The PTSD Machine


Before the smoke had cleared and the blood had dried in the latest Fort Hood shooting, you had pundits from both sides sitting on the fresh carcasses to exploit their team’s agenda.

One side says this proves we should eliminate private gun ownership, while the other side says that if everyone had been carrying a concealed weapon, this never would have happened.

Holy fuck, I wish there were more than two sides.

If you’re against guns, then at least be consistent and demand that the government be disarmed, too. Otherwise, if you let them have all the guns, they’re more likely to point them at citizens than they are at any imagined foreign enemies. Any rudimentary historical understanding of totalitarian regimes would prove this to be true. To believe that the government’s job is to protect us rather than to monopolize violence is naive at best, dangerous at worst.

And that’s all I’ll say about guns.

The big issue here isn’t guns—it’s that the military creates psychopaths.

After Timothy McVeigh blew up Oklahoma City’s Murrah Building in 1995, we heard a lot about how he was a white supremacist who hated the government. We didn’t hear nearly so much about the fact that he’d learned to hate the government after serving in the first Gulf War and observing how the US military encouraged its soldiers to gleefully decapitate and slaughter everything in their path.

I have a friend who’s a lawyer in Oklahoma City and was sitting in his office right across the street when McVeigh’s bomb went off. It knocked him off his chair and blasted glass and plaster all over his office. He filed some legal papers in the McVeigh case and tells me that the most unsettling thing about looking at McVeigh in the courtroom was that he seemed like just a normal, skinny, pimply American kid.

My father served in the Air Force during World War II and told me he dropped bombs on Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. It’s anyone’s guess how much this contributed to the rage he displayed at home, but I remember my mother telling me that right after he got home from the war, she started wondering, night after night, when he would stop screaming and hitting things.

My older brother Johnny was my first hero—funny, bold, and full of life. Then in 1967, when I was six, he left for Vietnam to go kill “gooks.” After he got back, there was something muted about his personality, something broken inside him. Noticing that he never talked about his time in Nam, I finally asked him in 2006 whether he’d seen combat. He told me he had, that his job as a grunt was to fire at the Viet Cong and bring them out of the bushes so American choppers and planes could come in to annihilate them. He told me how fucking loud the bombs were. Then he took off his glasses and started crying uncontrollably. “Bush doesn’t know what he’s doing to those kids he’s sending to the Middle East,” he said. I knew never to ask him about Vietnam again.

About three years ago when he was staying at my house, he had a full-blown Vietnam flashback while sleepwalking in the middle of the night. This was more than 40 years after he’d been in Vietnam. Thanks, US government, for destroying my first hero by sending him to fight in a war that proved to be useless.

You may disagree, but I think every war the US has fought in the Middle East has been absolutely useless for the average American. It may benefit arms dealers and oil companies and Israeli interests, but I don’t see how it helps anyone who lives here. Do you honestly think 9/11 would have happened if the US hadn’t already invaded Iraq in 1990, ripped the country to pieces, and imposed sanctions that led to the starvation deaths of an estimated million or more women and children?

Most of the modern US military has nothing to do with “self-defense” and everything to do with expanding the American empire and those who profit from it—which is not the average citizen. And in the process, it’s creating a new generation of ticking time bombs who are either going to kill themselves or shoot up people on US soil.

If you believe it’s the government’s job to find jobs for people—and I’m not sure it is—they should at least be finding better jobs than teaching young poor and working-class citizens how to murder.