The April 2004 issue of Mother Jones has an article about soldiers who come back to the US wounded from their experience in the occupation of Iraq ("The Damage Done," by Verlyn Klinkenborg, photographs by Nina Berman). The article's author tries to politicize the soldiers' experience as follows:
Maybe their wounds will drive some of them up against the Bush administration's dishonest rationale for starting this war. If so, they will inherit the mantle of self-doubt -- a sense of discrepancy between what they were taught to believe and what they eventually were forced to believe -- that many Vietnam veterans have worn for the past 30 years.This is not evident, however, and one has to wonder if the Mother Jones author is feeling some liberal cognitive dissonance at getting so little political mileage out of wounded veterans besides their gruesome portraits. The soldiers do not themselves express narratives of self-doubt. Quite the opposite. The men interviewed by Mother Jones describe their injuries and tell the reader how they were injured. But then they justify their experiences in the most mundane ways. Sam Ross tells us: "It was the best experience of my life." He lost his eyesight and a leg. Erick Castro tells us: "Now I have actually done something for my country." He lost a leg. Alex Presman, who lost a foot: "I think a man has to go through the military." Jeremy Feldbusch, who lost his eyesight and suffered brain damage: "I don't have any regrets. I had some fun over there. I don't want to talk about the military anymore." Luis Calderon, quadriplegic: "I got an Army Commendation Medal -- not a Purple Heart. I'm disappointed." Alan Jermaine Lewis, who lost both legs; "Im actually glad that I did the military the way I did."
When one is injured like that, rejecting the military and/ or the rationale for war must feel like rejecting the course of one's life, the decisions one has made, and one's will to live itself. Cognitive dissonance, in short, keeps the wounded men of Klinkenborg's article from judging their experiences in a "liberal" manner even as they openly describe their disfigurements. Nobody is saying, "I lost a limb for Halliburton." Endorsing the military experience has become a part of their psychic survival.
Cognitive dissonance, then, cauterizes the psychic wound inflicted with the loss of body parts. The soldiers themselves were made into the objects of the geopolitical ideology held by those who run the war in Iraq. Those land mines they stepped on sealed the deal. As for Klinkenborg's cognitive dissonance, I don't know, maybe it's motivated by the same kind of pain. Is it hard to believe that the war wounded won't all adopt the political attitudes of Ron Kovic?
Let's reverse the Army's slogan and make it the first law of politics. Don't become something you don't want to be. Take charge of your becoming human. Don't be a war machine, don't become a political ideologue, don't put yourself in a situation where you have to think that you have to hide from reality in order to "preserve" your psyche. Thanks to Mother Jones for making the consequences so evident.