Local working-class people in Iraq and Afghanistan, mainly civilians, have bore the brunt of suffering in the U.S. imperialist wars, with casualties, both deaths and injuries, numbering in the millions. This carnage has also damaged working-class U.S. troops — who’ve survived physically uninjured — by what they’ve seen and done. For every U.S. soldier killed in the war zone, about 25 vets die by suicide.
The racist lies the Pentagon uses to direct U.S. working-class troops’ anger towards local workers, especially anger over a battle buddy’s death, underlie these skyrocketing suicide rates. These racist lies lead many troops to kill, beat or harass innocent local workers or at least passively support those troops that do.
Since the U.S. military defines the troops’ mission as only to “carry out good intentions,” it’s easy for troops to get angry at civilians who refuse to turn in insurgents and view these civilians as “ungrateful savages.”
Individualism A Loser
But once troops learn more about the profit motive behind the mission and are separated from the chain of command that reinforces racist lies, it becomes difficult to live with what happened.
Unlike Vietnam War veterans who had the option of joining a massive GI and veterans’ movement against racism and war (see box, page 2), today many veterans individually tear themselves up with guilt, shame, depression and rage. Many feel no one knows what they’re experiencing except maybe those who were there with them.
For thousands of veterans who wonder why they survived, the burden of carrying the memories of dead friends and civilians haunts their minds and becomes too much to bear.
Additionally, troops have been driven to suicide because of racist harassment. Army Private Danny Chen killed himself in Afghanistan after repeated anti-Chinese harassment from two Officers, four NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) and two fellow lower enlisted soldiers.
After public outrage from Danny’s family and the Chinese working-class community in New York City, the Army pressed charges on the eight soldiers who hazed Danny for weeks before his death. But the first soldier to stand court martial only received a 30-day sentence, a fine and demotion out of a possible 30-month sentence!
A Veterans Affairs hotline on suicide exists but capitalism has little to offer veterans dealing with suicidal thoughts. Addressing the racist lies of profit wars on a mass scale would undermine the bosses’ imperialist mission.
According to a pair of liberal mental health pundits, the mental damage imperialism does to working-class troops is a “moral wound” that can only be treated socially by a non-judgmental community that has the moral courage to “examine its own responsibility for the war.”
But it is not this “community” that is responsible for the U.S. bosses’ wars, it is capitalism. The VA suicide hotline may help some individuals but it cannot own up to exploiting the good intentions of working-class troops without risking rebellion within the ranks.
The most positive, lasting and significant way to address profit wars, racism and the intense feeling to make amends is to become part of a communist movement to smash the capitalist system that spawns these oil wars and racism. Getting vets involved in anti-racist fight-backs for jobs, education and more veterans’ services can be an important part of healing for many troops.
But ultimately, taking anti-racist and anti-imperialist actions in the barracks, on the battlefields and in the neighborhoods as part of the Progressive Labor Party is the most important way to undercut the imperialist mission that drives troops to suicide.