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Look. There is no way to get around this subject. We are all reeling from its weight, and the uncountable levels of tragedy that are involved. If Sgt. Robert Bales is guilty of the terrible thing he is accused of doing in the middle of the night there in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, it is a tragedy of immense proportions. The events of that night are all right on the surface of our collective consciousness, rasping at our jangled nerves and our already roughed-up emotions. An awful thing happened there, and now we must muddle our way through the horror of it to try to find answers, and the possibility of some kind of reconciliation for all, yes all, the parties involved.
What happens to a man after so many deployments to the battle front? Why are our troops experiencing so many deployments? Why are they not better cared for on their return home when they are showing so many of the obvious signs of PTSD? What training is being given to those who have fought so well, so long, that would enable them to ask for help, even psychological help, without feeling that it would threaten their careers? Men and women who suffer the strains of PTSD after being engaged in war are not weak. That such mental stresses are experienced, endured, and survived by most of them attests to their inner strengths.
But when these experiences are too much for one to endure, it takes even greater courage to ask for help. Some of those experiencing these stresses need more than a few words from us, more than token recognition. Sometimes they need the extra help of trained professionals in conjunction with their families and friends. But they need the conscious, public, effective, long-range understanding and support of the military services too. The Pentagon, the Veterans Administration, and the individual military branches need to do much more to serve these warriors who have given so much for us.
We have an all-volunteer military now. While that has many plusses, its most obvious negative is that those on active duty and in reserve units at this moment in history are all we have. Because there is no draft today, they must deploy and redeploy over and over again, as long as we are at war. The result is that less than one-half of one percent of Americans are serving in the military, fighting, suffering, and dying for the rest of us. They are keeping us safe in our beds, but look at the price that they are paying for it.
Does this excuse the events of that terrible night? Of course not. What was done has already caused unspeakable suffering to those Afghan families and to Sgt. Bales’ own family, suffering that cannot be taken back. If Sgt. Bales is the one who did this, he will pay a very dear price for what he has done. He will certainly suffer the loss of his natural freedom, maybe even the loss of his own life. His own family's suffering is and will be beyond our comprehension. There is nothing but unspeakable tragedy in all of this.
If we believe that, given the right circumstances, the right calculus of time, place, fear, and loss, we are not capable of terrible things, we are fooling ourselves.
The military services, and we ourselves, cannot continue to ignore these issues that our active duty military and our veterans are experiencing. Too many of our veterans have been shunned, or rejected, or so psychologically wounded that they have ended up homeless on our streets. This is unconscionable.
These servicemen and women have been sent out again and again into the jaws of death by and for the rest of us. The military itself has not done enough to find ways to deal with the effects of the psychological injuries that can arise from the experiences of war.
By all accounts Sgt. Bales is loved by family and friends alike. He was seen as a soldier of exceptional ability. He is described as having a sense of humor, of caring for others. But what was done in those few hours, in the middle of the night in that village in Kandahar Province, by an American soldier, alone and lost in the profoundest of ways, suffering, possibly, the deepest ravages of PTSD and unresolved anger, was unspeakably terrible and gave birth to unrelenting suffering.
Someday soon, we hope and pray, these wars, too, will be in our past. But right now, we as a nation, the Pentagon, the military services, the Veterans Administration, all of us together, must pay more attention to these veterans and active duty servicemen and women who have served us so well. We must make it possible for them to comfortably seek and obtain the help that they need, when that need becomes apparent, without it threatening their careers. Their families need to be given the means and the support to help them. Society, too, needs to create more jobs for them on their return. We owe them this and nothing less.