Monday, July 21, 2008

War Is Hell

"It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it." ~ Robert E. Lee

I found this story on the front page of our local paper this morning:

The March 2003 image became one of the most iconic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq: that of a bespectacled American soldier carrying an Iraqi child to safety. The photograph of Army Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, who was raised in Mount Sinai, was used by news outlets around the world.

After being lionized by many as the human face of the U.S. effort to rebuild a troubled Iraq, Dwyer brought the battlefield home with him, often grappling violently with delusions that he was being hunted by Iraqi killers.

His internal terror got so bad that, in 2005, he shot up his El Paso, Texas, apartment and held police at bay for three hours with a 9-mm handgun, believing Iraqis were trying to get in.

Last month, on June 28, police in Pinehurst, N.C., who responded to Dwyer's home, said the 31-year-old collapsed and died after abusing a computer cleaner aerosol. Dwyer had moved to North Carolina after living in Texas.

Dwyer, who joined the Army two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and who was assigned to a unit of the 3rd Infantry Division that one officer called "the tip of the tip of the spear" in the first days of the U.S. invasion, had since then battled depression, sleeplessness and other anxieties that military doctors eventually attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The war that made him a hero at 26 haunted him to the last moments of his life.

War is Hell.

I've always said I am against war. I've also always said sometimes war is the only option. The fact that Pfc Dwyer suffered from PTSD (or maybe just paranoid schizophrenia) has nothing to do with whether the war in Iraq is right or wrong.

There have been, and there will be many more stories like this one. Most will be printed as an indictment against the Bush administration and it's policies. I will agree that mistakes were made in the prosecution of the current war on terror. We should have taken a much more aggressive strategy. We should have put an adequate number of troops on the ground from the beginning. We should have started "the surge" on day one.

Well, no one is an expert in war.

The story of Joseph Dwyer describes an unfortunate by-product of the terrors of war in general. And many will point to this as proof that the war we are currently engaged in is an immoral and unnecessary conflict.

But remember this:

The terrors that Pfc Dwyer experienced in Iraq came not from our involvement over there but from the terrorists who target innocent civilians in their misguided quest to convert the entire world to their obscene murderous concept of religion. It is because of terrorism our soldiers are there. We are there to protect the innocents who otherwise would be left to fend for themselves against an enemy determined to wipe out everyone who doesn't believe.

We do not attack innocent civilians. We do not murder innocent men, women, and children with bombs devised wholly to maim, kill, and destroy lives. Our enemies do that. We are there to prevent it from happening if we can.

If not for Pfc Joseph Dwyer and all those others who have volunteered to protect and defend freedom all over the world, there would be thousands more deaths in Iraq, and indeed, the rest of the world.

Pfc Dwyer is a hero. He is the human face of the U.S. effort to rebuild a troubled Iraq. The death of Pfc Joseph Dwyer is not a propaganda tool of the anti-war left in this country.

It is a tragic reminder that all war, even a war fought with righteous intent, is still Hell.

We must continue the fight, regardless of the short and long term repercussions associated with the horrors of the war. Terrorism cannot be allowed to win.

For the innocent victim's sake. For our Country's sake. For the world's sake.

For Pfc Joseph Dwyer's sake.


Al-Ozarka said...

Great piece, Mark.

Abouna said...

Many people, who have not been there, will ever understand, either out of ignorance or out of a willful desire not to want to understand.

I spent 31/2 to 4 years in Vietnam during the war, not as a soldier but as a missionary, and I saw first hand, the hell that the North Vietnamese were inflicting on the people of South Vietnam, and saw the suffering of our troops caused by the inhumane "booby traps" that the set up Viet Cong set up.

I saw first hand the sacrifices made by our troops and yet they were spat on and called baby killers when they returned home, and no amount of explanation made any difference. The so-called peace activists didn't want to hear it.

Nothing has changed except the players.

Marshall Art said...


Trader Rick said...

For every soldier like the one you write about, there are 20 who adjust and live reasonably normal lives, even if in quiet desperation. I'm not sure you can lay blame entirely to his war experiences. He may have had a predisposition toward mental health issues...

Mark said...

Rick, The purpose of this post isn't to lay blame. It is to point out that one cannot point to this one soldiers plight as proof that the Iraq war isn't necessary. Anyway, I pointed out that his illness might not be specifically PTSD. It could have been seated well before his war expereince. It sounds as if he had bouts with paranoid schizophrenia, among other things. These maladies aren't necessarily brought on by traumatic war experiences.

Lone Ranger said...

This is not a greater problem than we have had with veterans of any war. The media is just blowing it up to look worse than it is. They will exploit anything to undermine the war effort. I remember in the early 70s when the media would check the military status of anyone who ever committed a crime. All the reports would go something like, "The former Marine held up the liquor store at gunpoint."

Nearly one in five U.S. children have abused inhalants by the eighth grade, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the University of Michigan. And the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta lists inhalants as the second most commonly used drug by youths after marijuana.

Well, this is obvious -- the culprit here isn't the Army, it's the public schools. We need a timetable for pulling Americans out of the public school system.

Henry said...

Just like the New York Times' soldier smear earlier this year.

Marshall Art said...

At first I was going to say that my "ditto" was "ditto-ing" Al-Ozarka's comment. But when I read Abouna's, it fits there as well.


As you know, I recently spent a week in charleston, SC, and whilst there, visited Patriot's Point to tour the USS Yorktown and Ft Sumter. In the large giftshop there, I was checking out the book aisle and a gentleman held up a book and said, "This is the only book you need from here." It was his book, "A War With No Name---Post Traumatic Stress Disorder---A Survivor's Story". The man's name is Dr. Art Schmidt. The title refers to both PTSD and the Viet Nam War, which wasn't called that in the early days when he served.

He served three tours. He had wanted to fly since childhood, joined the Navy to be a pilot so he could retire into commercial flying. He got trained and then they started sending troops to Viet Nam and they needed chopper pilots, so he learned to fly those. He was always in the shit, in forward areas in support of Special Teams and other lead groups, and his blood stains the deck of the Yorktown (or once did).

Anyway, after leaving the military, he suffered badly. The phone ringing would affect him, Fourth of July celebrations...he still struggles with. But he went back to school and his doctorate is psychology for the purpose of helping deal with his own PTSD and those of his brothers in arms. In the book he speaks of the disorder being called by a variety of names back through to the Civil War, when it was called "soldier's heart". In WWI, "shell shock" and in WWII, "combat fatigue".

But it occurs in other events. "Railway hysteria" is experienced by those involved in bad train wrecks. Survivors of natural disasters can suffer from the very same malady. And of course there have been those close to the World Trade Center in NYC and the Murrough Building in OK.

The point of course is that there are all sorts of people who suffer from this and that veterans might should be no surprise and certainly not, as Mark suggests, an indication that the choice to go to war in Iraq was a bad one. Frankly, it's as stupid as saying it was the wrong thing to do because some of our soldiers died or were injured.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Mark, good analysis, and you're exactly right.