Service in the US military has a detrimental impact beyond just veterans

Mohammed Harun Arsalai

A tweet by the US army asking how service had impacted US soldiers back fired with hundreds sharing accounts of mental trauma. The spotlight should also be on victims of the US military’s actions abroad.

A seemingly innocuous tweet by the US Army last week was intended to shore up patriotic nostalgia and elicit heroic war stories from Americans in the run up to Memorial Day on May 27.

“How has serving impacted you?” The army’s social media team asked, unaware of the torrent it was about to unleash.

In the first wave, thousands of active duty and former US soldiers lit up Twitter with horror stories recounting the mental disorders they, their loved ones, or their colleagues had suffered while in the military. They ranged from accounts of depression, to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to suicides.

Family and friends of US military service members spoke of loved ones broken by military life.

Stories of isolation, paranoia, drug and alcohol addiction, abuse, and violence were all shockingly common, but not only attributed to combat.

Journalist Shane Burley tweeted: “My best friend from high school was denied his mental health treatment and forced to return to a third tour in Iraq, despite having such deep trauma that he could barely function. He took a handful of sleeping pills and shot himself in the head two weeks before deploying.”

Some of the accounts shared on Twitter referred to the culture of rampant sexual assault and the associated culture of impunity.

One veteran recounted about about how she experienced sexual harassment everyday, kept a knife with her as she slept, and held her body against a door to prevent a drunk man banging against it from entering.

“A fear that never leaves me. That is how serving has impacted me,” she wrote.

A female US military veteran tweeted: “Depression, anxiety, still can’t deal well with loud noises. I was assaulted by one of my superiors. When I reported him, with witnesses to corroborate my story, nothing happened to him. Nothing. A year later, he stole a laptop and was then demoted. I’m worth less than a laptop.”

But the suffering of those who served in the US military is just half the story, there also needs to be a focus on those whose mental health has been shattered by US military action in their country.

“It’s clear vets are dealing with the ailments of war, which most of the public is oblivious to. What’s missing is that the civilians of the countries we’ve invaded and destroyed are dealing with the same difficulties compounded times a thousand. “ says Ramon Mejia, a US veteran and member of Veterans Against the War.

Survivors of US military intervention

Although it is important to examine the effects of war on US service members and use this harsh reality as a counter-recruitment tool – just like it’s important to highlight the financial cost of war on the US public – the lives of people who suffer the most under the bombs and bullets should be centred in any dialogue around militarism.

“Vets go on deployments, come back and have to try and put live their lives as best as they can. But they have for the most part avenues available to them for support,” Mejia says.

“Iraqis, Afghans, Yemeni, Syrian, Somali, etc aren’t even able too yet since we’re still waging war on them. I experienced war for eight months. They’ve lived war for over a decade. I empathise with vets, but my heart is with those we waged war on,” he adds.

‘Illegal military occupation’

The second wave of responses to the army’s “How has serving impacted you?” tweet came in the form of those who had suffered and continue to suffer at the US military’s hands.

Twitter account handle @4ksh4tr41 tweeted: “You ethnically cleansed part of my country and put it under illegal military occupation for forty decades”

When reached for comment @4ksh4tr41 elaborated: “I’m from Mauritius. When we obtained independence from the British Empire, the US army and the UK occupied the Chagos islands and deported all of its inhabitants so the infamous US base at Diego Garcia could be built there, despite the UN declaring the islands should be given independence as part of Mauritius.

“The Chagos have been occupied and our Chagossian brothers and sisters have been in exile since. The struggle for justice, for the decolonisation of the islands and the Chagossian people’s right to return is still ongoing.”

That example is just one among the numerous conflicts the US is involved in, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq being the most prominent examples today.

To their credit the US Army has left the tweet up with hundreds of responses continuing to pour in. On May 25, the US Army responded:

“To everyone who responded to this thread, thank you for sharing your story. Your stories are real, they matter, and they may help others in similar situations. The Army is committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our soldiers.”

It’s clear the US military needs to get its house in order and face the charges that have been levelled against it by active duty and veteran US soldiers, but the issue of US military abuses still does not focus on the lives and wellbeing of the millions living under US bombs, who are coping with trauma without any mental health support and are left to bury and mourn their dead.