The capitalist press has been overloaded with the sex scandal of General David Petraeus, former commander US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his resignation as head of the CIA.
The story has morphed into something wider, drawing in other high officers.
I’ll return to the saga of the “Real Housewives of the High Command” below, but first I want to discuss a story that has received only scant attention, about one of the grunts who was on the ground in Afghanistan.
Staff Sergeant Dwight L Smith was on Christmas leave last year, and returned home to his family for the holidays. He went out jogging, when he says “something clicked”.
He went back home and got into his Hummer. He decided to kill someone, he later told police. He ran down a 65-year-old woman, Marsha Lee, at random. Witnesses saw him get out of his vehicle, and pick up Lee, injured and screaming, and threw her into the back seat.
Her naked body was found discarded in a wooded area half a mile away. Her head was bashed in with a heavy object. She had been raped.
Then he returned home. His mother said he seemed relatively normal, and they went Christmas shopping that afternoon. He was arrested that evening after police found his bloody Hummer.
Smith’s parents did previously notice his outbursts of anger, throwing laptops, and punching holes in the walls. “I know my child,” his father said. “This isn’t my kid. He was a goofy kid. This isn’t the same man that I sent over.”
What transformed this “goofy kid” into a monster? Two related things.
One was that he suffered a severe concussion in the war. Estimates are that 500,000 US soldiers have suffered concussions and other brain injuries in the wars of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrtist and retired brigadier general told a New York Times reporter that the army has failed to treat soldiers who have been exposed to blasts. He compares the situation to the runaround soldiers were given for decades about damage from Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The capitalist politicians and military brass do not want to admit the scope of the problem. They want to keep a sanitised image of these wars before the public.
They are fearful that if the public knew the full truth, these wars would become even more unpopular than they already are. That is why they do not help returning soldiers with brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, unemployment, and other problems, to anywhere near the extent of the problems these soldiers face needed.
The result is soldiers running amok (Smith is far from the only one), suicides, depression and other mental problems going untreated. The soldiers are cannon fodder, to use an old expression.
The other thing that transformed Smith is expressed in a letter to his father: “I’m going to be honest with you dad. I have killed a lot of men and children. Some that didn’t even do anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy.
“I have a problem. I think I got addicted to killing people. I could kill someone go to sleep wake up and forget that it ever happened. It got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just took my job way too serious. I took things to the extreme.
“Anyone can tell you that I changed. It’s like being a completely different person.”
He did not mention the women he killed, probably out of shame. It is significant that he chose a woman to murder.
His story, while an extreme example, illustrates a truth about wars of occupation. Even if the US soldiers are greeted as “liberators” from an oppressive regime at first (and the idea that they were to be greeted in Iraq and Afghanistan by hugs and kisses and flowers was always a fantasy), the reality soon sets in.
The occupiers become hated by the occupied. The war becomes a war against a people. Resistance grows within the people. They begin to fight the occupiers. The occupiers cannot trust the people, and soon must start kicking down doors to find the “enemy”.
As the “enemy” increasingly is the people, it includes not only men but women and children too. Soon the occupiers are taking part in atrocities. Some go to extremes, while others are just part of regular “search and destroy” missions.
I am reminded of what a soldier told me in 1968 in Vietnam. I accompanied the Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate, Fred Halstead, to Vietnam to talk to the soldiers on the ground about the war.
One soldier, who was fiercely against the war, was anguished. He said when he was in firefights, sometimes women and even children would pull out weapons and open fire on US soldiers. They shot the women and children.
Killing ordinary Iraqis and Afghans, including women and children, and other acts of oppression, affects the mental health of the soldiers.
The politicians and the brass do not want these truths to get out, either.
The fact that Smith suffered a bad concussion and had become inured to killing men, women and children are related.
The resistance fighters do not have tanks, helicopters and jet bombers. They have small arms, including mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs (IEDs in army-speak). In other words, with explosives at short range, that cause concussions.
To turn to the opposite end of the military hierarchy, what do we learn from the Petraeus scandal?
A not-so-minor point is that the whole thing began with what is called a “socialite”, Jill Kelley, who is a friend of Petraeus and others in the high command, informing a friend in the FBI that a woman who turned out to be Petraeus’s mistress, had sent her emails she found to be harassing.
That the FBI agent could then launch highly invasive surveillance of Petraeus’ emails raises the obvious question: if such could be done to the head of the CIA, what about us mere mortals?
I will leave aside the salacious use the media have made of the affair, including the innuendo that the mistress used her wiles to bring down the poor honorable general, a tale that goes back to Adam and Eve.
No one in the media talks about Petraeus’s part in carrying out the huge war crimes of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
What has been exposed is that for years, the Kelleys have been regularly throwing lavish parties not only for Petraeus, but many other top generals. Champagne, caviar, cavorting with socialites — that is how the high command amuses itself while the Sergeant Smiths get blasted by mortars and kill Iraqi and Afghan men, women and children.
[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]