David Brooks’ column from the NYT ten days ago has been bothering me ever since. He purports to be concerned about the PTSD that soldiers are subject to after combat. Generally people think that soldiers suffer from PTSD because horrible things were done to them in war – they were shot, they saw their friends shot, etc. Brooks seems to think that they suffer from PTSD because they have done horrible things in war; they return from war overwhelmed by the horrible, immoral things that they have done. Brooks believes that America would be a better place if we just shot each veteran in the head as war criminals when they get off the plane from Iraq or Afghanistan. Brooks’ column is based on the book, “The Evil Hours,” and therefore may not exactly represent Brooks’ personal thoughts on the subject.
Brooks says, “[W]ar … is always a crime…. It involves … tainted situations where every choice is murderously wrong.” He goes on, “The self-condemnation can be crippling.” Veterans “often feel morally tainted by their experiences, unable to recover confidence in their own goodness.” People don’t suffer from PTSD after natural disasters, but only after “moral atrocities.”
Brooks apparently believes that self-defense is immoral. If ISIS wants to murder his children, he should let them. To kill the ISIS terrorist would be immoral and would subject him to the same self-hating PTSD that soldiers returning from the Middle East face. But Brooks confounds two issues, a soldier’s individual, moral choices, and a nation’s moral choice to go to war or not. If immoral acts were committed in the Middle East, it was because the United States waged an immoral war on rag-headed Arabs and Muslims just because they were Arabs and Muslims, not because they were a threat to the US that our soldiers needed to stop. In Brooks’ opinion, everyone who volunteers to serve in the military is a war criminal, because war against anyone is immoral.
I think Brooks is dead wrong. I have felt for years that Republicans are unpatriotic cowards, and Brooks is firmly in that camp. It was brought home to me personally when Newt Gingrich shut down the government on the day I was being transferred as a Foreign Service officer from Warsaw to Rome. The shutdown left my wife and me homeless in Warsaw. Fortunately a friend in Rome worked out a deal under which we were allowed to travel to the embassy in Rome, although the Republicans had technically made it illegal to travel during the shutdown, which would have left us on the streets of Warsaw, or more likely in a hotel in Warsaw at our own expense. I was serving the US government, and the government walked away and said in essence, “We don’t care if you die.” I care, and I will never forgive this government for abandoning those it sent out to do its work, whether military or diplomatic. Brooks is firmly in the Newt camp abandoning those who defend this country, and denigrating their serve. Brooks doesn’t say, “Thank you for your service.” He says, “Curse you for your service.”