoils of War

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me.]

[Wars Cause PTSD. Whether tomorrow, a decade from now, or 30 years down the line, the war experience today will torture a soldier’s mind. It is not necessary to argue, debate, or fight about our reason(s) for going to war; it is the act of war that attacks the psyche. End the wars, end the suffering.]

Cathy Breen, Co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence asks:

What will Baghdad face in 2017?

This bold-faced question gave me pause because it reminded me of ill-formed questions that began to form somewhere in the back of my brain upon my departure from Vietnam. First, Ms. Breen’s story.

Iraq in Rubbles

… [One Monday in December] a woman journalist, Afrah Shawqu al Qaisi, was kidnapped from her home in the Saidiya district of Baghdad by men claiming to be security personnel. She had written an article expressing anger that armed groups could act with impunity (BBC News Dec. 27, 2016).

“How do you get up in the morning?” I gently asked a young woman from Baghdad. “How do you manage?”


“With no hope” she replied.  “Each morning I get up with no hope.”  Her mother is ill and worries each day that her daughter will not get home safely from work. “All Iraqis want hope,” she added, “but they are resigned to bad conditions.”…

[Breen and a friend] one day went to the site of the horrific suicide bombing of July 3, 2016, only two blocks away from the family’s apartment … The night of the bombings was on the eve of Eid, ending the fasting month of Ramadan. Many people were out doing the final shopping for this celebration. Vendors with their wares on the sidewalks, children eating ice cream in the blistering heat of summer. It was about 10:00 p.m. The blasts took the lives of over 300 people, many of them children. Over 200 more wounded….

A Question of Morality

While in Baghdad I (Breen) stayed with a gracious couple who made the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj, this past year. In one of our many conversations, my host asked somewhat mischievously, “Which of the four do you think is the greatest sin in Islam?  Theft, illicit sex, drinking or lying?” I mulled this over not really knowing, but enjoying the exercise. The answer turned out to be “lying” and, curiously, I got it right.

But then the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq was based on lies and deceit….

Which brings my mind back to Vietnam, another war based on lies and deceit.

In-Country Conundrums

When my outfit patrolled black zones for days on end on search and destroy missions, we operated under a standing order that any Vietnamese person encountered was suspected to be the enemy or, at least, an enemy sympathizer. Black zones were also known as free fire zones, meaning that we had full authorization to shoot on sight anyone not wearing a GI uniform. The lame excuse for this carte blanche given to us grunts from somewhere up the chain was that “they were warned we were coming” (and instructed to leave).

Where they were supposed to go I could never figure. How they were supposed to get to wherever they were supposed to go I never figured either. What about what few belongings they had? What about the water buffalo?

Back-Home Blues

It was literally years after I returned to the states that I heard the term “survivor’s guilt.” I had it but didn’t know it. First, I was plagued with flashbacks of buddies falling close by, while bullets and shrapnel miraculously missed me. Why them? Why not me?

Then came thoughts of what we had done (what I had participated in). We bombed their rice paddies, we decimated their jungle with napalm and Agent Orange, and we forced them to flee their homes. To this day I still ask, where were they to go? Where did they go?

I am conflicted about the deployment of American fighters around the world today. But I never bought the lies and deceit that catapulted us into Iraq. Cathy Breen’s slice of life vignette should sound alarum bells for our country. I know it won’t, just as I know that in years to come Veterans will ask themselves: Why them and not me? Where did they go?

The website for Voices for Creative Nonviolence is



The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

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