A conversation with Australian author Richard Flanagan about his latest book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” The Man Booker Prize-winning novel is based on his father’s experience as a slave laborer in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.
In the early morning hours of March 11th, an American serviceman walked off his base in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. The U.S. Army staff sergeant apparently went house to house in the neighboring village and opened fire on civilians, killing sixteen people–nine of whom were children. The tragic shooting was only the latest in a string of incidents involving U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, including the recent accidental burning of Korans by U.S. service personnel. Diane and guests examine what the latest incident could mean for the planned U.S. withdrawal in 2014 and future security in the region.
- Michael Hirsh chief correspondent, National Journal magazine; author of "Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street."
- Lawrence Korb senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
- Christine Fair assistant professor, Georgetown University's security studies program; fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.
- Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie M.D., chief medical officer, Department of Mental Health, former chief psychiatrist in the Army
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A U.S. soldier's assault on Afghan civilians that resulted in 16 deaths has plunged U.S.-Afghan relations to their lowest point in 10 years.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the massacre in Kandahar and the future of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, Christine Fair of Georgetown University, Michael Hirsh of National Journal Magazine, Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie of the District of Columbia Mental Health Department, and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress. Please join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
PROF. CHRISTINE FAIRGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL HIRSHGood morning.
MR. LAWRENCE KORBGood morning.
DR. ELSPETH CAMERON RITCHIEGood morning.
REHMMichael Hirsh, describe for us what happened in Kandahar Sunday morning.
HIRSHWell, what's known is that in the middle of the night, about 3 a.m., an American soldier went missing from the base. He was noticed by an Afghan soldier on the base, and a search party was set up to look for him. Meanwhile, he went to a nearby village and apparently went house to house trying to open doors, eventually did invade the homes of some sleeping Afghan families and shot many of them, killing at least 16, including nine children that were killed, and a number of other wounded.
HIRSHHe then turned himself in back at the base, and the case is now under investigation. And as details come out about the soldier, we're learning that he was attached to the 2nd -- part of the 2nd Infantry Division, part of the 3rd Stryker Combat Brigade, based out of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, a base where there have been cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and questions raised about whether soldiers were perhaps returned to the field too soon.
HIRSHIn the case of this particular soldier, the suspect, he had had four deployments abroad, including three in Iraq. This was his first to Afghanistan. We don't know anything about his state of mind, but there is an indication that he suffered traumatic brain injury after a vehicle accident in Iraq in 2010. And, according to at least one report on ABC News, he may have been involved in some sort of marital problems as well.
REHMLarry Korb, this is more in simply a string of bad happenings.
KORBWell, there's no doubt about it. I think this is an indication of the fact that we're not doing -- following our own guidelines. When I was in government, we set it up for every year you spend in a combat area, you spend at least two years at home -- one year to kind of get yourself back together, another to get ready. We don't know exactly when this young man came back from Iraq, but he was there in 2010. We know he got to Afghanistan in 2011. Obviously, he didn't have his two years at home.
KORBHe's been in the service about 11 years, four deployments, which says that they're violating their own guidelines. Now, we don't know if, in fact, he did -- you know, how bad this injury he was suffered, but we do know that a lot of men over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women, have been sent back with problems. And then they became, you know, obvious when they get there.
REHMThis incident, Christine Fair, raises questions about whether, as Michael Hirsh pointed out, this man, who's 38 years old and who came from Stryker Brigade at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State -- is this a coincidence, or is there something going on at that particular base?
FAIRI mean, that is hard to say, but you remember that, in 2010, there was a Kill Team. Those gentlemen also came from this base, so there have been a number of civilian atrocities tied to this base. For me, what this really conjures up, or concerns that I had, when I was an analyst at the RAND Corporation working on military recruitment -- I also come from a family of army recruiters, and I spent a lot of time talking to army recruiters -- suicide rate is very high amongst army recruiters.
FAIRIt's been very difficult for them to meet their missions at various times over the last 11 years because, obviously, people are not necessarily enthusiastic about the ops tempo or the deployment rate. And, you know, recruiters will tell you that they're under pressure to seek waivers. I've had friends from high school that went to Iraq, suffered encounters. And one in particular is now living largely as a homeless person. It harmed himself and to as others, and what the Army says is that he was probably at risk before he went in.
FAIRAnd so, you know, what we're kind of discovering is that maybe some of the men and women in uniform maybe shouldn't have been there in the first place. So I'm hoping that this is not only going to cause us to take a look at how we manage soldiers that are going to multiple deployments but also take a really hard look at some of these recruits in the first place and some of the recruiting practices.
REHMDr. Elspeth Ritchie, as Michael said, this man -- 38 years old, married with two children and, as Larry Korb had said, had served in the Army for 11 years, what about this rate of deployment and how quickly the turnover occurs?
RITCHIEClearly, we have been at war for a long time, and the rates of the psychological effects of war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, also known as concussion, all of those have risen as a rate of suicide as the long wars have gone on. Well, I only know what's in the news about this particular soldier. The fact that he had three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and allegedly a traumatic brain injury, it seems likely that those played into this event.
RITCHIEHowever, there's other things that are very bizarre about this event and lead one to think that perhaps he was actually psychotic or crazy. Getting up in the middle of the night and going out and gunning down innocent men, women and children is beyond the pale. It's not consistent with just post-traumatic stress disorder. Something else was going on, I believe, with this gentleman.
KORBI think -- and, again, we're just speculating. But to Christine's point, the Army gave 80,000 moral waivers starting in 2003...
KORBWaivers to take people in -- in other words, not just because they scored low on the test, had criminal convictions, personality problems. So we don't know if this person was -- shouldn't have been in there in the first place. The other is that he -- they were responsible for training the Afghan security forces. And then, recently, a lot of the Afghan security forces who they were training were turning on them. His friends may have been killed, you know, in one of these things, and he just decided that enough is enough. We don't know.
KORBBut I think that that's important because, after the burning of the Qurans, we had an awful lot of incidents where the Afghans turned on the Americans who were there supposedly to, you know, help them get -- to establish the government that they want.
FAIRYeah. You know, what I find really interesting about our willingness to use post-traumatic stress disorder, previous deployments, not to justify but to somehow explain to ourselves how soldiers -- and we generally, you know, hold soldiers in high regard. We're trying -- we're really struggling to understand how this person did this.
FAIRYou know, I've been covering South Asia my entire adult career since '91. You could make a pretty large argument that probably the majority of Afghanistan or the majority of the population of Afghanistan suffers from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. If you think about the fact that this country has been under war for over three decades, there's not a single family that hasn't been touched through loss or through injury.
FAIRWhy is it that when we see the Afghans turning on us, we're not able to understand that they're also suffering through a very long-term series of stresses that have really affected the way they view themselves in the world? And so I get uncomfortable when we talk about PTSD is only happening to the soldiers, and we don't really understand the enormous impacts of three decades of trauma on this population.
HIRSHYeah. I think what also really hits hard about this tragedy is that this happened in a part of Afghanistan that U.S. officials were pointing to as largely pacified regional command south where a lot of counterinsurgency efforts had been going on. This was a police training detail of the base that the soldier was part of in support of special operations.
HIRSHAnd not taking anything away from what Christine was saying about the traumatization of the Afghans, which is considerable, one can only imagine the sense of fear among U.S. soldiers deployed there because, day after day, they are spending their time with these Afghans that they're training and not knowing, you know, who might turn on you. President Obama yesterday was asked about comparisons to My Lai, the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
HIRSHAnd he said that, you know, that there weren't really any. Of course, I think it's a little bit overstretched, but one common theme is that in Vietnam, many soldiers were traumatized by not really knowing who the enemy was anymore. And if you are the soldier in Afghanistan and you're not sure, you know, who is against you or not, you can only imagine the kind of impact that has on you mentally.
REHMLarry Korb, should there have been an apology from Secretary of Defense Panetta and the president of the United States?
KORBWell, I think if you're concerned about the security of the American troops there, there should. But, of course, this has become a political football because the president apologized after the burnings of the Quran. And so -- yes, and they were very, very careful. But I think they've got to get out front on this, and I don't think we should be worried about the consequence in the election. It's the men and women there we need to be worried out.
REHMLarry Korb, senior -- pardon me -- fellow at the Center for American Progress. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the tragedy in Kandahar, where a 38-year-old staff sergeant opened fire on Afghans and killed 16 people, including nine children. There is an email from a person named Rebel Hill, who says, "I heard a report on the BBC this morning to indicate the Obama administration is contemplating turning the American soldier over to the Afghans to be tried and sentenced. Is there truth behind this report?" Larry Korb.
KORBI hope not. I mean, we have an agreement that, you know, our soldiers have immunity from prosecution in that country. In fact, that was the problem we had getting out of Iraq was the Iraqis, if we stayed, wanted to take away that immunity. So I don't think so. I would be very, very surprised, you know, if that happened.
REHMIn your view, will this incident lead to a discussion about earlier withdrawal?
KORBI think it should, and I think it's appropriate that we take a look at the whole Afghan strategy. And when the president -- during the campaign, he said this was the good war. He came in. He doubled the number of troops. And the military said that's not enough for counterinsurgency, so then he actually ended up tripling the number of troops. He set a deadline to get out, and then Secretary Panetta talked about moving it up a year.
KORBI would think that what it will probably lead to is, in 2012, they're going to take out the so-called 30,000 surge troops. You probably will take out closer to, well, 50,000 troops, and it'll probably be announced at the NATO summit in Chicago in May because the British have said they're going to move up their withdrawal by about six months 'cause the French have already done that.
HIRSHYeah, there already is discussion about that and, in fact, had been before this incident on Sunday. Because what has happened in recent weeks, not just with this incident, but in what might have led up to it, which was the violence in the aftermath of the inadvertent burning of old Qurans by U.S. troops, which led to the deaths of at least six soldiers, a really horrific incident where two American advisers, officers were shot dead inside the interior ministry in Kabul, which is one of the most heavily secured sites in the country, by an Afghan.
HIRSHSo what that did was to create all these doubts about the central plank of the U.S. strategy, which is to gradually hand over control to the Afghans we are training. If the Afghans we are training are suddenly killing us or we don't know which of them is trustworthy any longer, which may be the situation, that kind of raises really fundamental questions about whether this strategy is sustainable.
HIRSHAnd even in the best case, the strategy was deemed to be, you know, too little, too late and happening much too quickly to work by many military experts. So it's not a good situation, and I think you do have a broad rethinking that's going on.
KORBWell, the real tragedy is we had it won back in 2001 and '02. We didn't follow up, and then we, you know, went to Iraq, diverted our attention and allowed this situation to develop.
REHMAnd back to this situation, Dr. Elspeth Ritchie, does the redeploying over and over and over again, how does that affect someone who may or may or not have suffered from PTSD or any kind of brain injury, simply the redeployment again and again?
RITCHIEThe constant exposure to violence, as well as redeployment, tends to have soldiers feel like the outside world back here is surreal. It doesn't really relate, and their lives become dominated by violence, by death. As you know, I retired from the Army after 28 years last year, but I still get reports from my colleagues who are over in theater. And they talk about an atmosphere where death is everywhere, violence is everywhere, and that really desensitizes them and causes them to have difficult relating when they come back home.
RITCHIESo it's a very, very difficult environment for our soldiers. That's not to excuse at all what happened. What happened was totally unacceptable, but it's to help understand it a little bit more.
REHMChristine Fair, is the military doing everything it should or could or must to manage these kinds of injuries that men may and women may experience and then get sent back into harm's way?
FAIRI think the overwhelming answer is no. In terms of the mental health resources that are available to our soldiers, talk to anyone, it -- it's very difficult to get the kind of treatment that they need. We often forget that the people who provide psychiatric care, they also need psychiatrists to manage the stress of dealing with these individuals that have come back with really horrific experiences.
FAIRSo, you know, I'm concerned about the entire process of how we generate and sustain our forces. You know, going to the waivers, you know, these are waivers that we see. So, for example, in the -- when it became very difficult to recruit individuals that had untreated mental health, if they were going through their recruitment paperwork, you could imagine a recruiter encouraging them, well, did you ever see a doctor? Is there any medical record of depression?
FAIRSo, you know, we really need to think about how we've created the force. I mean, there'll be an opportunity with drawdowns to sort of go through and -- you know, weed out is not the right word, but you'd hope that when people are removed, they're also going to be removed with the resources that require. Unfortunately, again, from my own personal experience of knowing people then deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, if they feel as if there had been a deception when they did their intake, they're not entitled to that psychiatric care after they've been deployed and are suffering problems.
FAIRAnd, you know, look, we see this around. We have an unprecedented homeless population of that. So I'm concerned about the entire way in which we have been fighting this war for the last 11 years and what happens to these soldiers when they're done fighting.
REHMAnd you actually have family in the service?
FAIRYeah, now, actually -- so my brothers, they're in what's called the ANG, so they're full-time guard personnel. So they -- they're essentially a state asset, but their troops deploy like other troops. And, you know, these guys are active duty. We also really forget that many of the people that are deploying are actually Guard and Reservists, and they don't have the resources that are available to active duty personnel.
FAIRAnd, depending on where you live, you may not have a VA facility where you can go and get the treatment that you need. So when we're talking about forced deployment, we're not only talking about active duty. We're also talking about people who eventually -- and the Guard and Reserve have to come back and reintegrate to a civilian workforce. And this is in a completely different environment because their colleagues in their new workforce are not soldiers. They have no idea what they're talking about.
RITCHIEYes. I think, in defense to the military and the Army, they have put as much as they possibly can in terms of mental health treatment both in theater, the theater of war, such as combat stress control teams, and back at home to help people integrate. But having put a lot in, there's not enough. And, in addition, another very important piece of it is people don't want to go see mental health treatment because they're worried about the effects on their career. And that's a valid concern.
RITCHIEThere's a lot of discussion about ending stigma. I don't think we're going to end stigma any time soon. What we can do is look at the policies, and if a soldier thinks that going to mental health treatment is going to mean the end of their career, they're not going to go.
REHMDr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie. She is former chief psychiatrist in the Army. She is currently chief medical officer in the Department of Mental Health in the District of Columbia. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Larry.
KORBI don't blame the Army. I blame the country and our political leaders. The All-Volunteer Force is a peacetime force. It was not supposed to fight extended conflicts. The Guard and Reserve is a strategic reserve, not an operational reserve where they rotate back and forth. That's why we kept Selective Service. And we did not do that because, I think, the country would've asked a lot of questions particularly about the war in Iraq that our political leaders didn't want to do.
KORBAnd I fault our military leaders as well. They should've stood up and said, I'm not sending those men and women back, activate Selective Service so we can give them, you know, the time at home we need, or we don't have to do these moral waivers.
KORBAnd we're paying the price for it, and these men women are paying the price for it.
REHM...by Selective Service, you mean, the draft?
KORBWell, basically, yes. I mean, that's why young men register when they're 18. You have 20-some-odd million people there.
HIRSHYeah, and I just wanted to add, getting back to the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, I mean, I think one of the really concerning things here is the U.S. plan called for handing over most operations to regular soldiers from more highly trained and more stress-resistant, if you will, special operations troops, the elites, and placing them in smaller and more vulnerable outposts. This is what was supposed to happen over the last -- over the next year or so, as my colleague Yochi Dreazen has reported.
HIRSHAnd now with this situation and, you know, all these questions being raised about the suitability of some of these over-deployed regular troops or reservists in these situations, I think you have to ask some hard questions about that.
REHMChristine, you're shaking your head.
FAIROh, no. I'm shaking my head with sad agreement about the implications that this has for our strategy. You know, if you just sort of take 10 steps up and look down at the strategy, the tragedy is -- I'm not sure that I entirely agree with you, Larry, that we won this in '01, '02 because we never had the Pakistan peace, right? You know, it doesn't matter how many Afghans die, how many Americans die, how many of our allies die, how many billions of dollars we squander in our treasure.
FAIRWhen we leave Afghanistan -- and we will -- the Pakistanis are basically going to reshape it to the state that is to their liking. So, in some sense, you know, we fought Afghanistan within the confines of the map of Afghanistan without ever really a strategy that was winnable. You can't win this without either Pakistan or Iran. We've had neither.
HIRSHWell, I would like to take a middle road on this because I agree generally with Larry that there was a great opportunity. There was a real window in that early period in 2002. I was there, and a number of us were there -- who were there, saw that the Afghans really wanted international assistance. Pakistan, while always playing a double game, was much more cooperative during that period, leading up to the critical capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, with assistance from the Pakistanis.
FAIRThey were cooperative on al-Qaida. They were not cooperative on the Taliban, ever.
HIRSHYeah. Exactly. Exactly. We were putting a lot of pressure on them. But what happened was we made the turn toward Iraq. We diverted all of our resources and attention away. It was a historic disaster by the Bush administration, and that's really where most of the responsibility lies here.
KORBMy understanding is Musharraf told Bush, you got six months to kind of clean it up, and then after that they get back to the double game. But I do think it's really important to keep in mind, among the Afghan people, they're basically saying, well, what happened? And that has been a big factor. When I was there about a year ago, Ismail Khan, the Lion of Herat, basically said, you came here in 2001. You had 800 people, and you won. Now, you got 80,000, and you can't win. What's the problem?
REHMLawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He's former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan Administration. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Greenville, S.C. Good morning, Joey.
JOEYHi. Good morning. I just wanted to say that I myself was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress 10 years ago following a hostage situation in a bank robbery. And I just want to make sure that we don't stigmatize an already heavily stigmatized group by saying that, you know, PTSD leads to violence.
RITCHIEThis is Dr. Ritchie. That is a really good point. And I am very concerned that this episode will have people saying that vets are "walking time bombs." And the vast majority -- the very vast majority of vets are very stable, very solid individuals. I do think that one of the things that this calls for is the American people to say how much more I can do to help the veterans in the areas of employment, in the areas of education, in the areas of health. So I hope it'll ask -- take the American people to say, how can I help the vet returning home?
REHMWell, of course, the president has urged American employers to hire vets. Is that going to do some good?
KORBWell, I think it will, but there's two problems with that, one of which we just alluded to. If an employer thinks that this man or woman's got mental problems, they may back off. In fact, we know a lot of vets not even putting their military service down on their...
KORB...on their applications. The other is that because we have a generation now who's never been in the military, they do not understand the skills that you get when you come to a job. Even if your so-called MOS, military occupational specialty, doesn't fit into the job, the leadership things that you developed dealing with things under stress, they don't appreciate that, and I think that that's another problem we have to overcome.
REHMThanks for calling, Joey. To Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, Alexander.
ALEXANDERHow are you doing, Ms. Diane?
ALEXANDERI just want to let you know, when I was in Iraq, you can't be aware of everything. I just want to say thank you.
ALEXANDERI just have a couple of comments. My first comment is I don't think people should talk about the soldier because you don't understand what we had to go through. I'm a combat vet from Iraq two times. I came home to pretty much everybody hating me for something that I didn't -- had to do. We don't want to fight wars. We don't want to do that. We like being with our own families, too. And I think people shouldn't automatically assume that he's crazy or isn't just -- it's stressful. It's stressful. That's all I have to say, Ms. Rehm.
REHMI'm glad you called, Alexander. And thank you for your service. It's clear, Dr. Ritchie, you've got people who have served who don't find jobs easily because people totally misunderstand. They don't take the time to find out.
RITCHIEYes. One of the points that I'd like to make is that post-traumatic stress disorder is very treatable, especially if you try to get treatment early. And, in many cases, the symptoms will actually go away on their own. There's a lot of discussion about how you shouldn't call it a disorder, necessarily, but post-traumatic stress alone. I like to think of it as a common cold of psychiatry. Most people who get symptoms do recover on their own or with a little bit of intervention. With some cases, it requires more intensive treatment.
RITCHIEAgain, the earlier you get treatment, the better. Now, this soldier -- and, again, I'm only speculating -- this soldier, I think, has more than just post-traumatic stress disorder. This was a horrible, horrible event. And one thing I do want to say -- I don't know about anybody else apologizing -- but I apologize to the Afghan people for this happening.
REHMDr. Elspeth Ritchie. She is former chief psychiatrist in the Army. We'll take just a short break here. 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back as we talk about the tragedy in Afghanistan, whereby an alleged sergeant took the lives of 16 Afghans, including nine children. Here's an email from Judy, who says, "Yesterday on 'All Things Considered,' an Afghan expert said he believed it would go a long way toward calming Afghan sentiment if an American delegation with Muslim members went to the families to apologize and offer payments." What do you think of this idea, Larry?
KORBI think it makes a great deal of sense because that is keeping with the, you know, the Muslim tradition. We have done it in -- several times. We have paid money to families, particularly in Iraq when all the things that, you know, have happened. And it's important to keep in mind we've had some horrible things happen in Iraq. Remember, Pvt. Steven Green, he raped a 14-year-old girl and then killed the family. And he had a personality disorder, and they waived it to let him go there.
KORBWe didn't find out about it till he came back. He's now serving life imprisonment in Iraq. And that, of course, caused problems in Iraq as well. So, no, I would -- anything you can do to deal with situation because, as Michael said, we're depending on them to take over from us.
REHMAP is reporting that Afghan protesters in Jalalabad are chanting and burning an effigy of President Obama over the U.S. soldiers suspected killing of civilians. Elspeth Ritchie, you want to talk about the health of these soldiers themselves.
RITCHIEYes. I'm very concerned about both the physical health and the behavioral health and mental health of soldiers over there. I mean, they're trying their best in a very, very, very difficult situation, and now one of their own has committed an atrocity. And they're going to be worried about continued violence back at them and the question about what is the mission worth. Is this worth my life and the life of my comrades? Is this worth me being away from my family? It must be a very, very soul-searching and scary time for our service members in Afghanistan.
REHMLet's go to Swansboro, N.C. Good morning, Susan. You're on the air.
SUSANYes. Thank you for taking my call.
SUSANIn May of 2009, an Army sergeant opened fire at a combat stress control center in Camp Liberty in Baghdad. My husband was one of the service members who was killed, and, almost three years later, we're still awaiting court martial because of his mental health issues.
REHMWhy does the military justice take so long to act?
KORBWell, I think it's like our own justice system. It's a very fair system. You're innocent till you're proven guilty. And I remember this incident very well. When I checked on it, this young man who was alleged to have done these horrible things, he was on, like, his third tour in five years. So, again, I think, yes, he is responsible. But we, as a country, have some responsibility for allowing this to happen.
REHMHere is a report...
REHM...from NBC News saying that the staff sergeant accused of killing the Afghan civilians was treated for traumatic brain injury in 2010 after his vehicle rolled over in an accident, not caused by an IED explosion. He was medicated for some time. Soldier was given a clean bill of health, received both pre- and post-deployment health assessments, which did not indicate any problems according to the Defense official. The question is how often does that happen?
FAIRFirst, before I go there, Diane, I want to say to the lady who just called my real sympathies about the death of your husband.
FAIRThat must have been very difficult, and I'm sure it continues to be so now. In terms of the post-deployment health assessments and post-deployment health reassessments, all of the military services do screen soldiers and service members, both as they're coming back and three to six months later because we know that soldiers don't want to admit their problems when they come back. But they may or may not admit to them later on. However, these are based on self-report.
FAIRAnd, again, soldiers often don't want to report any problems 'cause they don't want to go see mental health. So the best screener, I've often said, is a good first sergeant, somebody who really knows their men or women and can say when somebody has had difficulties or not. And we just don't know at this point whether this particular sergeant was showing evidence of problems. The Army does spend a lot of time teaching leaders to recognize behavioral health problems. There's something called combat stress control in which they deliberately teach leaders how to recognize difficulties.
REHMAll right. To Mountain City, Tenn., good morning, Nancy.
NANCYGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
NANCYI'm a 30-year Army wife, a five-year Army widow and a 25-year Army mom with a serving -- a son still serving. It seems to me that the major problem here is that 1 percent of our population served in the military. Therefore, the burden of going back four, five times on an individual and that individual's family is an overwhelming problem. And the issue is allowing people into the military who really shouldn't be there, sending men and women back time after time with maybe as little as 10 months between deployment.
NANCYAnd the issue is not a military issue. The issue is a political issue, and it's called the draft. When 1 percent of the population serves in the military, you cannot possibly expect those people to not have the type of breakdown that happened and then have these horrendous tragedies happen to families as happened to the Afghan families.
REHMAnd, Nancy, I want to certainly thank you and your family for the service you have given to this country. Back to the draft.
KORBWell, let me make this point. Again, when I worked in government, one of the things -- we had to persuade President Reagan to keep draft registration. And one of the things we did, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will help me write this memo -- and I can quote it -- he said, "The all-volunteer military is a peacetime force. If you get into an extended conflict, you're supposed to go to Selective Service." And one of the arguments I made to him was not just the military. It was the moral argument 'cause we had a lot of the libertarians who didn't want to keep this.
KORBYou owe it to these people. And, again, I've said this time and time again, our political leaders, our military leaders, they need to take some responsibility for that. And I don't know how they sleep at night when they allow these people to go back and back. You know, the secretary of Defense extends people's tours to 15 months during the surge. Well, you know, and why not say to (unintelligible) want a surge? Let's go to Selective Service.
HIRSHI mean, this goes back to the, you know, origins of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, the emphasization (sic) by the Bush administration of what the war really meant. Remember how long we went in Iraq, for example, before we called it an insurgency. Remember how senior officials like Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz talk about how a few troops would be needed and rebuked people like Eric Shinseki when he said that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for an occupation.
HIRSHRumsfeld, for example, in the early days of Afghanistan deliberately kept the U.S. force to a minimum. When I was there at early 2002, there were 36 U.S. soldiers attached to ISAF. I mean, this was -- they were in a state of denial over what was needed and this fed what we're dealing with now...
HIRSH...which is this, you know...
FAIROh, to augment this point, when we first went into Afghanistan, I mean -- to this day, I -- it's very hard for me to not be emotional about it. My brothers were the first in deployed to Iraq. When they would get back to Kuwait, my older brother would call me frequently, and he would say things like, well, we kind of have to make a choice.
FAIRWe either can wear what little personal protective equipment that we have and go without water, or we basically -- you know, because they didn't have enough water to remain hydrated in May, in Iraq, or they took the stuff off and so they wouldn't rehydrate. The constant -- remember when Rumsfeld said we go to war with the Army we have...
FAIR...not the army we want? When I just think about the beginning of this Iraq War and the way in which we planned it, I also have to essentially hold our citizenry responsible. You know, when you talk about this war, there is almost -- we say that care about our soldiers, and you'll see everyone with their yellow ribbons on their car. But the reality is that if we cared about our soldiers, we would insist that this particular military strategy absolutely stop.
FAIRBut because they are professional soldiers, there is this sense that, well, this is their job. This is what they get paid to do. And if you actually know enlisted soldiers, this is not a lucrative profession by any means. And the fact that so few families have military personnel means that the majority of Americans just don't get what's going on.
REHMDon't understand. Let's take a call in Saudi Arabia in Jeddah. Good morning, Kasti. (sp?)
KASTIHi. Yes, hi, Diane. I really love your show, and thank you for taking my call.
KASTIDiane, actually, I'm a blind person. I'm living here, and I'm working in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, we are very, very disappointed what happened, and it really made us very emotional. Unfortunately, we were thinking when Americans came that we will get rid of Taliban, and we will have, you know, some progressive and very different government. But we found very different. We found almost same. Nothing changed, unfortunately.
KASTIAnd Americans were also doing same what the Taliban were doing, torturing and, you know, terrorizing people, unfortunately. My question is this, that why all of these events started happening like burning Quran and killing soldier, urinating on soldiers and all those -- so urinating on Taliban and killing these innocent people at the time when there were very important peace talks were going on with Taliban? Why is these all happening at that time?
KASTII know that our place is famous for conspiracy theory and things like that, but some people think that Obama wants to pull out troops while Army, they don't want to pull out troops from Afghanistan. Thank you very much.
KORBWell, his last point, I mean, you hear Gov. Romney talking on the campaign, well, you have to listen to the generals. I mean, the generals never -- you know, they always want more and more troops, and they want to stay longer and longer. And that's why you need political leaders to do it. But his -- he, you know, I think, mentions the point. What we've had -- what we have -- we're sending people in. That's even aside from the mental problem and the stress.
KORBHow well do they understand the cultures we're dumping them into? And these are young kids, young men and young women, most of whom, you know, are high school graduates. They don't understand. And we need to, as a country, need to ask our self before we do this, are we willing to pay the price to achieve those objectives? If we're not, we shouldn't do it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Danny. Thanks for waiting.
DANNYThank you. Good morning, Diane.
DANNYI have a different take on this. As somebody who fiercely, fiercely got into heated confrontations over the My Lai massacre when I was an anti-war protester when I was 19 years old -- and, subsequently, like your guest said about Frank Wooldridge and -- well, he didn't say that -- but Frank Wooldridge and Steven Green and this current killer that had killed civilians -- my take is that, yes, there is PTSD. And while you all have good points, basically, my point is that I know a lot of -- some of these (word?) that go into the military.
DANNYAnd I wouldn't want to hang around them even in here before they went to the military 'cause that's the way they are. And a lot of them are racist, and a lot of them are killers. And that, you know, they have no business even going into the military. And I think that they're despicable. I have more sympathy for civilians that have been killed than soldiers.
REHMAll right. Sir, thanks for calling. Is there, and has there been, a loosening of criteria, standards to allow more and more people to go and fight?
RITCHIEFirst of all, I think the Army by and large is a highly professional, very motivated, very caring force who knows they're going into combat. Now, the question of accession standards, the standards to get into the military, is always hotly debated. And we did see for a while that it was easier to get in the military back in 2004 and 2005. Recently, however, with the economy going sour, it's actually become very hard to get into the military.
RITCHIEAnd even when it was easier, only out of -- about three out of 10 people who applied were able to get in. So you're always going to find one or two cases -- and as a psychiatrist, you'd usually see those cases -- of people who shouldn't have been in. But I don't like his overall comments about the military. I think they're an exceptionally fine force.
FAIRWell, OK, so I want to sort of take a different path here. There is a selection bias. People who go into the military are people who, all else equal, have a taste or an imagined ability to perpetrate violence. That's a fact. I find it very -- when I interact with special operators, they are a very different set of people. These are people who go in. They sought to be recruited into the very special highest forces. They'd go out at night with the explicit, you know, objective of hunting terrorists, howsoever defined.
FAIRSo I think that there is a selection effect. I mean, certain people are more likely to seek service or to seek to join the military who have a taste for violence. I don't know how we can dispute that.
HIRSHYeah, I would just add that, look, I mean, we have been in Afghanistan in some fashion for better -- for more than a decade. There had been very, very few incidents like this involving regular soldiers. There's a certain amount of controversy over our drone policy and whether we're killing innocents, but that's a question of policy from Washington, not with regular soldiers on the ground. So I would just emphasize that. There -- and there's never been an incident as horrific as this one.
REHMFinally, to you, Elspeth Ritchie, would you agree with Larry Korb regarding Selective Service?
RITCHIEThat's a political issue rather than a medical issue. However, I would say that there's pros and cons. Having soldiers who want to be there, who volunteer, who know what they're getting into, that is a great thing. Having those same soldiers serve so many tours over such a long period of time, that's extremely difficult.
REHMDr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, former chief psychiatrist in the Army, Christine Fair -- she's at Georgetown University -- Michael Hirsh of National Journal magazine, Lawrence Korb -- he's with the Center for American Progress, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration -- thank you, all.
KORBThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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