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Blowback: Military Violence Comes Home

by Alexander Cockburn

Why Are All American Terrorists Veterans Of Gulf War?
We live in the "blowback" years. By blowback we mean, what goes around comes around. Unforeseen consequences, or foreseen but ignored. Unleash the mujahiddeen on the Soviets in Afghanistan, and you end up with Osama bin Laden. Blowback always comes as a shock, because the art of politics is to separate actions from consequences.

A nation always on the war path mans a nation always under arms and a country to which the war is always coming home -- a potent minority in the form of psychically maimed people, violence-prone drunks, domestic abusers, drug addicts and basket cases. This summer, before John Muhammad and John Lee Malvo embarked on their terrible jihad, the whole issue of Wars Coming Home had turned red hot with the murders and suicides in Fort Bragg, N.C.

On June 11 Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves, 32, of the 3rd Special Forces Group, shot his 28-year-old wife Teresa, and then himself, in their bedroom, as Teresa‚s sister and other relatives sat downstairs. He had returned from Afghanistan only two days before, having requested leave to resolve "personal issues"

On June 29, Jennifer Wright, was strangled by her husband William. The 36-year-old Green Beret confessed to the killing three weeks later.

On July 9, Sgt. Cedric Griffin, 28, in the 37th Engineer Battalion at Fort Bragg, was arrested after stabbing his wife Marilyn more than 50 times before setting her body on fire. The couple had been married for eight years but had recently separated.

Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd was member of the Delta Force, a champion triathlete. He'd just come back from Afghanistan. On July 19, he pulled out an automatic handgun and shot his wife Andrea through the head. Then he put the barrel inside his mouth and blew the top of his head off.

On July 23, police in Fayetteville, the support town for Fort Bragg, arrested Joan Shannon for shooting her husband, Maj. David Shannon, part of the U.S. army Special Operations Command. The 40-year-old was shot in the head and chest while sleeping in his bed on July 23.

According to the latest report of the Defense Task Force on Domestic Violence, 1,492 alleged incidents of domestic violence were reported to police units of the military services in 2000, most involving servicemen and their wives. 1,205 were found to have sufficient evidence for disciplinary action. Eighty-one percent of the records of these cases did not indicate that any action was taken. There were eight deaths that year -- all women and all involving domestic violence.

Separately, some 12,068 cases of spousal abuse were reported that year to the military's Family Advocacy Program. Of those cases, 5,996 were serious incidents, including assault, sexual abuse and emotional abuse.

The U.S. Congress established the Defense Department task force in 1999 after findings showed the rate of domestic violence incidents in the military had risen by more than a third, to 25.6 per 1,000 soldiers in 1996 and from 18.6 per 1,000 in 1990. At the time, domestic violence rates were dropping among the general population. But during that six-year period, there were 61,000 cases of military spouses suffering domestic violence, five times higher than the number in the civilian population.

As with Gulf War syndrome, there are theories that medications have caused these lethal outbursts. One popular suspect is Lariam, a popular antimalarial drug that has been cited in a spate of lawsuits. The drug, is also known generically as mefloquine. About 25 million people have taken Lariam over the last 17 years, including many soldiers and Peace Corps workers. Some have complained of side effects including nightmares and hallucinations.

Side effects listed on the drug's label include "convulsions, depression, hallucinations, psychotic or paranoid reactions, anxiety, agitation, aggression."

But Floyd, to take one example, had been back from Afghanistan for six months and had presumably long since stopped taking Lariam.

Studies have found that military families have a higher rate of domestic abuse than civilian families.

Dorothy Mackey, a former U.S. air force captain, is quoted by Tim Reid of the London Times as saying the U.S. military is training its Special Forces to be killing machines, while ignoring signs of growing marriage problems.

"These killings haven't really surprised me," Mackey told Reid. "The pattern of the past four years has been an escalation of military members being abusive to their spouses. It's not getting any better. If the military leadership doesn't understand the warning signs -- and right now, they're ignoring them -- it's not going to get better. They're teaching these people to be ultra-violent without leaving them any safety valve."

Special Forces soldiers can be away for up to 10 months a year, A Green Beret with five to seven years of experience earns $25,000. As Reid notes, infidelity, on both sides, is a major problem. So is "stop-loss." "A lot of us" one Special Forces soldier told Reid, "have had a 'stop-loss' put on us, which means you cannot leave (the military) for years. I am suddenly stuck in the force until 2030. I can't quit, I can't even change jobs within the force. If you are having family problems, you can't suddenly withdraw at any time."

Under the stop-loss provision, the military can cite national emergency to prevent people with special skills for retiring or taking special leave. Since September 11, the U.S. army, navy and air force have imposed stop-loss orders on more than 40,000 active-duty members.

One day in 1949, Howard Unruh, a 28-year-old Second World War veteran shot 13 of his New Jersey neighbors. His famous line was, "Stop me before I kill again." His military firearms training made his "walk of death" the first modern serial-killer case. From Unruh to Muhammad. Military training is designed to desensitize recruits to the grim reality of using one's weapon to kill people. Millions have been molded in this manner. Blowback is the consequence. It will be with us as long as the Empire needs war as its guarantor. There are more McVeighs and more Muhammads round the corner. You can bet on that. It's blowback. The leading cause of violence in America is its militarized culture.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor October 29 2002 (

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