The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 Nick Turse Archive
Peter Van Buren: The Human Price of Trump's Wars
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

“The wandering scribe of war crimes” is how TomDispatch regular Ann Jones once described me. Indeed, for more than a decade, across three continents, I’ve been intermittently interviewing witnesses and victims, perpetrators and survivors of almost unspeakable atrocities. I can’t count the number of massacre survivors and rape victims and tortured women and mutilated men I’ve spoken with, sometimes decades — but sometimes just days — after they were brutalized. In almost every case, what occurred in only a matter of minutes irreparably altered their lives.

I’ve also spent countless hours talking with another class of atrocity survivors: witnesses who did little else but watch and perpetrators who beat, tortured, or killed innocents in the service of one government or another. In almost every case, what occurred in just a matter of minutes irreparably altered their lives, too.

Sometimes, it seemed as if the survivors coped with the trauma far better than the perpetrators. I remember an American veteran of the Vietnam War I once interviewed. He had a million stories, all of them punctuated with a big, bold laugh. Jovial is the word I often use to describe him. We talked for hours, but I finally got down to business and he quickly grew quiet. Then, jovial he was not. I asked him about a massacre I had good reason to believe he had seen, maybe even taken part in. He told me he couldn’t recall it, but that he didn’t doubt it happened. (It wasn’t the first time I’d heard such a response.) While he had endless war stories, when it came to the darkest corner of the conflict, he said, his memories had been reduced to one episode.

As was standard operating procedure, his unit burned villages as a matter of course. In one of these “villes,” a woman ran up to him, bitter and enraged, no doubt complaining that her home and all her possessions were going up in flames. After shoving her away several times, he drew up the butt of his rifle and slammed it straight into the center of her face. It was an explosion of blood, he told me, followed by shrieks and sobs. Mr. Jovial walked away laughing.

That’s it, all he could remember, he assured me. He recalled it because he couldn’t forget it. At the time, the act was meaningless to him. Decades later, he relived it every day — her shattered nose, the blood, the screams. He asked himself over and over again: How could I have done that? How could I have walked away laughing? I suggested that he was incredibly young and poorly trained and scared and immersed in a culture of violence, but none of these answers satisfied him. It was clear enough that he was never going to solve that riddle, just as he was never going to forget that woman and what he did to her.

Today, TomDispatch regular and former State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren takes on these same issues, plumbing the depths of “moral injury” — what, that is, can happen to soldiers when the values they’re taught as civilians are shattered on the shoals of war. Van Buren learned something of this firsthand in Iraq and grapples with it in his new World War II novel, Hooper’s War. “Van Buren doesn’t provide simple answers, and readers are left with the understanding that decisions made in battle can be both right and wrong at the same time,” says Kirkus Reviews of this “complex” alternate history. Given America’s penchant for ceaseless conflict, his book, like his piece today, raises questions that remain tragically relevant. Ever relevant, you might say.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Military, Donald Trump 
Hide 4 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
    []
  1. Agent76 says:

    May 10, 2017 Kissinger At White House Signals a Bigger Scandal Than Comey

    Looking back through decades of U.S. foreign policy, we see a familiar pattern of bad plays in the theater of war. With the U.S. repeating similar insanity that seems geared more towards unending war, than the stated outcome. Is it a coincidence that Henry Kissinger was an instrumental influence in the Vietnam quagmire, and now rears his ugly head in the White House as the Syria situation gets worse by the day?

  2. This article is blessedly brief and to the point. More than a few columnists here need to read it and take the hint.

    How could I have done that? How could I have walked away laughing? I suggested that he was incredibly young and poorly trained and scared and immersed in a culture of violence, but none of these answers satisfied him.

    Note to author…in the future please avoid offering excuses. Thank goodness none of your suggestions satisfied him. None of them or the reasons politicians give us for war should satisfy the rest of us either.

    Now, let’s see if this comment posts. For some reason, it’s nearly impossible to get one to “take.”

  3. OutWest says:

    Trump’s Wars?

    • Replies: @Joe Franklin
  4. @OutWest

    Trump’s Wars?

    That was my question too.

    The title has no resemblance to the unrelated kvetching in the narrative.

    Trump has very minimally gone to war with ISIS.

Current Commenter
says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All Nick Turse Comments via RSS
PastClassics
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?