How Can We Stop the Epidemic of Killing Women and Children By Returning Soldiers
By Ann Jones
Wake up, America. The boys are coming home, and they're not the boys who went away.
On New Year's Day, the New York Times welcomed the advent of 2009 by reporting that, since returning from Iraq, nine members of the Fort Carson, Colorado, Fourth Brigade Combat team had been charged with homicide. Five of the murders they were responsible for took place in 2008 when, in addition, "charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault" at the base rose sharply. Some of the murder victims were chosen at random; four were fellow soldiers -- all men. Three were wives or girlfriends.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Men sent to Iraq or Afghanistan for two, three, or four tours of duty return to wives who find them "changed" and children they barely know. Tens of thousands return to inadequate, underfunded veterans' services with appalling physical injuries, crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suck-it-up sergeants who hold to the belief that no good soldier seeks help. That, by the way, is a mighty convenient belief for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, which have been notoriously slow to offer much of that help.
Recently Republican Senator John Cornyn from Texas, a state with 15 major military bases, noted that as many as one in five U.S. veterans is expected to suffer from at least one "invisible wound" of war, if not a combination of them, "including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injury." Left untreated, such wounds can become very visible: witness, for example, the recent wave of suicides that have swept through the military, at least 128 in 2008, and 24 in January 2009 alone.
To judge by past wars, a lot of returning veterans will do themselves a lot of damage drinking and drugging. Many will wind up in prison for drug use or criminal offenses that might have been minor if the offenders hadn't been carrying guns they learned to rely on in the service. And a shocking number of those veterans will bring the violence of war home to their wives and children.
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The battered women's movement once had a slogan: World peace begins at home. They thought peace could be learned by example in homes free of violence and then carried into the wider world. It was an idea first suggested in 1869 by the English political philosopher John Stuart Mill. He saw that "the subjection of women," as he called it, engendered in the home the habits of tyranny and violence which afflicted England's political life and corrupted its conduct abroad.
The idea seems almost quaint in competition with the brutal, dehumanizing effectiveness of two or three tours of duty in a pointless war and a little "mild" brain damage.
We had a respite for a while. For nearly a decade, starting in 1993, rates of domestic violence and wife murder went down by a few percentage points. Then in 2002, the vets started coming home.
No society that sends its men abroad to do violence can expect them to come home and be at peace. To let world peace begin at home, you have to stop making war. (Europe has largely done it.) Short of that, you have to take better care of your soldiers and the people they once knew how to love.
Excellent (long) article here.