Days of Revolt: Why the Brutalized Become Brutal
In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and two US veterans lament the brutality of the American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, which fuels the conditions for terrorism, and speak out about the painful struggle of coping with PTSD
CHRIS HEDGES, TRNN: Hi I’m Chris Hedges, welcome to Days of Revolt.
Following the attacks in Brussels and the attacks in Paris, there has been an outcry for increased military force against the territory ISIS controls, more draconian infringements upon civil liberties in Europe as a way to curb Islamic radicalism or terrorism. And yet, absent from that discussion is the state terror that we visit, and have visited, fifteen years in Afghanistan, thirteen years in Iraq, which has created forms of brutalization and rage that fuel directly these attacks and further attacks to come.
And with me to discuss this reality are two combat veterans Michael Hanes, who served in the US Marines Corp from 1994 to 2004. He was in Iraq in 2003 in the most senior recon platoon, that’s the equivalent of, Marines’ equivalent of the Seals, 1st Force Reconnaissance Company Marine, 1st Marine Division. He was engaged in direct action raids in Baghdad. He currently works for Veterans for Peace as an activist and problem solver and aids veterans in the transition process, especially putting them back in touch with nature.
Also joining me is Rory Fanning. He served in two deployments in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004. He was in the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion, he also is a war resister and Donald Trump resister, was in the Chicago, helped shut down the Chicago rally of Trump. There’s something to be proud of. He’s the author of Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America. He also walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008 and 2009 and is, like Michael, a member of Veterans for Peace. Thank you.
MICHAEL HANES: Thanks for having us, Chris.
HEDGES: So let’s begin with this reality that is not acknowledged by very many people, certainly not by the media, of what we have done to Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, and maybe I’ll begin with you, Rory. You were deployed shortly after the occupation of Afghanistan, is that correct?
RORY FANNING: Correct, in late 2002 I was deployed with 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. What I didn’t know as I entered the country with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion was that the Taliban had essentially surrendered after the initial assault by the Air Force and the special forces. And our job was essentially to draw the Taliban back into the fight.
HEDGES: Why? Explain why.
FANNING: Oh, because surrender wasn’t good enough for politicians after 9/11. We wanted blood. We wanted a headcount. It really didn’t matter who it was. So we’d walk up to people, people who had been occupied in the decade prior, involved in civil war before that, with tons of money in our disposal and we said, hey, we will give you this amount of money if you point out a member of the Taliban. An Afghan would say, sure, absolutely. There’s a member right there. So we go next door. Land in their neighbor’s front yard, put a bag–
HEDGES: It was probably the guy that was flirting with his wife or something.
FANNING: For whatever reason.
HEDGES: [audibly laughing] I saw that in [El] Salvador, all the informants. It’s a nice way to get rid of all the people you don’t like.
FANNING: Right, right. So we’d land in there. We’d put a bag over every military aged person’s head, whether they were a member of the Taliban or not, give the person who identified that person money, and then that person would also get that neighbor’s property.
So in a country with as much desperation and poverty as Afghanistan at the time, you’d do anything to put money or food on your family’s table and essentially that’s what we were doing. But we were also bringing people who had absolutely no stake in the fight into the war. And, so we were creating enemies, you know? I signed up after 9/11 to prevent another 9/11 from happening, but soon after arriving in Afghanistan I realized I was only creating the conditions for more terrorist attacks and it was a hard pill to swallow. I mean, we were essentially a bully, you know?
HEDGES: I mean worse than a bully, I mean, you know, we murder.
FANNING: Well we’d have a rocket land in our camp and we wouldn’t necessarily know where it came from. It came from that general direction over there. We’d call in a five-hundred pound bomb and it would land on a village. I mean, we know [because of] the International Physicians Against the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, that a million people have been killed around the world since 9/11. You know, we know, conservatively, that at least 80 percent of those people have been innocent civilians. So, I think to understand Brussels you have to get to the root of some of this stuff.
HEDGES: Yeah, and maybe Michael you can talk a little about some of your experience in Iraq.
HANES: Yes, well I mean, you know, the same thing with me, really. I was in the Iraq invasion and we pushed up into Baghdad and things [became], really, very real for me when we began to kick in doors, place charges in doors and rush into these homes and terrorize these people.
You know, I would say probably about 50 percent or more of the intel that we got was just dead wrong. Busting in these doors you come into a family’s house and there’s elderly women, young little girls, three, four years old, just screaming and horrific, just terrified to where they literally soil themselves. They pee their pants. And then, you know, you’re taking grandma and throwing her up against the wall and interrogating her. And that, you know, hits you right here. It hits you really hard.
And that’s when I began to ask myself, what the hell am I doing? You know? And then if you happen to be a young man in there, in your early twenties or anywhere in that range where you can carry a weapon, then just by mere association of being a young male, a possible insurgent, Saddam Fedayeen loyalist, whatever the case may be, you were taken out of the home and taken somewhere to be interrogated.
HEDGES: And often tortured, especially if you were taken over to the Iraqis.
HANES: Exactly, I mean who knows what happened to them after we let them go to be interrogated. I know they were there all night interrogating them and who knows if they even made it back to their family or not.
HEDGES: I think what most people who haven’t been in war zones don’t understand is the lethal power and indiscriminate lethal power of the American military. So for instance if an IED goes off in Iraq, you immediately lay down suppressing fire, this is usually belt-fed, which are light, 7.62 machine guns, and you don’t stick around and see who’s been shot and who hasn’t. So that after just one incident like that when you were in early years in Iraq, certainly about 2004, you were seeing a lot of it. You know, you’d spray these mud wall homes in a kind of circumference.
HANES: A lot of collateral damage from something like that and it’s not too much different from what’s going on today with the drone attacks.
HANES: With the drone attacks, I mean, you know you have a range, an outside range, where so many civilians are being killed from these attacks and it’s really quite frankly it’s a terrorist producing factory. If you lose your child, if you lose your mother, any of your family members to this–I mean we have to think about that. Put yourself in that position. If I lost my child I would be desperate, what would you do? It’s easy to understand why someone would strap a bomb to themselves [crosstalk] and go blow themselves up.
HEDGES: There’s a passage in a great book by J. Glenn Grey, I don’t know if you know it, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle.
He was a combat officer in WWII in Italy and he served with people whose entire families, they were europeans, were destroyed in bombing raids. He said at that point forget the whole adage, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They want total annihilation, and I think you see that rising up with ISIS. I’m not condoning it. To understand is not to condone, but the problem is we don’t understand.
What did, let’s ask you Rory first, what did you think when you saw the latest attacks in Brussels?
FANNING: You know, I look back at some of my military training and I think we have to talk about racism on a lot of different levels here, because I think killing another human being is one of the most unnatural things you can do. I think you have to be conditioned to do it. You have to learn to see the person you’re told to kill as the other, or less than.
So we didn’t refer to the people in Afghanistan as Afghans, they’re hajji, you know which is a term of respect for someone who’s gone to make the trip to Mecca, but we’d use it in a derogatory term. You can go to any number of, you know, wars and see similar type racism kind of embedded and engrained into the minds of troops. I think you can’t help but have that transfer back home and the amount of disenfranchised people because they were born in Morocco or Algeria or came from Iraq, these people are treated as others, you know, and they can’t help but feel detached and isolated from the rest of the society. I, going through the training and being conditioned to see people as less than or other, I’ve kind of seen the same thing in our society.
HEDGES: Well you have Marine Corps chants you can probably give us one, which are about killing, right?
HANES: Yes. I mean you’re absolutely right. I remember being over there the terms sand nigger, hajji, barbarian, terrorist, all of these things were thrown around as if the people there were subhuman. Personally, after my experiences, I look at myself as more of a global citizen. I look at, I have a problem with people raising flags it looks like that’s more of a division thing [crosstalk] that separates us.
HEDGES: –I have the same, you know. Twenty years overseas and I was in New York in 9/11 and my son was ten on 9/11. He said, Daddy, what’s the difference of the people who have the big American flags waving on their car and the small ones? Well I said, The ones with the big American flags are the really big assholes. I think that’s something you can probably totally relate to.
HEDGES: Because the narrative, you know, that’s spun out for the popular consumption about war, and thank you for your service, is completely at odds with the reality and you will have people that maybe aren’t self aware or for whatever reasons of self aggrandizement will buy into it, but for a veteran who comes back and is self aware, the narrative itself has got to be incredibly alienating.
FANNING: Yeah, I think a lot of soldiers who’ve come back from war see themselves as anything but a hero and to kind of throw that term around so loosely I think is dangerous and it’s also a way to manipulate soldiers too. I think it buys their silence, you know, baseball games and concerts and whatnot.
You know, if you’re a hero you don’t do anything wrong; the mission that you carry out is just and should have happened. Soldiers are not encouraged to talk about the realities of war when they come back. They’re labeled hero or warrior. I think that’s a major problem and I think that only leads to further seclusion, isolation with soldiers. We talk about the suicide rates amongst veterans, you know 22 a day in this country. It’s because we’re not allowed to talk about what we saw overseas; how unjust it was, how we feel like bullies, how many innocent people have been killed since 9/11. I think throwing out words like heroes really does a disservice to the experience of veterans and all the innocent people that’ve been killed since then.
HEDGES: And it doesn’t acknowledge, I think, this very real existential crisis. Because when you come back and know the reality of who we are and what we have done and you match it with the rhetoric of, you know, the greatest nation, and virtue and liberating the women of Afghanistan, and on and on and on, it, you’re pounded day in and day out by the lies that are told to you by the press, by the entertainment industry, by religious institutions. And you’re already coping with significant trauma. I won’t get you to comment but it’s certainly been my experience that, and, you know I suffered PTSD, but that the worst PTSD is caused not finally but what you saw but what you did.
HANES: Moral Injury, and moral injury is huge with the conflict with Iraq and Afghanistan and I think that has a direct reflection with the extremely high suicide rate that we see that is estimated about 22 per day.
HEDGES: There are Iraq and Afghan vets?
HANES: Yes. Yeah, twenty-two per day.
HEDGES: Just from Iraq and Afghanistan? Wow, I didn’t know that.
HANES: Right. That’s a tremendously high number. We’re sold the idea of, hey, we’re going to go liberate a people. We’re fighting terrorism and then we get in the mix of things and realize we’re the ones terrorizing the people there. That really torments you psychologically. I’ve lost a few friends due to suicide. I think that a lot of, I went through this when I got back, isolation is a big thing. Initially, you have your phases, your isolation, your anger, then you finally get to the point where you want to do something about it, talk about it, and make a difference.
HEDGES: Well let’s talk about what we have to do.
I mean, really, with all of the presidential candidates, I would even include Bernie Sanders, I’ll get your comment on that, I don’t think any of them are addressing the reality of what’s happening in the Middle East and I think that they’re paying deference to forms of violence and military, the projection of military power that is creating exactly the kinds of things we saw in Brussels but, you know, maybe I’ll start with you Rory.
FANNING: Yeah, I think there’s been absolutely zero questions regarding foreign policy in any of these debates, particularly democratic debate. You know, we saw Hillary Clinton at the AIPAC Conference, we saw Bernie Sanders’ speech, although critical it is real. This is an apartheid situation happening in Israel, and an occupation that is happening.
To not speak out against that and to also not speak out against the fact that we spend ten times the amount of money we spend on education, on our military. We have 700 military bases around the world. This is completely unsustainable on all different types of levels. To not be speaking out against, you know, the ubiquitous nature of the US military right now.
We’ve invaded, we’ve had military operations in 49 of the 54 African countries since 2011. Why isn’t anybody talking about this stuff? National security does not exist, I mean national sovereignty does not exist for any country around the world except the United States.
HEDGES: Well, we attack all sorts of countries we’re not formally at war with. I mean, we do it every day.
FANNING: 150 people in Somalia a couple weeks ago.
FANNING: Drone strike.
HEDGES: Right. And how do you think, I mean especially on the one hand, because it’s not apart of the national debate, because there’s a kind of deification of the military, and a sacralization of the quote on quote military values, which as you and I know are fictitious, how does one confront what’s happening? Because it has very dangerous consequences in terms of blowback, in terms of the, you know, expanding campaigns of terror that are being visited by the US [military] which is just now expanding, as you point out, in Africa and everywhere else. What do we have to do?
HANES: You know that’s one of the main reasons why we’re apart of Veterans for Peace. That’s our outlet. We have the support group that we can get out and talk about these things. It’s very scary when your political leaders are not addressing these things. At Least, I will give Bernie Sanders credit for one thing, he’s addressing climate change.
HEDGES: And economic inequality.
HANES: Yeah. And, but–
HEDGES: –But you see that’s how low we’ve sunk. That somebody acknowledges factual reality and we’re all ecstatic.
FANNING: Yes, right.
HANES: Correct. And then, I mean, really the two party system to me it seems like two gangs that’s been in charge of this country for [audible laughter]…
HEDGES : Well there’s no difference in terms of the expansion of empire. You know, in fact, it’s deteriorated under Obama. The expansion of the drone wars under Obama. The decision that the executive branch has the right to assassinate American citizens. You do not want to give this kind of power to any government because, especially when they feel threatened, they’ll use every lever they can pull.
FANNING: That’s right.
HEDGES: You went to the Trump Rally in Chicago?
HEDGES: There’s a little clip of that we’re trying to show.
FANNING: You know I wanted to kind of expand a little bit. There is a Vets for Hate hashtag going on that Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace are promoting. I wanted to take that just a little bit further, not that I don’t think Vets for Hate is a really strong message, but I wanted to kind of extend that a little bit too. That’s first, racism, war, and empire, because I think it’s not just Trump, not just Ted Cruz. It’s Hillary Clinton, and it’s potentially Bernie Sanders. It’s this mindset that allows for these unending wars. You talk about, what do we do? I mean we’re at a low point, [inaud].–
HEDGES: –Talk about your experience because you showed up, I think you were wearing the top part of your BDU, your uniform, so people saw you as a vet. So talk about until that moment when they realized that you weren’t there to cheer on Donald Trump.
FANNING: Yeah, well it was, welcome home brother, thank you for your service. I mean, I literally got there early and sat there for three hours and had dozens of people coming up to me and doing that.
And after they said that Trump is cancelling the rally. After an amazing multi-racial protest that had basically half of the audience there to peacefully protest Donald Trump, Trump said okay I’m not going in there. So I pulled out my flag, it said Vets Against Racism, War and Empire and immediately someone threw a drink on me and I got hit from behind in the head three or four times and, you know, it was quite the switch, quite the pivot, you know, on me. Questioning the narrative, questioning Donald Trump’s narrative, you know, I was suddenly out of their good graces, we’ll say, But it was a good experience.
HEDGES: Why is that important? I think it is important, but why?
FANNING: Well I think you’ve got to stand up and you got to confront creeping fascism. You have to acknowledge this stuff because silence is consent in a lot of ways. I don’t think he can just allow this type of thing to go unchallenged.
HEDGES: Yeah, I would agree totally. I mean, I watched it in places like Yugoslavia, and what’s kind of always fascinating is that these blowhards, like Trump, or look at Chris Christie, has now become the official greeter of Mar-a-Lago resorts, as far as I can tell or Trump’s Stepin Fetchit. You know, when you confront them they actually deflate, maybe not in Christie’s term literally, but they deflate pretty quickly. That is something that I think has been illustrated throughout history, but you’re right. It’s the failure not to. I know Sanders actually criticized the people who disrupted the rally. I think he could not be more wrong. I do not know what, you know, you feel, Michael.
HANES: Well I was just going to add on to that. It’s pretty embarrassing when someone’s running for president of this country, gets on national news and says something like, we have to take out the families of terrorists, you know, condoning the drone strikes and he’s advocating war crimes right there on TV.
HEDGES: But he’s not, in a way, none of the other candidates, including Hillary Clinton or, I would even argue, Bernie Sanders, says he wants the Saudis to do our bombing for us, given what they do in Yemen, are really any different. As you know, when you’re dropping 500 or 1000 pound iron fragmentation bombs any discussion of surgical strikes in absurd. I mean, I saw that in Gaza.
FANNING: I mean Trump might even be to the left of Hillary Clinton, possible Bernie Sanders, on foreign policy issues. We don’t know yet. He doesn’t have much of any kind of policy plan laid out but, you know.
HEDGES: What, I mean, we’re talking fifteen years of war, longest war in American history. And you know you both, along with many other veterans, have been incredibly courageous. You know, not just the physical courage of being in war but the moral courage which is different. The moral courage to really stand up and name us for who we are and call us out for our crimes and resist. What’s been the hardest for you in this process? In this process of resistance, what’s the most difficult aspect for you to deal with?
HANES: That’s a good question. I would say for myself, I just got involved with Veterans for Peace and I’m involved with helping veterans with transitioning and other methods, taking them out into nature, teaching them how to grow food. It took me about 10 years to get to that point because I got out in 2004. So I had to go through my other processes, but you’ve got to stand for something in life. For me, doing the right thing and getting involved and helping the people who have been wronged, for me it’s a post traumatic growth [crosstalk] after the things that I experienced.
HEDGES: [interceding] Well you went, weren’t you in Okinawa? Did you go to the Okinawa–
HANES: Yes, I just recently was on a trip to Okinawa with Veterans for Peace and we demonstrated there.
HEDGES: Protesting the military bases where you once served?
HANES: Exactly. Yes, I was stationed there 20 years ago, so this time I got to spend roughly two weeks out there where I was on the other end of the spectrum, spending time with the people, listening to their struggles, and actually seeing what’s happening over there. So I participated in them with our protests, stood in front of trucks, laid out on the road, blocked construction crews coming in there. They want to completely destroy a very pristine area that has all kinds of biological life, dugongs, which is a type of manatee, and build this new base for, Futenma is airbase they’re going to close and they propose to open this one. But Okinawa has, 74 percent of the forests that are in Japan are in Okinawa.
HEDGES: Right, we didn’t even get into male violence against women. Exploitation against women which grows around any of these bases.
FANNING: One in three women I think are sexually assaulted…
HEDGES: On Okinawa?
FANNING: In the military
HEDGES: Oh, within the military? Yeah. I once talked to a Canadian woman officer, she was in Afghanistan, and I said, What was the most dangerous part? She said, going to the latrines at night and not getting raped by the marines, and I kind of chuckled and she said, no, no, that was the most dangerous part.
HANES: And that’s another war in itself right there that females are dealing with in the military.
HEDGES: Well thank you for fighting for life. Both of you, that’s the real fight.
FANNING: Thanks for having us.
HEDGES: And thank you for watching Days… [ERROR: no audio from 25:11- 25:24] And thank you to them or thank you just to the camera? Should I do the whole thing or just the thank you? I don’t want to lose that thing about fighting for life, alright? I’m not losing that. I see, alright thank you.
FANNING & HANES: Thanks for having us, Chris.
HEDGES: And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
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