The Hidden Costs of War

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11
years ago, on August 26, 1994, a US Marine combat veteran from Gulf
War I, Guy Harvey Baker, murdered two St. Paul policemen in cold
blood. Virtually all of the coverage by the major media made it
appear that these murders could not be rationalized (the usual inane
comment "we'll probably never understand what actually happened,"
was used by several commentators). However, if attention were to
be paid to the multiple underlying realities of the murder, most
of which were not reported, many sobering and unwelcome lessons
for our pro-war culture could be learned.

According
to the earliest press clippings (never repeated, as far as I could
tell) in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Baker had been, in his childhood
and adolescence, the proverbial fun-loving kid down the block. He
was popular in his Iowa hometown; his respected father had a well-paying
job teaching in the public schools; he dated the best-looking girls;
he was close to his family; and he hung out with the "cool
crowd." In 1987 he joined the US Marine Corps, every patriotic
American boy's dream, but in Baker's case it was the top of the
slippery slope that ended tragically in St. Paul.

The
Change Is Forever (Marine Corps Advertising Slogan)

Somewhere
between basic training in 1987 (where he had been a standout, breaking
course records in the obstacle course) and August 26, 1994, Baker
became a "remorseless killer, very cool, very calm, very chilling."
(That quote came from his jailers, but could just as easily have
been from his proud Marine Corps superiors.) Friends say he was
changed by his experiences in the Marines and specifically by his
experience in the war, where he served as a forward air controller,
working in the battlefield under dangerous conditions. He had been
decorated for exemplary service more than once.

But
Baker also had posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, obviously,
antisocial personality disorder, both virtually incurable conditions
with multiple manifestations caused by a combination of exposure
to psychological traumas, cruelty, chronic stress, sleep deprivation,
neurotoxins and malnutrition.

The
prototype of combat-induced PTSD is the Vietnam combat veteran who
often came home "crazy," having been subjected to the
severe psychological, spiritual and physical stress of jungle combat.
The Vietnam combat soldier had been trained in every which way to
kill those who were fingered as enemies, training that wasn't easily
unlearned when he returned to civil society. He had found himself
fearing for his life constantly in an insane environment, ready
to point and shoot at anything that moved, usually asking questions
only after the killing. He had been immersed in a 24/7 kill or be
killed situation for months, often sleep-deprived, irritable, eating
toxic food, drinking contaminated water — a crazy-making environment
that offered little or no respite from the constant crises.

Combat
veterans in all wars are often forced to unquestioningly kill potential
enemies, including innocent civilians, and often witness, or participate
in, torture, grotesque death, horrifying sights, smells and sounds – memories that haunt them forever in the form of unwanted daytime
flashbacks and nocturnal nightmares.

On
top of that, many soldier-victims grew to hate the war and the senseless
killing, and began the lifelong mistrust of the Pentagon and the
government politicians that ordered them into a hellhole. Usually
the only respite to their intolerable existence was alcohol, tobacco,
pot, heroin and other drugs, made readily available by the military.
Upon returning to the states, the stressed veteran was not reprogrammed,
re-humanized or re-spiritualized to fit back into "normal"
society.

Combat-induced
PTSD is classically manifested by recurrent nightmares (Baker's
were about rats); severe insomnia (which causes chronic fatigue,
headaches, irritability, mental dullness and often unemployability);
depression and anxiety; panic attacks; flashbacks of the original
traumas; marital dysfunction; hypervigilence and aggression, with
violent reactions to what may only be minor threats. Such veterans
are often reclusive but also may be abusive of those around them
with reactions ranging from verbal, emotional, physical and/or sexual
abuse.

Traumatized
vets are much more likely to commit suicide than the average civilian
(it is believed that upwards of 200,000 Vietnam veterans have committed
suicide since the war ended). They are more often chemically dependent
or abusive of drugs and more likely to commit criminal acts (at
one point in the 1970s, 20% of all US prison inmates were Vietnam
vets). And homelessness is rampant, with a recent survey showing
that 30% of the homeless in the US are military veterans).

In
addition to Baker's PTSD, he had become partially deaf as a direct
result of his battlefield experience. This service-connected disability
certainly contributed to his joblessness and homelessness. Baker
was an early victim of the Gulf War Syndrome, which caused him to
have a chronic rash (remember Agent Orange?), numb feet, memory
loss, restless nights and night sweats. Baker blamed the anti-nerve
gas pills he was given, but of course he also had exposure to toxic
residues of all kinds, including explosives, petroleum products
and, most significantly, depleted uranium (DU), the radioactive
armor-piercing shells that burn on impact, spreading tiny particles
of uranium and plutonium all over the desert and into the air whenever
the wind blows, to be inhaled or ingested by passersby for billions
of years to come.

The
first Bush administration, a proxy for us American citizens (who,
as Bush the Elder often reminded us, supported the mass slaughter
in Gulf War I by a 9 to 1 margin) sent Guy Harvey Baker and many
other all-American "boys next-door" to do homicidal duty
to ensure American access to cheap Middle Eastern oil. Baker was
probably fooled into thinking that he was doing his "duty to
God and country" rather than protecting the profitability,
prestige and prerogative of multinational corporations such as Halliburton
and Exxon, who seem to be above the law. He learned his soldiering
trade well and became an obedient, unthinking, paid professional
killer. He suffered – and died (mentally and spiritually) in ways
that we civilians can't appreciate and which even Baker and his
loved ones may not have understood. He was one of the "few
good men" but was imbued with serious anti-social traits that
are thought to be necessary in combat but, in civilian life, are
a menace to society. He was discarded by the war machine that recruited
him and is now disavowed by the Marine Corps that trained him to
be what he became.

In
1994, Guy Harvey Baker was one of the most hated humans in the news,
but he was any mother's son.

What
the unthinking public and its vengeful politicians have done is
to turn a blind eye to the root causes of the Baker story, ignoring
what the glorification of war has done to our violence-tolerant
society and its unsuspecting military recruits. And therefore we
have not seen this truth: that our entire culture, not just Guy
Harvey Baker, has been victimized by our nation's reliance on problem-solving
by use of political intimidation, bribery, ruthless economic oppression
and lethal, unaffordable military violence.

August
24, 2005

Gary
Kohls, MD [send him mail],
an associate of Every Church a Peace
Church
, is a practicing physician in Duluth, MN.

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