In a chilling letter that was published on Gawker, Daniel Somers, an Iraq War veteran suffering from traumatic brain injuries and PTSD, told his family why he was committing suicide. Somers describes the ghosts of committing "war crimes, crimes against humanity," neglect, dulling medication, the madness of war — the type of ghosts that make a suicide a "mercy killing."
Somers also had enough of his "leaders." The corruption at even the highest levels. A country destroyed and smashed to pieces by a war machine let loose. A president who plays politics with mass shootings but won't stand with veterans' families, those traumatized "by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference."
While Somers' letter is a grim reminder of the largely ignored plight of veterans, it is also a severe indictment of an aggressive, militaristic foreign policy that promises to harm both our security abroad and constitutional liberty here at home.
While Somers' story is heartbreaking, it is not unique. More soldiers are now dying from suicide than combat, 22 per day according to the Veterans Administration. Why, in a culture that supposedly idolizes military service, are suicides at an all-time high? Because, as Somers puts it, "to force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing cover-up is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me." It is why every day is "a screaming agony...nothing short of torture" that medicine could not dull.
Tomas Young, in an open letter to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney before his death, also places soldier suicides at the feet of the "trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done." This is what non-defensive, aggressive war does to soldiers, and with over 74 wars on its plate, the U.S. government is finding new ways to push them to the brink.
It's not just the trauma, revulsion, and suicides that soldiers and veterans endure. Once they get back home, they are disproportionately affected by unemployment, homelessness, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Sexual assault is rampant. Lawsuits are filed, but the medical care and help gets buried under the same bureaucracy that sent them over there in the first place.
Or what about the pollution and poison from depleted uranium ammunition spilled all over Iraq, leading to an increase in miscarriages and birth defects (for Iraqis too)? Or the less than honorable treatment of war dead, like the Air Force's dumping of the remains of 274 troops into a landfill?
It seems fairly understandable why one might break under this pressure. It's why more and more soldiers are speaking out, why veterans groups opposed to U.S. foreign policy are multiplying, and why the 2012 presidential candidate who advocated a strict non-interventionist foreign policy and bringing all of the troops home received more military donations than both President Obama and the rest of the GOP field combined.
Young soldiers who have been "stop-lossed," denied promises and medical care, and asked to commit atrocities are on the front lines of the American empire and can see the destruction, the carnage, and how it eats out the soul of civic institutions that are supposed to protect domestic liberties.
This is why Somers' letter is so important. It forces Americans to come to grips with what their government is actually doing overseas, wrapped in self-aggrandizing rhetoric, and ask themselves whether the price is worth it. In his final plea, Somers, perhaps unknowingly, was trying to help put a dent in a militaristic culture that either averts its eyes to the reality of aggressive war, rationalizes it, or cheers it on with the vigor of a Crusade.
As former Congressman Ron Paul argues at his Peace and Prosperity Institute, "The U.S. military has been abused by those who see military force as a first resort rather than the last resort and only in self-defense." We should be angry, urges Paul, with those who send soldiers to suffer in die in unnecessary wars and honor their grief by radically changing our foreign policy.
Making sure veterans are taken care of and treated should be the first priority rather than, say, a trillion dollar corporate-welfare program for under-performing fighter jets. But the damage done to veterans can only be stopped by striking at the root of their plight: an interventionist foreign policy that wages wars of occupation and aggression, not self-defense.
Whether they be tear-inducing suicide notes or Paul-Revere-esque NSA whisteblowers, revealing the truth about American foreign policy is the first step in reversing it.