Last night I attended a screening of the veterans’ documentary WHAT I WANT YOU TO KNOW. After garnering the audience favorite award at last summer’s Maine International Film Festival the film attracted sponsors including peace organizations I belong to that worked to bring the film to more audiences here in Maine. Attendance at the November 13 screening in Brunswick was sparse — about 20 people — but an engaging discussion after the film was facilitated by veterans’ counselor Robyn Belcher.
Archival footage of the wars the U.S. waged in Afghanistan and Iraq following 9/11 was interspersed with contemporary interviews of multiple veterans of those wars. Organized loosely by chronology of the enlistees’ journeys from private citizens to imperial cannon fodder, the narrative arrived at moral injury — a final resting place where one veteran predicted he will still be dwelling decades from now.
The film’s theme is futility and the sensation that all the limbs and lives lost, plus the civilians terrorized or slaughtered, was for nothing. Several clips of a succession of U.S. presidents speaking conveyed the lies that combat veterans now believe they were told in the course of their enlistment.
There was no clear mission and, once in country, soldiers literally drove around in circles waiting for their turn to be blasted by an IED. They arrested the wrong men, they shot blindly into crowds of civilians, and in their view absolutely nothing was gained.
Ostensible reasons for being there i.e. bringing “democracy” or advancing the rights of women were quickly exposed as fraudulent. Insurgents had the support and loyalty of the people, and woe betide those who threw in with the occupying forces as interpreters only to be cast aside as the U.S. military departed. These acts of disloyalty contributed to the moral suffering described by veterans, and to the moral decay in evidence as soldiers whoop and congratulate themselves on shooting down from helicopters onto unarmed civilians.
The film has a tight focus but I thought there were some glaring omissions in the moral injury department. No discussion of rape except in the context of Afghan warlords and their exploitation of boys? Really? Who can forget the gang-rape and murder of 14 year old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi by U.S. Army soldiers who then killed her entire family in order to eliminate the witnesses.
And why was there no discussion of opium production in Afghanistan used to fund the war while driving an opioid epidemic in the West until the Taliban again eradicated it after the occupiers departed? Plenty of veterans have died of suicide by overdose in the intervening years.
Suicide was touched on as it’s well known that more active duty soldiers die in “accidents” or by their own hand than die from enemy fire. Soldiers described feeling betrayed by their leaders and demoralized by the things they both saw and did while deployed, a potent combination that eroded their will to stay alive.
Most of the audience discussion focused on damaged vets and how to help them help themselves. I have to admit that was not my focus as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in situations like this. Why not celebrate the fact that largely because of their suffering the will to enlist in the U.S. military is at an all time low? Even military families, traditionally the best source of volunteers, are telling their younger generations not to enlist. Decades of war for profit with dishonor have gutted what was once a proud military that believed in its mission (however deluded that notion might have been).
The U.S. imperial mission in Ukraine and now in Israel have been spectacular failures that the government and its obedient press are still lying about today. Those in the know understand that Ukraine could not beat or even weaken Russia, and that Israel cannot win against Hamas, Hezbollah, and Resistance coalitions coming together to fight them and their U.S. sponsor. Attacks on illegal U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq are reported almost daily. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and millions across the globe continue marching to demand an end to the genocide happening right now to Palestinians.
The long downfall in morale that began with the Vietnam War has proven far more enduring than freedom.