Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 12, 2012

Lion and the Lamb: Our Afghan tar baby

CROSSVILLE — In the Uncle Remus folktale, Br'er Rabbit finds a tar baby sitting in his path. When it doesn't respond to him, he angrily starts punching the unresponsive figure, hitting it first with one paw and then another.  Soon all four paws are stuck to the Tar Baby.

In a sense, this is the story of our nation's involvement in Afghanistan. We have now been in a war there for the longest period in our nation's history — over ten years, with no positive results. The financial costs have been huge, and the loss of life on both sides has been increasing.

During the last two weeks, published reports state that the suicide rate among our active-duty troops in Afghanistan has increased to one a day. And the daily suicide rate among veterans of both wars in Afghanistan an Iraq has now increased to eighteen.

Reasons for the increase are not fully understood yet, but a number of factors are becoming evident. There are no front lines in this war, and combat is 24/7. To keep safe and alive in such an environment, one must be quick to react to movement or sound, and be ready to use violence and to kill. Each soldier feels surrounded by enemies. Because he is not familiar with the language or culture, he is not given much opportunity to know Afghans as real people (or to hear their side of the story for opposing the American invasion). Besides, killing another human being is not something he is proud of doing. To add to this problem, repeated combat deployments in such a corrosive environment greatly increase the battering of a soldier's psyche.

Repeated deployments have also had a negative effect on the family relationships of the soldiers, not only during the deployment, but when the soldier returns home for an interval between them. He has found it hard to turn off his war-related reactions. Many return with a post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to sleep well. And not a few seek relief through drugs or alcohol.

According to a study published by the American Journal for Public Health, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars "have produced the highest ratio of wounded to killed of any previous military operations. Orthopedic injuries are the most common class of injury, and pain is one of the most frequently reported symptoms." If a soldier has escaped a nearby IED (improvised explosive device) explosion, he may also have suffered brain injury.   

Craig Bryan, a University of Texas psychololgist and suicide expert who previously had been in the Air Force, states, "We train our warriors to use controlled violence and aggression, to suppress strong emotional reactions in the face of adversity, to tolerate physical and emotional pain, and to overcome the fear of injury and death. While required for combat, these qualities are also associated with increased risk for suicide."

One serious deficiency our nation has in the area of treatment: most veterans' hospitals are overcrowded these days. For those seeking medical and psychiatric help, the waiting period for entry can stretch into several months. Suicides often take place in this waiting period.

There is an interesting side issue related to those mentioned above: military dogs can also show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Trained dogs are used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters, and help clear buildings, but they are often affected mentally and emotionally by combat resulting from explosions, gunfire, and violence. They sometimes undergo sharp changes in temperament, becoming unusually aggressive with their handlers, or especially timid, avoiding buildings or work areas they had previously been comfortable in.  Most stop doing the tasks they were trained to perform. Unlike humans, however, they have not been known to commit suicide.

The Afghan Tar Baby has received quite a pummeling for over ten years through our ongoing imperial war in the Middle East. The question is not only what this has done to the Afghan people and homeland but what it has done to us, as well. Our fingers seem to be stuck on gun triggers and drone buttons. Somehow we need to find a way to disengage ourselves from this fruitless effort to achieve peace through violence, and to engage in a more positive and creative pathway to peace.

• • •

This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice, an organization composed of representatives from various churches in the area, and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.

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