Something happened today. It would be easier to say that something happened in the American psyche and perhaps today, after Memorial Day, that we have lost our tolerance for our latest foreign excursion. We may now understand that we haven't been told the whole story. Now and for quite sometime.
But, that is impossible to know and improbable to believe. But something happened closer to home.
My father, with whom I have had terrible fights, philosophically and physically, called me tonight, near tears.
He was calling to ask my opinion about Haditha. He wanted to know if I thought that Marines had murdered innocent non-combatants.
I told him that yes, it appears that Marines did just that.
He said, "like My Lai?"
I said well, one thing is usually not like another. I don't think we should compare or wonder if one murderous rage is worse than another. But, yes, it appeared that young men, under- trained at best and laboring at a task for which they were not trained at worst, have murdered children.
My father said, "I was a soldier once. We were trained to fight the enemy, not children! The U.S. does so much good, but a single incident can undo all of that."
My father had served in the Texas National Guard in the Forty-ninth Armored Division and was activated U.S. Army by President Kennedy during the Berlin Wall crisis. He served in the Thirty-sixth Division from 1961-62 and during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He did not see combat, however, he identifies strongly with military troops.
"Everything is all messed up." he said.
Indeed. American troops are acting now as police officers. The young Marine Lance Corporal Roel Ryan Briones who was ordered to clean up and photograph one site of dead civilians was essentially told to clean up a crime scene. He told his mother, in one of the most dreadful accounts told in this war, that he picked up the body of a child and the child's brains fell out on to his boots. He may have post traumatic stress disorder. It may take him years to recover.
My father and I talked about the lack of training, the lack of discipline, how a killing machine, the U.S. Army, is being used as essentially police officers, not a fighting brigade to kill the enemy and secure real estate. They are not driving an opposing force out of Iraq. They are young and scattered. There are not enough troops there and they have done too many tours.
What we did not talk about was my father's military training that made it difficult for him to adjust to civilian life. What we did not talk about was his rage which was often directed at me as a child. We never talk about how he was abandoned as a child, left literally to die in an empty house while his father took up with a new wife. As a child, I had terrible allergies, I sneezed and got a handful of mucus. He beat me. I gasped in fear when he made a wrong turn on a highway under construction. He screamed at me for hours for gasping aloud. I had forgotten all that, or thought that it was in the past. That I was grown and he would react to me as an adult.
He beat me when I was 27 years old because I told him that he embarrassed me in front of a college friend. We were watching the news on New Years Eve and he screamed at me that I didn't know what I was talking about with my disapproval of the U.S. invasion of Panama.
I had post traumatic stress disorder for years.
All it takes is a single incident to set a person back, to throw them off track.
I don't blame the U.S. Army for my father's rage. He got that from his childhood. He didn't know that he had problems. Mental illness was what his brother, who was born at home, with hydrocephalus and later schizophrenia, had. Not my father. He never knew that there was something that could be done about his anger and violence.
When I called him after he beat me that last time, I asked him why he had battered me and that he needed help. He said sobbing again and again, "There is nothing wrong with me."