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tragic and mundane

in november time magazine published a photo essay, honor after the fall, about informing military families of the the deaths of their loved ones. i came upon it without realizing what it was and eventually found myself weeping, hiding my face in my hands to keep my sobs from disturbing my co-workers. one image in particular has stayed with me. it epitomizes the loss, needless death, and massive squandering of human potential that the war represents. on the face of it, it's not tragic exactly, in war death is the norm, loss is mundane. it is only tragic when it becomes apparent that for this administration our soldiers are just another natural resource to squander, somewhat less precious than oil. i had wanted to write this without getting all political but it's not possible. i can't escape the feeling that despite all of the families' grief, our military deaths mean little more to the president than the quarterly profit losses he grew used to hearing about in every business he ran into the ground. and like in those businesses, ultimately the loss is someone else's problem. were i wrong, we would not be hearing:
  • the fact that 80% of marines killed by upper body injuries could have been saved by more effective body armor
  • that soldiers wearing commercially available body armor have been threatened with the loss of life insurance and disciplinary action
  • the military continues to obscure and cover up the deaths of soldiers killed by friendly fire
  • how staying the failed course is better for troop morale than plans to get them out of there
we would also never hear again about another soldier taking his life after being repeatedly turned down by the veterans administration for post-traumatic stress syndrome. this writing was prompted by the death of specialist doug barber. i read about him today, and like that morning in november i found my eyes filling with tears. on the face of it, this is tragic. he volunteered to defend his nation, fought in the war and survived, only to take his own life due to his country's neglect. i just wonder how many more like spc barber are out there. since the only sacrifice the administration has called for is on the part of our soldiers, i feel like it's my responsibility to bear witness to this, acknowledge their sacrifice. though it feels like far too little too late, i want to share the op-ed piece spc. barber wrote before his death.


PTSD - Every Soldier's Personal WAR!


By Spc. Doug Barber
1/10/05
Published By Coalition For Free Thought In Media

In the last month I have been working awith Jay Shaft, the editor of Coalition For Free Thought in media regarding my experiences in Irq and since coming home from the war. We have only touched on some of the struggles of being a soldier, however we have not dug deeply into the personal war that Operation Iraqi Freedom has caused for returning soldiers.

Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush do not want to reveal to the American people that this war is a personal war. They want to run the war like a business, and thus they refuse to show the personal sacrifices the soldiers and their families have made for this country.

My thought today is to help you the reader understand what happens to a soldier when they come home and the sacrifice we continue to make. This may be lengthy, it may be short; but no matter how long it is, just close your eyes and imagine a flag draped coffin.

Inside that coffin is the body of a man or woman who will never get to live their life to the fullest, yet they bore the total cost so that we could live free. Their soul is somewhere else and all we have is their memory which over time will be forgotten by other events of greater importance. The families of these soldiers have a hole in their hearts that will never be replaced, even though they have pictures and happy memories.

Some families will refuse to believe they are gone, but still their sons and daughters are the hero's of a country that sent them to war. This war on terror has become a personal war for so many, yet the Bush Administration does not want journalists or families to photograph the only thing that is left of our soldiers who have died. They do not want the people to remember that image of a flag draped coffin as the last memory this country will ever have of our fallen men and woman.

They say that America will raise their voices and demand a stop to the war, but my question is why should we not show the results of war? For us as a country, we send these soldiers to war and we see their faces while they are alive. I say let their memories live on in every photo, even when they do come home in a flag draped coffin. Let their sacrifice be forever etched in the memory of America. We owe their families this at the very least.

All is not okay or right for those of us who return home alive and supposedly well. What looks like normalcy and readjustment is only an illusion to be revealed by time and torment. Some soldiers come home missing limbs and other parts of their bodies. Still others will live with permanent scars from horrific events that no one other than those who served will ever understand.

We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. They kill themselves because they are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out.

They ask themselves how you put a price tag on someone else's life? The question goes unanswered as they become another casualty of the war. Hero's become another statistic to America and they are another little article relegated to the back of a newspaper.

Still others come home to nothing, families have abandoned them: husbands and wives have left these soldiers, and so have parents as well. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has become the norm amongst these soldiers because they don't know how to cope with returning to a society that will never understand what they have had to endure to liberate another country.

PTSD comes in many forms not understood by many: but yet if a soldier has it, America thinks the soldiers are crazy. PTSD comes in the form of depression, anger, regret, being confrontational, anxiety, chronic pain, compulsion, delusions, grief, guilt, dependence, loneliness, sleep disorders, suspiciousness/paranoia, low self-esteem and so many other things.

We are easily startled with a loud bang or noise and can be found ducking for cover when we get panicked. This is a result of artillery rounds going off in a combat zone, or an IED blowing up.

I myself have trouble coping with an everyday routine that deals with other people that often causes me to have a short fuse. A lot of soldiers lose multiple jobs just because they are trained to be killers and they have lived in an environment that is conducive to that. We are always on guard for our safety and that of our comrades. When you go to bed at night you wonder will you be sent home in a flag draped coffin because a mortar round went off on your sleeping area.

Soldiers live in deplorable conditions where burning your own feces is the order of the day. Where going days on end with no shower and the uniform you wear gets so crusty it sometimes sticks to your body becomes a common occurrence. We also deal with rationing water or even food for that matter. So when a soldier comes home to what they left they are unsure of what to do being in a civilized world again.

This is what PTSD comes in the shape of--soldiers can not often handle coming back to the same world they left behind. It is something that drives soldiers over the edge and causes them to withdraw from society. As Americans we turn our nose down at them wondering why they act the way they do. Who cares about them, why should we help them?

Talk show hosts like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and so many others act like they know all about war; then they refuse to give any credence to soldiers like me who have been to war and seen the brutality of war. These guys are nothing but WEAK SPINELESS COWARDS hiding behind microphones while soldiers come home and are losing everything they have.

I ask every American who reads this e-mail to stand up for the soldier who has given their everything for this country to stand up to these guys in the media; ask them why they don't pick up a weapon and follow in the steps of a soldier. Send this e-mail to as many people on your e-mail lists and ask them to do the same.

There needs to be a National awareness for every Veteran who has ever served in any war. Send e-mails to the Big Mouths on TV and ask them to have soldiers like me on their programs. I am asking you as Americans to BOYCOTT every TV show or host/journalist that refuses to tell the real truth.

THIS IS A PERSONAL CHALLENGE TO BILL,SEAN AND RUSH TO HAVE ME ON YOUR PROGRAM TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT. Otherwise you are nothing but dirt under every soldier's boots!

SPC. Douglas Barber

To all crooked government officials that is reading my e-mail, I hope you are enjoying yourself and maybe one day your eyes will be opened to the master who enslaves you. I know how to fight warfare and am prepared to fight it as well. LET THIS BE A WARNING!! I am watching and I know you are watching me but I don't care. LET FREEDOM BE HEARD.

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