Saturday, March 04, 2017

How Madeline Albright Deployed PTSD to Make Me Antiwar

I felt like I had a pretty good Gulf War. I only got shot at a couple of times, and discovered I kind of liked it. I was in my twenties, and the phenomenon of war being "the adventure of one's life" fully applied. I mean, I got to go to the other side of the world and see things I'd never have otherwise seen, right?

Granted, I now have both documentary and symptomatic reason to believe I got a snort of sarin or something, but for several years I was not at all unhappy to have had the experience, hadn't really thought through the politics of it very much, and felt absolutely no sense of moral responsibility whatsoever for the things that had happened "over there."

Then, as Jared Labell recalls in a blog post at, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss the effect of post-war sanctions on Iraq:

Leslie Stahl: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price -- we think the price is worth it.

Right after I heard that, within a few days at most, the dream started. Not all the time. These days, not even that often. But still, to this day, occasionally.

In the dream, I'm surrounded by children, and they're all just standing there silently.

Looking at me.

Looking at me with that face.

You know the face. It's the face of someone who's been hurt and who can't understand exactly what just happened or, especially, why someone would do such a thing to him or her.

Just to be clear, I didn't shoot any kids over there. In fact, every interaction I recall with a kid over there was friendly, of the "ooh, ah, show me your M-16, can I sit in the little machine gun emplacement on top of your hummer?" variety (one kid did wander off in confusion after he used his minimal English to learn that I was neither a Muslim, nor a Christian, nor -- furrowed brow when he asked -- a Jew; at the time I was agnostic).

But it only took an iteration or two of that dream for me to start considering the possibility that when a US pilot drops a bomb on a water treatment plant and 500 kids die of cholera as a result, maybe the pilot isn't the only responsible party in their deaths. Maybe the guy guarding the runway that pilot took off from (I resemble that remark) bears some responsibility too.

And that's when I started re-thinking my whole attitude toward war.

Thanks, Madame Secretary. If you get to hell before I do, save me a seat.

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