Beware President Obama – Pakistan ‘s New President Asharf-Ghani May Not Be As Trustworthy As He Would Appear

A Western-friendly Afghani President may be too good to be true. As much as I was charmed by the first eight minutes of this morning’s NPR interview with him, I was horrified to hear Mr. Asharf-Ghani twist PTSD as an excuse for the recent murder of a woman* who was stoned to death by an insane mob (by Western standards). To be fair, the reported details of the event have been inconsistent; however, what took place remains clear: the crowd murdered her when they believed she had burned a Koran. 

A Western-educated former banker, Mr. Ashaf-Ghani attributed this event to his countrymens’ PTSD. I do not know if he was referring to the murderous mob or to the passive Afghani police- who, like many  of the American-trained Afghani military,  have either run away from Daish/ISIS or have killed Americans. 

For many years now I have heard many sociopaths, lawyers and members of the media misuse PTSD as an explanation for violence, but Mr. Asharf-Ghani has topped them all. The ‘romantic’ words he used to describe American soldiers who allegedly told him their hearts remain in his country suddenly soured. I could not help thinking he is trying to hustle President Obama to  keep our troops in his dysfunctional country longer. Yet again I sensed another set of lies from a long line of mideastern dissemblers- then I had this intrusive image of the late South Vietnamese president Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and experienced  a flood of anxiety that more American lives will be lost supporting a smooth sociopath. Oh, but wait- maybe that is my own PTSD in action. Mr. Obama, you must be wary of new leaders telling you what we would like to believe.

*How a slain Afghan woman became an unlikely champion for women’s rights:

“Farkhunda’s killing shows that Afghanistan is still the most dangerous place in the world for women,” Fawzia Koofi, a prominent Afghan lawmaker and women’s rights activist, said at the march Tuesday. “If there is no rule of law, not only women, but any human being in this country is not safe.”

Unacceptable Decline From Front Line of Care

If this article is accurate the degree of sophistication in treating active duty soldiers is declining just as the level of complexity of co-occurring PTSD is spiking. Inexcusable. Readers, please note this reflects Army programs, not programs from other branches of service and not the Veterans Administration.

60 Minutes Marine Reunion Interview: 2009 Golf Company, 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marines, Scott Palley’s Superb Interview

For the all the controversy surrounding the validity and accuracy of war correspondence, stolen honor, bloviating and other questionable journalistic behaviors, Scott Pelley’s 60 minute interview with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marines, displayed not only journalistic integrity but superior sensitivity and skill in dealing with combat Marines at various levels of readjustment. Scott Pelley clearly communicated sensitivity, empathy, and respect. He knew these men and respected their struggle. He demonstrated a mature and knowing sensitivity beyond the skill-set of many new and seasoned mental health professionals. Viewers witnessed respective disclosure which was instructive as well as constructive. Too many vetrans are forced to provide painful details to people they do not know or professionals who follow a mission disconnected from reality and readiness. I do not want to sound polemic or critical of my profession but I am witnessing too many iatrogenic (treatment caused) injuries from providers and institutions not as skilled as a CBS journalist. One Marine stated it with clarity: “it never goes away, you just have to learn to live with it”. Others spoke about the comradere and sense of purpose. One tearful Marine spoke about survivor guilt – he lost his closest friend to an IED. Palley’s interview modeled a process of articulation, patience, acceptance and respect – well beyond the so-called gold standards embraced by too many providers.  Give me Pelley’s grace, style and respect coupled with a certified canine support over any  poorly delivered ‘evidence-based’ bloviation. Our soldiers need the best care we can offer. Mr. Palley, if you get tired of journalism you have another career ready for deployment.

50 Years On – Vietnam Veterans Heal by Helping – An Inspiring Newscast reflecting on anniversary of Marines Landing in Danang – March 8,1965

It is amazing to me that within a 12 hour period we are exposed to an extremely upsetting news story (as per the Whisltblower Mental Health article posted this morning) to this evening’s PBS Newshour story focusing on veterans who have returned to Vietnam with a mission of healing. The report focused on helping clean up the aftermath and assist with injury associated with Dioxin saturation – Agent Orange. A former soldier now helps care for Vietnamese children born with physical and intellectual impairments. Another retired veteran returned with a mission of creating jobs in software for the Vietnamese. The pragmatic, warm and grateful spirit of the Vietnamese is remarkable, given the estimated 2,000,000 deaths associated with the war. Today was the 50th anniversary of the landing of our Marine advisors in Danang; we know how quickly we surged to 500,000 American troops, Search and Destroy, Hearts and Minds, Air America, and 58,000 American deaths. It’s a bit of a naive hope that we will celebrate sanity, wisdom, forgiveness and healing in Iraq and Afghan 50 years from now. Vietnam was invaded and oppressed for a thousand years- their forgiveness, ambition and pragmatism doesn’t appear to be taught or mirrored yet in the Mideast. This remarkable report reminds us healing is difficult but possible.

Stories of Grief, Love and Penance Live Among What’s Left at the Vietnam Wall

This poignant article appeared in today’s Washington Post.  With well restrained pain I read it aloud to my VN Veteran group. Reactions were personal and painful- recalling lost friends, seeing the reflective marble, reflecting on a journey to a foreign land without meaning, or moral clarity. They reacted with pain to some of the items described in the article, particularly the care package returned to a mom whose son was KIA. We discussed the raw pain, the problem of forgiveness, for not being able to save lives, for taking lives on a mission or in a rageful state or state of terror. We discussed the body count, the indifference of decision makers, the myriad of causes and explanations for the war, which even the most ardent now see as folly. We discussed who profited, who lost, and how their sense of self was injured in a war that inflicted incalculable pain, well beyond body counts. They also reacted with pain to the picture the NVA soldiers mentioned in the artcle locked in the veterans closet. They all have locked away memories and emotions, not yet spoken. They are all working on letting go of the self loathing and irrational expectations they carried in a crcumstance that demanded numbness, insensitivity and unnatural violence. One veteran expressed the rage that politics precluded a win but also admitted we should never have gone there. They envied the moral clarity of WWII but quickly agreed that did not protect many of their fathers from the same emotional fate. They all carry deep injury for being tools of a war where as one observed “there was no win and nobody won”. They all saw or were part of horrors as bad or worse than the painful expiation left behind by the soldier featured in the article.  They are all struggling with forgiveness and need to be reminded they were instruments of war – ‘the tip of the spear’ who should not carry the sole burden of failing to maintain fairness, control or justice in the midst of mayhem. One member had to be reminded that the father and daughter he ‘took out’ were killing Americans. As so many still wrestle with -the core moral conundrum- everyone in theater was a victim, an instrument, human and inhuman, culpable and innocent. We had quietly travelled the usual path- I articulated it with them: “Was it (the war) right” and the even more difficult question “was I right”? We discussed the experience of a group member, not present today who became a pacifist 9 months into his tour- leaving him with a dilemma while still in the field. We also discussed the fear they had not done enough to save others. They reviewed some of the injustices, carnage and rage they experienced and witnessed. They cried silently, almost invisibly at times as they tortured themselves with doubt about what they had done, failed to do or did not do well enough. One retired career soldier who served as a drill Seargent before the Iraq war tearfully stated ” I hope I trained them well and none of them died because I left out something or didn’t do my job right”. As we came to a close I asked them to summarize what they will tell their wives or significant others what was discussed in today’s group – my standard question. In today’s meeting I ‘cheated’ and gave them the answer: “We did the best that we could.”

An Oral History – Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg was a combat Marine and military analyst whose revelation of the Pentagon Papers played a role in ending the war in VN. While there are many complicated variables, events during the summer of 1971 may have changed the course of history. The summary below gives some overview of the events, ironies and complexities from Ellsberg’s interview. Most VN Veterans I see are still haunted by the politics and public blaming of the soldier during this era of great hardship. Whereas we may never fully understand or agree on the history of VN, it is important to examine key questions, as objectively as possible. Those core questions are personal as well as collective and apply to all wars: “Was it right?” “Were we right”? Sadly, the emotions of the era placed responsibility on the soldiers who fought- or conversely some blame the protestors or the press for not ‘winning’. Ellsberg’s interview may help enlighten by reminding just how complicated and intense the era was. Knowledge I hope that will lighten the personal moral injury incurred regardless of political or ideological position. 

My notes are quick outlines  of the content of the broadcast aired today on Book TV. Please watch the interview for flow, style and context. On a personal note I attribute the release of The Pentagon Papers with my almost certain draft lottery number never being called. Here’s the link:

Oral History – Ellsberg 

1. Ellsberg states that VN was a bipartisan war going back as far as FDR. 
2. Our initial motives were in support of French colonial claims. 
3. We provided as much as 80% of funding to support the French.
4. Ellsberg was perceived as a threat by Nixon not for Pentagon papers – (which would have harmed Democrats more than Republicans “) – but the concern was release of documents about escalation plans and use of nuclear weapons. Ellsberg did not have those documents but knew the plans- as well as planned mining of Hai Phong and bombing of Hanoi. Nixon administration believed he had these plans thus targeting Ellsberg.
5. Nixon had plans to explode a nuclear device in rural VN near China’s border by 1969 – his aim was to kill few but achieve his goal of getting NVA to withdraw as condition of peace. 
6. It is a bit confusing as to timing but Tet had occurred, as well as our withdrawal from Cambodia; Ellsberg believed another huge march on Washington could have stopped the war then.
7. He claims the nukes were in place 1969; higher ups were surprised they hadn’t been used.
8. Ellsberg tried working with Senators not newspapers. He later came to see that senators respond to newspapers more than visa versa.
9.  Nixon dropped more bomb tonnage on VN than Johnson- over 3 million tons;  attributed to Nixon-  4.5 million tons. Overall much more than all bombs dropped by us during WW II.
10. Extra years of war under Nixon cost 28,000 more American lives. Mutual withdrawal was his goal. Nixon coasted on his declared intent to end the war quickly – alluded to ‘secret plans’ which he had. (Other historians point to Kissinger/Nixon undermining Paris peace talks for election- noted by some as a treasonable offense.) Peace with honor???
11. Nixon during 1971 wanted mining and nukes to support General Thieu, leader of South  VN; he insisted on NVA withdrawal. Late in war we used high altitude B-52 bombing to support ARVN ground troops- a first in military history.
12. Goal for break in of Dr. fielding’s offce was to blackmail Ellsberg into silence. Ellsberg had released plans for mining into congressional record before it occurred. There was intent and near attempt to assault Ellsberg to keep him silent.
13. Ellsberg’s psychiatrist  break in was delivered to judge during Ellsberg trial- Nixon staff did this under duress and had tried to keep judge quiet with offer to make him head of FBI. This was likely leaked by FBI agent, likely Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat. Judge did reveal this – “Watergate meets Pentagon Papers Trial”.
14. Dr. Fielding, Ellsberg’s psychiatrist served a medical staff officer for George Patton’s Third Amy. Ironically, Nixon watched the movie Patton multiple times in order to gain emotional momentum to invade Cambodia.  
15. Fielding kept no detailed clinical notes! Office broken into 1971.
16. Fielding did not cooperate with FBI- was stressed and conflicted. Fielding tore up notes and flushed them down toilet- old Amy training.
17. They tried to get dirt on Fielding as well – income tax question. Goal – Squeeze Fielding to reveal what wasn’t written.