From Baghdad to Terre Haute: Gulf War Veterans & the American Cycle of Violence (Part II)


Robert Jensen pointed out that Timothy McVeigh had “killed twice in his life. For one of those acts, he was sentenced to die. For the other he was awarded a Bronze Star…. The United States has yet to come to terms with the fact that the Gulf War and Oklahoma City have one thing in common. Whatever justification for each act, the method was the same: Killing civilians.” As Robert Scheer wrote, the government's execution of McVeigh only served to perpetuate the cycle of violence and avoid its “responsibility for his creation…. We too, the uninvolved, needed his presence as an open wound to remind us of the pain that political madness, no matter what its source, induces. In this case, the madness was, in effect, condoned when an unshaped youth was taught by his government to kill.”

2003.06.29

On September 11, 1998, another Gulf War veteran committed murder in the United States. Jeffrey Glenn Hutchinson, a former soldier in the war, killed his girlfriend and her three children. Three months later, on December of that year, the United States launched another intensive bombing campaign on Iraq under the guise of eliminating Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction." Hundreds of civilians were killed by this brief offensive ordered by Clinton and Albright. Their actions were met with international protest.

In November 2000, yet another Gulf War vet, warped by his experience nearly a decade before, killed in America. That month veteran Joseph Ludlam murdered his former manager. Seven months later, Timothy McVeigh was executed by the federal government. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was administered a lethal injection after being on death row nearly six years in Terre Haute, Indiana for this role in the Oklahoma City attack.


Later that year the United States engaged in its largest and longest military intervention since the Gulf War. In response to the events in New York and Washington DC on September 11, the second Bush administration launched a full-scale war against the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. American troops continue to occupy the country to this day. After a puppet government was installed and rhetoric around capturing Al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden subsided, the Bush administration-many of whom were key architects of the Gulf War-shifted its focus once again to Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

By Fall of 2002 the US had tens of thousands of troops in the Middle East poised to invade Iraq, as people around the world began mobilizing against this unfounded threat of war. During a two week period in October 2002, as hundreds of thousands of people were protesting Bush's war plans in the US and internationally, John Allen Mohammed and John Lee Malvo went on a killing spree that terrorized the Washington DC-area. Linked to 20 shootings and 13 deaths in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia and DC, Mohammed was labeled the "DC sniper." He had also served as an army combat engineer in the Gulf War. Like Louis Jones Jr. and at least 100,000 others, Mohammed, was exposed to biological and chemical agents during his military service in Iraq.

Born John Allen Williams in Louisiana on December 31, 1960, Muhammad joined the Army National Guard in 1978 and eventually became a sergeant after the Gulf War. According to Pentagon records, he qualified as an "expert" marksman in his engineering unit. In March 2000, Muhammad's second wife placed a restraining order on him after recurring domestic abuse. He proceeded to kidnap their children before returning them to his wife who had custody. That year he met the teenaged Malvo and embraced him as a sort of stepson. The two would go on to commit the murders of October 2002.

Later that month, another Gulf War veteran the same age as Muhammad, went on his own violent rampage in Arizona. On October 28, 2002, Robert Flores Jr., a student at the University of Arizona Nursing School, shot and killed three of his professors and then killed himself. The former US soldier was suffering from depression after a failed marriage, financial problems and increasingly poor health. One fellow nursing student described Flores as seeming "very aggressive and mean and seemed to have a lot of issues with being angry." These characteristics, along with his severe depression, are linked to the experiences he had in the Gulf War and in the military in general.

On the following February 15, 2003, literally millions of people from every single country (and even Antarctica) protested against the Bush administration's new plans to wage war on Iraq and overthrow the same Saddam Hussein government that had endured Bush's father's Gulf War in 1991. Despite this global outpouring of resistance, on March 19, 2003, President Bush announced the beginning of a military campaign that invaded the sovereign, oil-rich nation.

The day before Bush's pseudo-declaration of war, a Gulf War veteran made headlines once again. On Tuesday March 18, 2003, Louis Jones Jr., at 53, was federally executed in Terre Haute, Indiana for his rape and murder of Tracie McBride in 1995. This made Jones the second Gulf War veteran and the third federal execution under George W. Bush who, as governor of Texas in the 1990's, presided over more executions than the number of people that died in the Oklahoma City federal building.

Approximately 24 hours after Jones' execution the United States Air Force began dropping bombs on Baghdad, starting what the Pentagon labeled "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Others simply called it the second Gulf War.

Deconstructing the Cycle

"War with all its glorification of brute force is essentially a degrading thing. It demoralizes those who are trained for it. It brutalizes men of naturally gentle character…. Self-restraint, unselfishness, patience, gentleness, these are the flowers which spring beneath the feet of those who accept but refuse to impose suffering…" -Gandhi

From Jones to McVeigh to Muhammad to Flores-all of these Gulf War veterans, in a sense, "brought the war home." The violence that they witnessed and participated in during the war against Iraq in 1991 had tragic consequences on all of their lives. The acts of violence they committed after the war in the United States, from rape, murder and suicide to a terrorist bombing and killing spree, were all partly shaped by their traumatic experiences during the war. These experiences left them depressed, desensitized, afraid, angry, and in some cases physically and psychologically damaged.

This is not an unexamined phenomenon. Since the Gulf War and its violent aftermath in America, a number of scholars and activists have articulated the complex dynamics related to this tragic cycle of violence. Unlike the mass media and political elites they have asked critical questions that get to the root of these issues and have attempted to answer them in their own way.

One week after Timothy McVeigh's guilty verdict and death sentence was announced, the independent journal Eat the State! published an editorial entitled, "How Tim Learned to Kill." Cutting threw the fog of stale mainstream discourse on the trial, the June 10, 1997 editorial presented a critical perspective:

The celebration of his guilt and possible execution is a measure of the sick, violent tendencies of the whole country-not McVeigh. As with all death penalty cases, a possible execution only compounds the pathology, reinforcing the notion McVeigh embodies: the taking of life is OK if it's done for the proper reason.

When McVeigh was executed four years later, Robert Jensen pointed out that, "Timothy McVeigh killed twice in his life. For one of those acts, he was sentenced to die. For the other he was awarded a Bronze Star." Jensen also made the following connection between the Gulf War and McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City: "The United States has yet to come to terms with the fact that the Gulf War and Oklahoma City have one thing in common. Whatever justification for each act, the method was the same: Killing civilians."

As Robert Scheer articulated in the Los Angeles Times, the government's execution of McVeigh only served to perpetuate the cycle of violence and avoid its "responsibility for his creation." The day after McVeigh was killed, Scheer argued: "We too, the uninvolved, needed his presence as an open wound to remind us of the pain that political madness, no matter what its source, induces. In this case, the madness was, in effect, condoned when an unshaped youth was taught by his government to kill."

This phenomenon that Scheer describes is recurring, and now more than ever it "cries out for more complex and sustained examination," which must be applied to all of these Gulf War veterans and their individual acts of violence, being rooted in the violent acts of the State.

What does all of this suggest about the potential side effects of the newest Gulf War? In an article entitled "Another Gulf War Vet Opens Fire," written just after Robert Flores' killings, Charles Sheehan-Miles predicts how this cycle of violence is perpetuated by new wars involving American troops. Sheehan-Miles, himself a veteran of the "first" Gulf War warned last October:

Remember, when you go to the gas pump to buy your Middle Eastern oil, secured by the blood of American soldiers, this too is part of the price you pay. Not just being party to killings halfway around the world…but also the lives torn apart back home.
You may decide it's okay-your chances of being murdered by a combat veteran are still less than the risk of being killed in a highway accident. But as we send another few hundred thousand young men and women off to war, the odds are about to get worse.

Matt Dineen is an activist, writer and student at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. Contact him at md936@bard.edu.


Sources:

    Books:

  • Andreas, Joel, Addicted to War: Why the U.S. can't Kick Militarism.

    Clark, Ramsey, The Fire This Time: U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf.

  • Fischer, Louis (ed.), The Essential Gandhi: His Life, Work and Ideas.

  • Gray, J. Glenn, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle.

  • Swofford, Anthony, Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.

  • Zinn, Howard, On War.

Author: Matt Dineen

News Service: theExperiment

URL: http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1959