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Guilt, Not PTSD, Is What Afflicts Iraq War Veterans

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Ex-military sniper Chris Kyle was killed last Saturday at the hands of another Iraq War veteran, Eddie Ray Routh. Routh is one of the many Iraq veterans suffering severe mental problems, and Kyle was helping him cope. Kyle figured a good way to help Routh with his struggles was to take him to a gun range. It turned out to be a fatal decision. Routh opened fire on Kyle and another friend, killing them both. Routh is now in jail in Texas facing capital murder charges.

According to the New York Times, last September Routh threatened to murder his family and to commit suicide. He had gotten upset when his father threatened to sell his gun. Routh was arrested and taken to a psychiatric hospital in Dallas. He told the police that he was a Marine veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is the common diagnosis for the many soldiers who served in Iraq and who are now suffering severe mental problems. The diagnosis relates to the stress that soldiers undergo in combat.

I’ve got another explanation for the mental problems suffered by Routh and the other Iraq War veterans: guilt — massive unresolved guilt over the wrongful killing of other human beings.

Let’s keep in mind that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. In fact, Iraq never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. In the Iraq War, the U.S. government was the aggressor. Iraq was the defending nation.

The United States had no authority, legal or moral, to attack, invade, and occupy Iraq. No nation has the authority to attack another nation and kill people in the process. The fact that the U.S. government has the most powerful army in history and that Iraq was just a Third World nation makes the situation even worse.

Since the U.S. government was the aggressor in the war on Iraq, that means that no U.S. soldier had the moral authority to kill even one single Iraqi. Every single soldier who killed an Iraqi or who even participated in the enterprise was guilty of murder in a moral, religious, and spiritual sense.

How can the murder of another human being not have an enormous psychological impact on the killer, especially when the killer is a normal human being as compared to a sociopathic serial killer? Ultimately, the conscience starts working and eating away at the person’s subconscious mind.

However, the problem is that the military can never acknowledge the veteran’s feelings of guilt because that would imply that the U.S. government was wrong to send the troops into Iraq. That’s just not going to happen. The government has to continue maintaining its official line — that it was right to invade the country and Iraq was wrong to defend against the invasion.

How can a person be healed of guilt when he’s being told that he didn’t do anything wrong and that he’s really just suffering from combat stress? Doesn’t relief from guilt require an acknowledgement that the person has done something wrong, as compared to something stressful? Unlike combat stress, doesn’t guilt require confession, repentance, and forgiveness?

Yet, that’s the last thing these guys are encouraged to do. Instead, people thank them for their service in Iraq, reinforcing the image that they they’ve done something right by killing Iraqis. They’re praised for their heroism and courage in battle, notwithstanding the fact that they had no legal, religious, or moral grounds for killing people in Iraq.

Consider the following incident related by Kyle, who was one of the U.S. military’s deadliest snipers. Two weeks after he arrived in Iraq, he encountered a woman with a child who pulled a grenade as she was approached by a group of Marines. Kyle shot her dead. He said, “It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it. My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul.”

But who here has the twisted soul? That woman was defending her country from the troops of a brutal foreign regime that had unlawfully invaded and occupied her country and killed countless of her countrymen, perhaps members of her family or friends or acquaintances. Kyle was a soldier who had blindly followed the orders of the president to attack, invade, and occupy a country that had never attacked the United States and was killing people who were resisting his aggression.

Ask yourself: What would American men and women do if the United States were attacked, invaded, and occupied by, say, North Korea? Wouldn’t many Americans defend their country, their families, and their homes from the aggressors? Who would Americans consider the twisted souls in that case — the people who were defending or the North Koreans who had attacked, invaded, and occupied the United States?

Soon after the invasion of Iraq, I asked a libertarian Catholic priest whether a soldier who was sent to Iraq could legitimately kill people who were resisting his aggression. He responded, “Absolutely not! No one has the right to wrongfully kill another human being. The fact that the U.S. government has placed them in a position of kill or be killed does not excuse their killing of an Iraqi who happens to be shooting at them.”

Consider a burglar who breaks into someone’s house in the middle of the night. When the owner opens fire, would we praise the burglar for heroically defending himself by shooting the owner? Of course not. Since the burglar has no right to be in the house, he has no right to defend himself by shooting the owner in self-defense.

For some 12 years, all too many Americans, including many church ministers, have steadfastly chosen to remain in denial about Iraq by avoiding the central issue — that the United States had no legal or moral authority to attack, invade, and occupy that country and, therefore, that the troops had no right to kill Iraqis.  Instead, the notion has been that if we just keep on praising and honoring the troops for their “service” in Iraq, everything will be fine.

But everything isn’t fine, as evidenced by the suicides, murders, divorces, family violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, and mental problems manifested by Iraq War veterans. As long as Americans, including the troops, remain in denial of what the United States did to Iraq, the problem isn’t likely to go away.

 

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Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.