By R.L.M. contributor : Peter Martin
When I was in the military, I saw a very disturbing trend amongst those I served with. A lot of my friends, during their time in service, turned very violent especially in their sexuality. “37% of women veterans report being raped at least twice, and 14% report experiences of gang rape” (Servicewomen.org). With statistics like this, which doesn’t even mention the violence from veterans to civilian women, as well as the overwhelming amount of violent and self-destructive habits that I saw in my friends when we came back, it makes people wonder, what in our experiences causes us to act out in this way? One major thing that I think about is our training. While I was on my first deployment, one of my friends started reading the books “On Combat” and “On Killing”. Both of which were written by a retired Army Lt Colonel, Dave Grossman, about the psychological aspects of warfare, more specifically the conditioning process of a soldier. I remember that the thing that he stressed most in his books was that the conditioning process for a soldier is even more mental than it is physical. The goal of this process is to make sure that when soldiers, like me, who were dropped in to combat for their first time, wouldn’t freeze up in combat and would be able to actually kill their enemy.
This process of conditioning takes shape in the little things in training. When I was in, they constantly sent us out to train in horrible conditions. And even when we weren’t training, it seemed like the leadership were doing everything that they could to make our lives miserable with mind numbingly boring classes and frivolous activities throughout the day. Beyond this, while serious hazing is punished, minor hazing is actually encouraged throughout the ranks. In the books, Grossman explains that this is all aimed at breeding aggression in soldiers, to make them, not only willing, but eager to fight and kill. In a book called “Generation Kill”, which is about a group of Marines fighting in Iraq, a reporter asks one of the Marines why they didn’t get the supplies that they needed and he responds, “The Marine Corps is like America’s little pit bull, They feed us, mistreat us, and every now and then, they let us out to attack someone.” And none of this is really new, even in ancient Spartan culture, you read about how they would constantly mistreat their soldiers while they were being trained to make them wildly violent and aggressive toward others, but very loyal to their fellow Spartans.
Another tactic that was used for this conditioning was the dehumanization of the enemy. While I was in, I remembered that we would call the Afgani’s “hodgis”, and in this book it explains how racial slurs like that have been used by the military throughout our history to make the enemy seem less human to us so that killing them won’t be as difficult. For example, the World War II vets referred to the Germans as “gerries” or “krauts”, the Vietnam vets referred to the Vietnamese as “Charlie” or “gook”. All of these terms are meant to make the enemy seem less than human to take the morality out of killing.
This may seem like a good idea, after all they want to breed killers to protect America, but the problem that emerges, especially in guerrilla warfare, is that it’s near impossible to turn off this mentality and only use it on our enemies. Because of this, I saw quite a few of my friends flat out murder innocent civilians without any real cause. And they never really saw this as wrong because they didn’t consider the Afghanis to be real people. Beyond this, we are all relatively young guys, given weapons and no real accountability, the level of power and dominance that we had over these people was intoxicating. We could take whatever we wanted and no one could stop us, and I saw clearly how armies throughout history got caught up in this and just pillaged, burned, and raped. And seeing the way that we saw the people there, I knew that it would be an easy next step for us to take. And while we did destroy a lot of people’s lives over there, I never saw anyone rape any local women, but the major reason for that is because if we did, we knew that there would be serious repercussions. But pretty much everything else that we did was tolerated and encouraged. And I wish I could say that I saw things differently but I didn’t it is just so much easier to not see them as human. And while we are in country talking amongst ourselves where this behavior is tolerated, not many people really struggle with any guilt or trauma. But, when we got back to America and we tried to share these experiences with our friends and families, it became very clear to us that we had moved away from normal; and you start to question the justifications of your actions. This realization brings about severe amounts of guilt and when this is coupled with other bad memories from our experiences over there; this leads veterans down the road to PTSD. And like I said, it is near impossible to just turn off that aggression and thirst for violence. In order to compensate for the pain, many of my friends turned to alcohol, drugs, porn, and sex to ease their pain. But none of these things were effective for them; which in turn increased their aggression, their pain, and the level of their addictions.
The conditioning also gave us a, almost thirst for violence. This goes beyond watching action movies or playing violent video games, we began to legitimately desire to see and preform actual violent acts. This played out in several ways, my friends used to get drunk constantly and look for fights. Our conversations were usually shaped by talks of death and killing, and pretty much all of my friends turned this craving for violence into a type of fetish. Pornography already has an effect on most men, myself included, where it objectifies women that we see, if you add to this the lust that my friends had for violence, the logical choice for them was to watch degradation type pornography. This would be porn that is deliberately degrading to women, and more often than not depicts incredibly violent sex with men abusing women. Now there is a myth that somehow you can “get the lust out of your system” and if people just watch this type of porn, then they won’t act it out. This is incredibly false, and I think that the most well-known example of this is Ted Bundy. You can’t get lust out of your system by giving in to it; you can only make it worse. And it would be such an easy next step for men who are aroused by things like this to start acting out their fantasies. I am not sure how many of the men that I know have actually physically abused women, but I do know that virtually none of the men that I served with see women as actual human beings. They see them as objects for their own gratification, and then after they are done, they discard them. Even the married men began to act out violently toward their wives and scream at them even while we were in Afghanistan. The most shocking thing to me though is that this mentality of abusing women in this way is not confined to the military, it is spreading throughout America and has actually become common.
So how does anyone fix this problem? My friends that were diagnosed with PTSD were sent off to random psychologists that just fed them various kinds of drugs to “cure” them. These drugs ended up making my friends worse off than they were before the drugs, and then they became utterly dependent on their medications. And like I mentioned before, a lot of the men that I know tried to self-medicate with the pleasures of this world, but none of these things helped them and I actually had a friend a couple months ago call thinking about killing himself. I have seen first-hand just how inadequate this world is to help us out of these problems, there is no hope to be found in this world. Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” In Jesus Christ there is amazing amounts of hope. In my life, Jesus has protected me from PTSD, He has given me freedom from porn and He has satisfied the longing in my heart. And while I can never un-see the things that I saw, He is daily renewing my mind, and He is daily drawing me closer to Him and away from my past. And praise God that Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost, there is no such thing as someone that has fallen too far for Him to love and His love can reach even the darkest of hearts. And He longs to restore and to redeem those who are suffering in this way and the families that have been damaged as a result of this. It is only by His love that there is hope of restoration, and only through loving Him that someone can once again see just how valuable each life is. Joel 2:25 “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”