Review: They Were Soldiers – How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars: The Untold Story

6 Star Top 10%, America (Founders, Current Situation), Atrocities & Genocide, Censorship & Denial of Access, Disease & Health, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Impeachment & Treason, Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), War & Face of Battle
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Ann Jones

5.0 out of 5 stars A necessary book — Gabriel's trumpet on true cost of war, December 3, 2013

A necessary book. The author has rendered a national — a global — service in documenting the psychological, social, and physical costs of war, costs that surpass the continually astonishing financial cost of war. SIX STARS (my top 10%)

I read this book this afternoon while waiting for a flight out of Afghanistan. The book hit me hard. Although I have been well aware of the staggering number of disabled veterans and suicidal veterans, most of what this book offers up was new to me and deeply disturbing.

The book also made me realize that as an intelligence officer save in a basement — the occasional big car bomb not-with-standing — my time in Afghanistan has been illusory, in that I have not at any time confronted the blood and guts pathos that this book lays out with a professionalism that is compelling.

The book also forces me to think of my three sons, the youngest of whom is contemplating joining the military after college. While I served and retired honorably from the Marine Corps, my wars were Viet-Nam as the son of an oil man and El Salvador as a clandestine case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. I've seen my share of dead people across all three, but I never personally experienced the deep gut-wrenching mind-altering pathos that this book lays down.

QUOTE (5): [This book] is about the damage done to soldiers, their families, their communities, and the rest of us, who for another half-century at least will pay for their care, their artificial limbs, their medications, their benefits, their funerals, and the havoc they dutifully wrought under orders around the world.”

Here are some of my notes. There is no substitute for an actual reading of the book and I strongly recommend this book to every parent, every grandparent, and every young person contemplating a career in the military. We have lost our moral compass, and one of this book's greatest strengths can be found in its charting of the moral wounds — the deep moral wounds — suffered by our soldiers, their families and communities, and our nation as a whole. Other nations do not wage war as persistently, violently, or frivolously as does the USA. As this book makes clear, we are now suicidal as a nation, in large part because we have substituted war for diplomacy, and treat our youth as serfs who can be sent anywhere to do any evil, while our leaders live with impunity and profit from death and suffering “in our name.”

QUOTE (9): For all practical purposes, soldiers in the field have the status of slaves, the prisoners of their grand illusions, their training, and their army.

The first portion of the book is compelling and absorbing. It discusses the stark reality of what “Mortuary Affairs” units do and how they do it. Read the book and be shocked, angered, and deeply disturbed.

I learn that “the Golden Hour” is how we save so many multiple amputees that in past wars would have died on the battlefield, many of them glad to die rather than be sentenced to life in the VA system or worse, on VA drugs outside the VA system.

I learn that the “trauma triad” is the combination of derangement in electroytes (think food poisoning and the loss of all the potassium and other stabilizing chemicals in your body); the loss of the blood's ability to clot; and hypothermia.

I learn that many of the casualties that the US military assigns to Taliban Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) are actually caused by left-behind Soviet land mines and the failed US counter-insurgency doctrine that forces troops to walk patrols into Soviet minefields (combined with our government, until one year ago, deliberating considering the Taliban to be the same as Al Qaeda). This for me is the most shocking insight in the book — we have been fighting a fictitious enemy and blaming many of our casualties on that enemy instead of on ourselves and the Soviet's left-behind mines.

I learn that the most important part of the Golden Hour, apart from removing limbs and private parts (all too many who lose lower limbs also lose private parts), is the removal of dying flesh and the prevention of gangrene. This is difficult when a body has been shredded and the points of infection are too many to count.

There is a long and excellent section of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This injury is also common to NFL players. Too little has been done, too much remains to be done.

The entire book is a superb first person encounter with the military medical system, most of it very good less the concealment of the death toll and the concealment of the actual injuries that are being spit back out into society with no provision for healing the individuals, families, and communities.

The author has a very short but gripping discussion of how after Viet-Nam the chaplains with consciences left the military, to be replaced by the evangelicals who started turning the US military into the “Conservative Christian Republican soldiers. It was such evangelicals that facilitates the Dick Cheney stand down for 9/11, and I believe that along with Zionists, it is such evangelicals that have committed multiple forms of treason and subversion within US military strategy, policy, acqusition, and operations.

Throughout the book the author excels at eliciting quotes about the absurdity, humiliation, and moral cost of war.

The middle of the book is about “the new normal,” a normal that unleashes a mix of disabled and drugged up soldiers and an equal number of morally disabled individuals that turn to crime, wife-battery, rape, and other forms of social pathology, while the US military turns a blind eye.

I credit the author with doing her homework, substantially augmenting her direct personal experience with superb exploitation of the works of others, for example Jonathan Shay's Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. This is where the term “moral injury” appears to have originated. Long before I read this book, but having been inspired by many other books including War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America's Most Decorated Soldier and many books on intelligence fraud enabling corrupt decisions to go to war, I tried to focus the attention of the now-serving Director of National Intelligence (DNI) on what political scientists call “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance is when you have moral young men being forced to do very immoral things, for the wrong reasons in the wrong times and places, overseen by toxic leaders who lack both intellectual and moral character.

I learn that suicides (up to 22 a day now)is the FOURTH leading cause of death behind illness, accidents, and drug-related deaths. Buy and read the book for this section alone. The death from lung diseases caused by our depleted uranium, toxic chemicals, and witless mass burning of trash including highly carcinogenic plastics, is a form of mass murder, an atrocity willfully and negligently pursued by our “leaders” who have avoided all forms of accountability.

I learn that overdoses of VA prescribed drugs kill more soldiers than commit suicide.

The author spends time on sexual trauma and sexual crime and on the terrible cost to families of returning veterans who have been warped by a mix of wanton death, chemicals, and immoral leadership.

I learn that 16.7% of military children have been diagnosed with a form of mental health problem.

The author attempts to explain the combination of moral revulsion and deep anger that veterans have, but this is probably another book. The bottom line is that they have been asked to do, and have done, things that violated their sense of self, and when they return to the blind idiotic “right or wrong, nuke the pukes, love our soldiers” they are sickened again, on top of their suffering from their own war.

The final chapter, “The Sacrificial Solider,” juxtaposes the manner in which private military contractors now offer a next step for soldiers wounded in battle, with a difference. PMC's are even less accountable for their misbehavior than are soldiers in the military. The author also observes that we do nothing at all to help ease soldiers back into society. [My comment: war dogs get more decompression training than any human.]

This is a very sad book, a very necessary book. I recommend it from the heart and for the soul. Who we are as a Republic today is not who we should be and it is far removed from aspirations of generations of soldiers who have fought for the ideals we represent in theory but violate in practice.

Within my ten link limit, here are eight other recommendations, the first three DVDs.

The Good Soldier
Why We Fight
The Fog Of War
Pathology Of Power
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005
On the Psychology of Military Incompetence
War Is A Lie

I am committed to creating public intelligence in the public interest — to the proposition that the truth at any cost lowers all other costs. It absolutely breaks my heart that neither the US Government nor the US political ecology (two party tyranny that shuts all others out) shares that commitment. This book shows us our black soul in very stark terms — our landscape at HOME is littered with the walking dead, and no one seems to give a damn. We are lost.

Semper Fidelis,
Robert David STEELE Vivas
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth, &  Trust (2012)

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